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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

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.

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 May 22nd, 2007.

Are all cookies seasonal in your book? Certainly I have a few cookie recipes that I don’t make year around . . . like gingerbread men . . . or sugar cookies decorated with red and green. But otherwise, cookies are calendar universal. I had a bag of dried cranberries that needed to be used, and I remembered this recipe that’s become a personal favorite since 2000 when my friend Darlene brought them to a Christmas cookie exchange.

If you haven’t ever been to a cookie exchange, you should try it. These days, every woman’s magazine blasts ideas for how to streamline our shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking and entertaining during the holidays. Happily I’ve hostessed cookie exchanges for years. I had my first one in about 1971. And I’ve had them many times since – not every year, but every few. I love to have a variety of cookies to serve friends and family during the holidays, so what’s easier than inviting a group of baking friends to share everyone’s goodies. I can remember many times trying to figure out the math – okay, 11 people coming, everyone’s bringing 5 dozen, how many of each cookie do we take? Got it. Oh, one gal didn’t come at the last minute? Oops, change the number. Oh, another gal only got 50 out of her batch? Uhm, what do I change the number to now? Eventually we just took a bunch and if there were still lots of cookies, we’d make another turn around the cookie table adding a few more to our stashes.

I didn’t intend this to be a lesson in cookie exchanges, but one thing I’ve learned is that each different cookie needs to go into its own plastic bag and sealed. Otherwise, someone’s double mint cookies will infect all the other cookies in your container with mint. And all the bags go directly into the freezer after the exchange.

These Cranberry Noel cookies were the hit of the cookie exchange that year. Hands down. (Thank you, Darlene.) They came from Martha Stewart, but at the time they were the #1 winner of a Christmas cookie contest Martha had on her website. For this posting I did look it up and finally found it on one of Martha’s forums here. I know they were originally part of a cookie contest because I wrote it into my recipe program in 2000. Martha subsequently published it in a Christmas special issue, apparently. These are super simple – you mix up the batter, roll into two logs, roll the logs in shredded coconut, chill, slice and bake. And once they’re cooled they go into Ziploc freezer bags and back into the freezer.

So, just because these contain dried cranberries, pecans and coconut, that doesn’t mean you can’t have them in May! I had one yesterday in the mid-afternoon with my cup of Earl Grey tea. Delicious.

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Cranberry Noels

Recipe: Winner of MarthaStewart.com’s online Cookie Contest, 2000
Serving: 48    Preparation Time 15 minutes

1 cup unsalted butter — room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or rum (I always use vanilla)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries (sometimes I chop them a little)
1/2 cup pecans — chopped
3/4 cup shredded coconut meat — unsweetened

1. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat until just combined. Gradually add flour, cranberries and pecans. Mix on low speed until fully combined.
2. Divide dough in half and shape each half into 8-inch logs, about two inches in diameter. Roll logs in coconut, pressing firmly to coat the outside of the logs, but without misshaping the logs. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about two hours.
3. Heat oven to 375°. Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet, placing about 1 – 1.5 inches apart. Bake until the edges are just golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.
Per Serving: 78 Calories; 5g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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  1. Freya and Paul

    said on May 23rd, 2007:

    Yum, these sound great, Xmas or not! I have never made refrigerator biscuits and I think it’s high time I started!

  2. Anne Dovel

    said on December 20th, 2008:

    Oh! These are a favorite at our house every year! In fact, I’m making them today!

    You’re right – these are the “best.” Glad you enjoy them like we do. . . Carolyn T

  3. L Allen

    said on December 12th, 2009:

    I LOVE these cookies. They are always a hit. Had lost my recipe. So glad you had it here.
    Why does Martha do that? She has a Cranberry Noel recipe on her site, but it is ever so slightly different. Doesn’t even include the coconut.

    When my friend Darlene brought these cookies to a Christmas event, she said the cookies were a winner in a Martha Stewart Christmas cookie contest. They were first published in a Martha Stewart Christmas magazine (a special one, just Christmas stuff) that year. I found the recipe online (only then). Subsequently it disappeared from the website. Now I suppose Martha feels she owns it, maybe, and she had to change the recipe just a bit? I don’t know. Glad you enjoy these like I do! . . . carolyn T

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