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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 Desserts, on December 23rd, 2007.

To tell you the truth, cheesecake isn’t something I order except on very rare occasions. Nor do I make it very often. Usually it’s just too rich for me. Especially if I’ve eaten a big dinner. My daughter, Sara, makes a really good cheesecake, and I enjoy it every time she makes it. She’s quite legendary in some parts of her family for her cheesecake. Her husband and his family often request it for family gatherings.

Here's the batter, thick and silky smooth (the cream cheese, sour cream, etc.)

But, THIS cheesecake I’m sharing with you today, is something altogether different. I must say that this has all the trappings of regular cheesecake. So how come it’s different? Well, you whip up the six egg whites until stiff and fold them into the cheesecake filling. It lightens up the texture considerably. I like this lighter, almost a souffle-like, style. You slice your fork into a bite and it meets little resistance and melts in your mouth. There’s a hint of lemon in it. Maybe next time I ought to add a bit of lemon zest to the filling too. I’ve never seen another cheesecake recipe that uses whipped egg whites. I’ve searched on the internet to try to find the origin of this recipe, but have found nothing.

Fine print: whatever you do, don’t go reading the nutrition content of this recipe, or you’ll never make this cheesecake. You’ll get depressed even thinking about it.

Springform pans: I own two. An 8 1/2 inch and a 10 inch. This recipe calls for a 9 inch. What to do? This time I used the smaller one and had enough to make another entire small bowl of cheesecake. Next time I guess I should use the 10 inch form. Definitely I’d need to make more crumbs, however. I already do that as it is, using about 3 cups of graham cracker crumbs in the mixture. And more butter. No additional sugar.

Folding the egg whites in is a bit of a chore, but lightens up the batter a lot.

This cheesecake is baked for an hour, then left in the oven for an additional hour (heat turned off) to firm up. Then you remove it to cool further. Having made this several times, I will tell you that it’s absolutely the best, cut and served when it’s still warm. Not hot. Just warm. If you have the time to plan it, serve it that way.

You can also make it several hours ahead, then put it back in a low oven for about 15 minutes. You don’t want to dry it out, whatever you do.

We invited our Southern California children and the grandchildren to come for dinner last night. To open our gifts and celebrate Christmas with them. I served a ricotta lasagna with marinara sauce, a big green salad with my favorite salad dressing, the VIP dressing, and this cheesecake for dessert.

gourmetcheesecakeinthepanIt’s poured in the graham cracker crumb crust and topped with toasted almonds. I over-toasted the almonds (sheepish grin).

printer-friendly PDF

Gourmet Cheesecake

Recipe: came from a friend I met in Oklahoma, about 1974.
Servings: 12

1/4 cup blanched almonds — toasted
CRUMB MIXTURE:
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter
FILLING:
6 whole eggs — separated
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese — softened
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
8 tablespoons flour — sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice — fresh
3/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Toast almonds first and set aside.
2. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar together and press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch spring form pan, reserving about 3 T for top of cheesecake. Set aside.
3. Mix egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, cream cheese, flour, sour cream and lemon juice and beat until smooth.
4. Beat egg whites until frothy, then add 3/4 cup sugar gradually and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into cheese mixture. Pour into reserved graham cracker shell, spread top to flatten and sprinkle with reserved graham cracker mixture and almonds.
5. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off heat and leave cheesecake in the oven for another hour. Remove to cool. Best when served barely warm from the oven.
Per Serving: 577 Calories; 37g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 197mg Cholesterol; 383mg Sodium.

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  1. Britt-Arnhild

    said on December 24th, 2007:

    Mmmmm, this looks like the perfect cheese cake.

    Merry Christmas to you.

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 24th, 2007:

    I just wanted to wish you and yours a very happy Christmas and New Year.

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