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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 January 25th, 2008.

blue chip choc chip cookie
I must admit that when I read this recipe the first time, I thought “it’s just another variation on chocolate chip cookies.” Why fool with a good thing, my mind said. I’ve relied on the good-old Tollhouse (Nestle’s) recipe, and never been unhappy with it. But the further I read into Smitten Kitchen’s blog, the more I became convinced I’d best try this recipe. When you read the list of ingredients you definitely will think this is not all that different. Yes, more chips. And more nuts. But really, what’s that mean but just a more densely populated cookie? But then you read the details, and you find out that there really are some differences:

1. You must start with cold butter

2. The nuts are toasted

3. The nuts are chopped finely so they almost disappear in the cookie

4. The cookies are baked differently – on parchment in a 300 degree F. oven for a long time

And are they a radical change? Well, maybe radical is too strong a word. Are they different? Yes. The texture is different – they’re nicely crumbly and crisp. There is definitely something different about the nuts – besides the fact that there are a LOT of nuts (and chips) in these cookies. But having toasted the walnuts makes a huge difference. I used my food processor to chop the nuts, and did just as the recipe indicates – lots of the nuts were crumbs, but there were some pea-sized pieces in there too. Nothing larger, though. To say that I loved these is putting it mildly. These may be my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe from henceforth. Smitten’s recipe came from David Liebovitz’s book, The Great Book of Chocolate. I made no alterations to this recipe. My hat’s off to Deb for passing on Liebovitz’s recipe to all of us chocolate chip cookie fans.

Cook’s Notes: Having read some of Smitten’s comments – a couple of people had problems with them – I got everything prepped before I started mixing the cookies. The problems others had, I believe, might have been caused by the butter not being thoroughly chilled when they started making the cookies. Or, it could have been the type of butter used. So, my oven was hot. The dry ingredients were combined. The eggs and vanilla were standing by. The cookie sheets were ready. I chopped up the butter into the 1/2 inch cubes then put them back in the refrigerator while I did all the other prep work. Once I began to mix the cookies they took little more than a minute or two to be ready for plopping onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets. They took longer to bake – the recipe indicates 18 minutes. Mine took about 22, and my oven runs hot, so was surprised. I also have decided these cookies are better when they’re fresh. They don’t seem to have the same magical taste once they’ve been frozen. Don’t know how that can be, but it is. Would welcome anyone else’s opinion about it.
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“Blue Chip” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original Recipe: The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz
Source: Deb at the Smitten Kitchen Blog
Servings: 20
NOTES: Make sure the butter is cold. Make sure walnuts are very finely chopped – with some pieces as large as a pea, but with some almost a powder.

1/2 cup granulated sugar — (100 grams)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar — (120 grams)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter — (115 grams) cold, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour — (175 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt — or 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips — (200 grams)
1 cup walnuts — or pecans, (130 grams) toasted and VERY finely chopped

1. Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat to 300F (150C). Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda.
3. Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Scoop the cookie dough into 2 tablespoon balls and place 8 balls, spaced 4 inches (10cm) apart, on each of the baking sheets.
5. Bake for 18 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
6. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (I always freeze my cookies)
Per Serving: 212 Calories; 12g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 66mg Sodium.

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