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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

Just finished 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.

Recently finished reading 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.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 Breads, Brunch, on April 9th, 2009.

custard-filled-cornbread

The name Marion Cunningham reached the altitude of my food-seeking radar a couple of years ago. I know I’d heard her name in foodie circles (magazines, books, Food Network) over the years, but didn’t own any of her books. She’s most famous for writing the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. And more recently she wrote a book called Lost Recipes, about good, old-fashioned kinds of recipes we’re known to rely on, but they’ve gotten lost in the flurry of fast food, take out and a general cooking malaise. The first recipe to reach my radar was a year or so ago when I made her unbelievably good and light dumplings on top of a chicken stew. That’s when I realized she knew a thing or two about how to get around a baking kitchen.

Then, recently I tried a coffee cake that came from her book, The Breakfast Book. I didn’t own that cookbook either. But I made a trip to a local library and found it there – so I photocopied a bunch of recipes from it. This recipe below was one.

The other night we’d invited friends to come over for a salad dinner. It was warm enough to eat outside, and I had most of the ingredients on hand to make one of my favorite salads – another Phillis Carey recipe – her Mexican Chopped Salad with Cilantro Dressing . I added chicken to it and it became our main course. Sue brought over an appetizer – one of my recipes as a matter of fact – gorgonzola, grape and pine nut crostini – and some brownies she’d made the day before which I paired with my roasted strawberry balsamic vinegar ice cream. We had a feast, along with the leftover margaritas I’d made over the weekend.

So, now, to finally get to the recipe, I didn’t have any bread to serve with the salad dinner, so I grabbed the photocopied recipe for custard-filled cornbread I’d just saved from Cunningham’s book. It took about 10+ minutes to put together. Tops.

This bread, served as is, probably is best suited to serve with breakfast – but only because of the sweetness to it. But actually, if you reduce the sugar just a little bit, it’s wonderful with any dinner. Yes, it’s cornbread. And yes, it’s a little sweet (not overly, though), but it’s SO delicious. It’s like no cornbread you’ve ever had, unless you’ve had one similar to this one. You mix up a cornbread batter (I used fine ground polenta-type cornmeal) and pour it into a hot 9×9 pan. Then, just before you carefully pop this into the oven, you pour a cup of cream into the CENTER of the batter. And you don’t touch it. No stirring. Nothing. As it bakes, the cream infiltrates the entire pan in the middle of the cornbread (how? I have no idea the chemistry of this, except to note that it works!), and gives you a very moist, creamy, soft cornbread. You can see the creamy, custardy layer in the center, in the photo at top. We had this as leftovers a couple of nights later, and it was as good if not better than the first time. My DH even went back for a second piece. It went perfectly with the salad. I will make this again. Definitely. And, I’ll be on the lookout at used book stores for some of Cunningham’s older cookbooks.
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Custard-Filled Cornbread

Recipe: Marion Cunningham, from The Breakfast Book
Servings: 12
NOTES: If you’re making this to go with dinner, reduce the sugar by half.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal — fine ground is better
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons butter — melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish, and place it in the hot oven while you prepare the batter.
3. Sift or stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda.
4. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and the melted butter until well-blended. Add the sugar, salt, milk and vinegar and beat well. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture just until the batter is smooth and there are no lumps.
5. Pour the batter into the heated baking dish. Pour the heavy cream into the center of the batter. Do not stir. Check the cornbread after 45 minutes. It is done when the top becomes lightly browned. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 213 Calories; 13g Fat (53.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 76mg Cholesterol; 251mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Maple-Mustard Sauce

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  1. farida

    said on April 9th, 2009:

    This looks absolutely delicious! I will save the recipe to make this for my kids for breakfast. I am sure they will love it. Thanks for sharing, Carolyn!

    You’re welcome – they are just fabulous. They’re all gone already (although I gave away some of them) and am already craving to make them again . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on April 11th, 2009:

    I might just have to find my baking dish! It’s a long time since I had corn bread so I really should make the effort to do this.

    Oh, you should! This cornbread is better than any cornbread I’ve ever had, I do believe. .. . carolyn t

  3. Marie

    said on April 15th, 2009:

    Great minds must think alike Carolyn. I have all of Marion’s cookbooks and I love them. I have long wanted to make this cornbread and after seeing yours, I must not put it off any longer! That looks fantastic!! (can you believe I have worn out 3 copies of the Fanny Farmer cookbook? I got my first one when I was 16. It’s the best).

    Wow. Really? THREE copies! I guess I’ll have to invest in one of them. Maybe I’ll replace my old Joy of Cooking with a new copy of the F.F. cookbook. And yes, the cornbread is really scrumptious. . . carolyn t

  4. Rachelle

    said on April 27th, 2009:

    This looks heavenly! I made a similar recipe from Martha Stewart that called for corn kernels as well… If you go check out my blog, you can see the results. I’m thinking it wasn’t right. I love how yours has that little layer of custard in the center, I followed the instructions exactly and mine had way more in the center than anywhere else. Do you really just pour the cream right into the very center? I wondered about pouring it in rows? I also used medium cornmeal, maybe that had something to do with it? Anyway, I will try this recipe next time. It looks perfect!

    Rachelle – yup, you pour the cream ONLY in the very center. The recipe is SO easy. As I mentioned, I did use fine polenta, but supposedly you can use any type of grind. Adding corn might be a great idea – maybe I’ll try it next time. . . carolyn t

  5. sue

    said on April 25th, 2010:

    You can get a wonderfully custard-y cornbread without using cream at all, and no fancy pouring.

    Just make a regular cornbread recipe, using whole wheat pastry flour as the flour. Add 3 cups of whatever milk you have on hand milk (I use 1%) and add as usual, with the beaten eggs. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes. It separates BY ITSELF into layers, bran on the top, custard in the middle and crunchy cornmeal on the bottom. This recipe is from Edward Espe Brown’s Tassajara Breadbook from the early 1970’s. He calls it “Easy! Glorious! Amazing!”

    I’ve been enjoying it for 40 years. It has also made the rounds on chowhound.com’s home cooking board.

    How interesting. I’ll have to go hunt for the recipe. I used to have that bread cookbook, but must have given it away. Thanks for the idea. . . carolyn t

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