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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 July 28th, 2009.

peach cobbler 1

My friend Norma (for whom I’ve been making puddings and custards for a few months) thought maybe she was improved enough that she could tackle some peach cobbler. As long as the topping wasn’t too bready, too dry. Swallowing is still an issue for her. No problem for me to find something to fill that request. I don’t like cobblers with lots of topping either.

My America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook has a full-page chart for making fruit cobblers. It suggests 9 different fruit variations, with how much fruit to start with, always using a 9-inch deep dish pie plate, how much sugar to add, how much cornstarch and what flavorings to use. Very helpful. I’ll be referring to this chart again. One of the things I like the best about this cookbook (and Cook’s Illustrated, and America’s Test Kitchen recipes in general) is that they explain why they do some things in recipes. Things that might be contrary to established practice.

In this case it was about baking the peaches for half an hour before adding the biscuits. They found that if you put the biscuits on top of the peaches from the beginning, the bottom part of each biscuit didn’t get baked sufficiently (not enough heat from underneath). So, they completely heated the peaches first by baking them for 20-30 minutes, THEN placed the scoops of biscuit dough on top. Ideally, I suppose, you would eat this all at the first sitting. I don’t know what the biscuits will be like refrigerated for a day or two. Maybe a bit soggy. The recipe also said they’d tried adding oatmeal to the biscuit mixture, and definitely eliminated that option. The oatmeal was too distinctive (overpowering flavor).

peach cobbler closeup 1

This recipe recommended 4-5 peaches. I wanted more peach to cobbler ratio, so I upped it to about 7. I used a tad more cornstarch too, the lower amount of sugar (it mentioned 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Then it suggested ground cloves, vanilla and brandy. I knew my friend Norma wouldn’t want the brandy, so I made hers without. Since I doubled this recipe, I was able to add the brandy to the one I made for us. As it turned out, the one I made for Norma just happened to have a lot more fluid in it – hopefully just what Norma will like. You may need to flex the cornstarch ratio – if the peaches are really ripe and juicy, the cobbler likely needs a bit more cornstarch.

peach cobbler lg 1

The cookbook recipe also suggested a variation with ground and crystallized ginger added to the biscuits. I threw caution to the wind and added the ginger AND the vanilla (and there were ground cloves in the peaches too). Why not, I thought? We liked this a LOT. The sweetness was at a moderate level (I don’t happen to like overly sweet desserts anyway). The buttermilk biscuits? Yum. I liked them a lot. Tender and tasty with the ginger inside. I like that variation a lot, actually. And the little sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon on top? Liked that part too. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this cobbler. It may become my new go-to recipe.
printer-friendly PDF

Fresh Peach Cobbler

Recipe: Mostly a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Servings: 8
NOTES: If the fruit is very juicy, it may need a bit more cornstarch. Just add another 1/2 teaspoon. If using frozen fruit, double the quantity of cornstarch.

PEACHES:
2 pounds peaches — peeled, pitted, sliced
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pinch ground cloves
1/3 cup sugar — or up to 1/2 cup
BISCUITS:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup crystallized ginger — minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
TOPPING:
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Prepare the fruit and place in a large bowl. Add the cornstarch and sugar, stir well. Pour into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Place it on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (curl up the foil edges in case of spillover).
3. Bake fruit for about 20-30 minutes until the fruit begins to release liquid.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda. salt, crystallized ginger and ground ginger together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla together. In a third bowl toss together the topping of sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
5. Remove the peaches from the oven. Then add the buttermilk and butter mixture to the dry mix. Stir just until all the loose flour is incorporated. Using a spoon, make about 8 small globs of biscuit mix. Flatten very slightly, then place them on top of the hot fruit.
6. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with the cinnamon-sugar mix, then place the pie plate back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.
7. Remove from sheet pan and cool. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
Per Serving: 233 Calories; 6g Fat (22.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 243mg Sodium.

A year ago: Barbecued Beans
Two years ago: Crisp Apple Pudding (my mother’s recipe, one of my very favorite recipes ever)

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  1. DV

    said on August 11th, 2014:

    I tried this recipe with some peaches from our tree and it was delicious!!!

    I’m so glad you liked it! Me too! . . .carolyn t

  2. Tim Tobish

    said on July 9th, 2015:

    Sounds great. I’d switch out the cinnamon for cardamom. And add a few blueberries.

    I made the Cook’s Illustrated cobbler years ago, want to try it again.

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