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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 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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