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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 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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