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Am currently reading An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir by Phyllis Chester. True story about an extremely naive Jewish woman who marries an Afghani fellow student (they met at university here in the U.S.). He was very Westernized, yet when he has to return home to Kabul, with her – and live with his family, she virtually becomes enslaved. She kept a diary about it. The book is riveting. This took place in the 60s, and she eventually escapes with the help of her family and the American Embassy. The 2nd half of the book (haven’t gotten to that part yet) is about what she’s done since her return to work for change in the Islamic world. The book is very insightful about the cultural differences, of course, and about Islam.

Just finished The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of mid-teens (both guys and gals) who become close friends at a summer camp, and with nothing else to inspire them, they decide to call themselves “The Interestings.” The story switches back and forth from the early years, with alcohol, drugs and sex playing a fairly major role, to their late 30s or early 40s when all of the “interestings” have become adults, parents, successes, failures. It’s about their internal angst, or pride, or false-pride, and their jealousies of each other. It had been recommended by more than one friend of mine. As I read it I kept hoping it was going to get better and it does, but I had to get half way through before I really wanted to keep going. It WAS a good read, though. With the exception of seeing some maturity develop amongst the characters, the book is kind of like a soap opera. The main character is a likable woman, thank goodness.

I wrote up a blog post about my most favorite book of late, All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr. Loved this book from beginning to end. Takes place at the beginning of WWII, in France, about a young girl, a young blind girl, who lives with her father in Paris. He works at a major museum. As the Germans begin advancing, the curator of the museum begins hiding all of their art and valuables. The most valuable is a monster diamond. He has a glass-maker produce 3 replicas of the diamond and hands each of the 4 to valued employees and asks them to safeguard it for the war’s duration. The story is also about a young German boy, who comes of soldier-age in the late 1930s, who is noticed by some higher-ups for his skills with codes and such things. The girl and her father flee to St. Malo (on the Brittany coast). It’s a beautiful, lovely, sweet story. I loved it, as I said. Well worth reading.

Also read Lisette’s List: A Novel, by Susan Vreeland. I’m a fan of her novels, and I think this book may be one of her best. Her novels aren’t deep reading, but they’re a “good read.” A satisfying read. This one takes place in WWII era, in the south of France. Lisette is a Parisian, but terribly in love with her talented husband. His father is ill and so the couple move from Paris to Roussilion in Provence. And Lisette comes to love the village (eventually). Her husband goes off to war, the father dies, (not in this order) and Lisette is wrapped up in her father-in-law’s art collection. You get a real sense of what small-village life was like when the Nazis arrived in their village, and the political play between people, their desire for favoritism, or the resistance. A really good book.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on December 6th, 2007.


If you’ve never done a cookie exchange, you should. I’ve done more of them than I can count, and these days I try NOT to have too many cookies around, because then, guess who eats them? We don’t have floods of friends or family in the house during December like we used to, unless we host a party ourselves, so it’s best that I just make a few of our family favorites and call it quits with the cookie baking.

These cookies are just as pretty as the picture and would make a great cookie exchange contribution. They look like you’ve slaved, but you really didn’t. They aren’t hard to make, although they do take a bit of patience to roll up. It’s a 2-step process to make the dough (the cookie dough and the filling), then you have to create the rolls, and freeze them. You defrost the rolls a bit before slicing and baking. It’s a good cookie to make over a 2-day period. Make the dough and filling, roll them up and freeze them the first day, then the next day slice and bake them. Only one caution: don’t over bake the cookies. If you do, the chocolate filling turns into hard candy and is not easy to eat or very tasty either. You need to allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet. If you try to remove them early, you’ll smear the filling and they may break apart. (Trust me, I know this from experience – grin.)
harlequinpinwheelscollage
Clockwise top left: the filling melting in bowl over hot water, the filling spread on top of the cookie dough, the finished rolls ready to freeze, and the dough with nuts, before rolling up.

A former employee of mine, Vicki, brought these to our office cookie exchange many years ago, and from then on, each year she had to bring them again. She wasn’t much of a cook or a baker, but this was her mother’s favorite Christmas cookie. It’s become one of mine, too. They’re not decorated, and they’re not prissy or fancy. Chocolate? Yes! They don’t keep long once baked – I stick all my cookies in the freezer once they’re baked so I don’t have to worry about the shelf life of the cookies. But because the filling becomes almost candy-like, you need to defrost these for 10 minutes or so, before eating them.
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Harlequin Pinwheels

Servings: 72
NOTES: If sealed well, the frozen dough will keep for several weeks. The dough is fragile, however if it dries out. When I made it this time each of the 3 balls of dough weighed 10 1/2 ounces. It helps to have them all the same size.

COOKIE DOUGH:
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 whole egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup unsalted butter — softened
FILLING:
18 ounces chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces sweetened condensed milk
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups walnuts — chopped

1. Cookie mixture: Using a mixer, beat together the brown sugar and butter, then add egg yolks and vanilla. Combine the flour and baking powder, then add to mixture and beat until smooth. When finished, the dough is a bit on the dry side, so use your hands to pull it into a solid piece.
2. Divide the dough into 3 parts (use a scales to make them equal) and roll each between two pieces of waxed paper to an approximate 12″ x 7″ rectangle. Each piece needs to have its own waxed paper. If you have a Silpat, position the dough, on its paper, on top of the Silpat. It helps to keep it from sliding. Do not try to make the dough larger – measure if you need to. Cover with waxed paper or a damp towel while preparing the chocolate filling.
3. Filling: In a heatproof bowl or large measuring cup combine the chocolate chips and butter. Place over a simmering pot of water. The bowl should be OVER the water, not in it. Cook until chocolate chips are just barely melted. Add the sweetened condensed milk and 3 teaspoons of vanilla. Stir well.
4. Spread the chocolate mixture over the 3 pieces of cookie dough. Leave one long side with little chocolate so you can sort of seal the edge. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly on the dough – while you go chop up the nuts – then sprinkle the tops with chopped walnuts and gently press them into the filling. Roll up, starting along the 12″ side, lifting gently with the waxed paper. Do not peel off the waxed paper, but use it to help you make the full round. If you remove the waxed paper, some of the dough may crack where it’s not supported by the paper. Wrap them carefully with aluminum foil (with the waxed paper) and freeze.
5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°. Allow dough roll to sit out for 10-30 minutes, then remove waxed paper and foil, before slicing into thin rounds. Cut all cookies in uniform thickness, and cut with the edge on top, so you can hold it together as you slice. Otherwise, the outside cookie may fall apart. Place on foil covered cookie sheets and bake approximately 10 minutes. Do not over bake – allow them to get just golden brown. The chocolate part continues to cook after you’ve removed them from the oven. If you over bake these, the chocolate parts become more like candy (hard). You can remove the foil sheets to a rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the foil.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 7g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 19mg Sodium.

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