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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 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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