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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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 June 1st, 2009.

ranger-cookies

It was about 25 years ago that Ranger Cookies hit my cooking radar. Aunt Harriet and Uncle Orville used to make them and store them in tall coffee tins in the freezer. Orville became the expert at making them, and when I’d visit them in Eugene, Oregon, they were able to convince me that because they contained some wheat-type cereal and oatmeal, therefore they were HEALTHY. Yeah, right. But every now and then I crave them.

After years of not making them, I looked up Epicurious’ recipe and decided to try theirs. My friend Debbie was visiting for a couple of days, so I asked her to be the cookie maker and baker. She gladly obliged. We both stood at the cookie dough bowl and needed to do several general taste-tests to make sure the dough was good enough (she and I both are fans of cookie dough . . .). Lots of quality control going on, you see. You know about that kind of rationalization?

The dough is nothing but easy. We used corn flakes (organic –  see – more healthy stuff), rolled oats (more organic healthy stuff), dried flaked coconut (unsweetened) and chopped walnuts. But then we fell off the health wagon and added chocolate chips. If you bake these on the lower side of the 8-11 minutes, they’ll still be very, VERY soft when you try to use a spatula to move them to a cooling rack. But they continue cooking and dry/cool to perfection. These took 8 minutes on the convection bake setting. If you want crispy cookies, by all means bake a bit longer. Actually I reduced the oven temp to 360 because they got a bit too brown before they were cooked through. I also reduced the sugar quantity in this recipe, and it’s just right to me. Even using unsweetened coconut too.

This recipe makes large cookies – next time I’d reduce their diameter to about 2 inches. We made 40 HUGE cookies, so a smaller size would make maybe 55? A guess.  Most of these went to my friend Norma, whose potassium has come down to a normal level, so she’s able to have nuts and chocolate again.
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Ranger Cookies

Recipe: adapted from Epicurious | November 2001
Servings: about 40 large, 55 smaller

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) slightly softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening [not hydrogenated]
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups corn flakes — crushed
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts — (5 ounces)
1 1/4 cups flaked sweetened coconut — (about 3 1/2 ounces) [I used unsweetened]

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. Or, use silpat liners.
2. In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and shortening until lightened. Add the brown sugar and sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until evenly incorporated. Beat or stir in the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, corn flakes, walnuts, and coconut until evenly incorporated. Let the dough stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until firmed up slightly.
3. Shape portions of the dough into generous golf-ball-sized balls with lightly greased hands. Place on the baking sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Using your hand, pat down the balls until about 1/3 inch thick.
4. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 8 to 11 minutes, or until tinged with brown and just beginning to firm up in the centers; be careful not to overbake. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Let stand until completely cooled.
5. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.
Per Serving: 180 Calories; 11g Fat (52.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

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  1. Marie

    said on June 1st, 2009:

    Hi Carol. I remember making these for a snack to take to my middle son’s pre-school way back when! They were very popular. Of course this was way before nut allergies etc.!! Carol I wonder if you would mind checking out my new page and giving me some feedback? I would really appreciate it! TIA
    http://theenglishkitchen.blogspot.com/

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    I love the way it’s all healthy until you hit the chocolate, makes me giggle every time. I don’t eat much sweet stuff, I’d rather have savoury, but I do love the way you write about it. Thank you.

    Thanks, T-A! Gotta make this chocolate consumption sound a bit more healthy, even if it really isn’t! . . . carolyn t

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