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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 Desserts, on May 27th, 2009.

butterscotch pud

It occurred to me to stop yesterday as I was driving to my friend Norma’s house (to deliver 6 of these little babies) to take a photo of a stop sign, or a red light. Something startling to make you, my readers, stop everything and make this recipe. In lieu of that, I hope the photo above will make you salivate. It should, because once you’ve tasted this divine pudding, you may never have any other pudding. Bar none. Ever.

The recipe came from Dorie Greenspan, from her book, Baking: From My  Home to Yours. And I think the bloggers out there who call themselves TWD (Tuesdays with Dorie, where the entire group makes a single recipe from this very cookbook each week) made this a month or so ago. I read countless blogs about a butterscotch pudding, so I just assume it was Dorie’s recipe. Nothing, though, prepared me for the sublime taste of this pudding. What’s in it? Milk, some cream, butter, brown sugar, some regular sugar, vanilla, egg yolks, cornstarch and . . AND . . . single malt scotch. That’s the best part. And believe it or not, there’s less than a tablespoon of Scotch in the entire recipe, but it permeates everything. Every, single, solitary, bite. Oh, my.

It just so happens that many years ago, my DH and I did learn to enjoy single malt Scotch. We were in Scotland, staying at a lovely inn, and before dinner we visited a pub, where the bartender suggested we both try about 4 or 5 single malts. He poured about a tablespoon into each glass, had us taste each of them, and decide which one we liked best. He didn’t charge us for the tastings, which was very nice! My husband chose one of the more peat-y ones. I chose Dalwhinnie, a smooth honeyed elixir of a single malt. At Heathrow en route home I stopped into the duty-free and bought a bottle of Dalwhinnie. I’ve had it ever since. There is about a cup left in the bottle, and it’s been at least 20 years. But, my readers, there will be less and less because it’s gonna get used up making this pudding. Soon.

butterscotch-pud-ramekinsDave and I had two of the little ramekins after dinner last night. Dave said, uhm, can I have another one? No, you can’t, the rest are going to Norma & Mike. Oh darn, he said. But, then, maybe you could make another batch tomorrow? Maybe? It wasn’t that hard, was it, he asked? Well, it’s not exactly like stirring up a boxed pudding mix, that’s for sure, and there were more steps in this version than in many, many puddings. But now that I’ve done it once, it wouldn’t be so hard to repeat it. And, I DO have the Dalwhinnie.
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Real Butterscotch Pudding

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
Servings: 6

1/2 cup brown sugar — lightly packed
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into 4 pieces, at room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla extract — use the real thing
2 tablespoons single malt scotch whiskey
2/3 cup heavy cream — whip up for topping on each ramekin

1. Getting ready: have six 4-6 ounce ramekins ready (to hold about 1/2 to 3/4 cup each).
2. Put the brown sugar and water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stirring and lowering the heat if necessary, boil for 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and 1/2 cup cream and bring to a boil – don’t worry if, as it’s heating, the mixture curdles.
3. While the milk is heating, put the cornstarch and salt into a food processor and whir to blend. Turn them out onto a piece of waxed paper, put the sugar and egg yolks into the processor and blend for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and pulse just to mix, then add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to blend.
4. With the machine running, very slowly, pour in the hot liquid. Process for a few seconds, then pour everything back into the saucepan. Whisk without stopping over medium heat – making sure to get into the edges of the pan – until the pudding thickens and a couple of bubbles burble up to the surface and pop (about 2 minutes). You don’t want the pudding to boil, but you do want it to thicken, so lower the heat, if necessary.
5. Scrape the pudding back into the food processor (if there’s a scorched spot, avoid it as you scrape) and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter, vanilla and Scotch and pulse until everything is evenly blended.
6. Pour the pudding into the ramekins. If you don’t want a skin to form, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of each pudding to create an airtight seal. Refrigerate the puddings for at least 4 hours.
Per Serving: 389 Calories; 28g Fat (65.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 195mg Cholesterol; 151mg Sodium.

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