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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 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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