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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.
printer-friendly PDF

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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