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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food 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.
printer-friendly PDF

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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