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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 August 31st, 2009.

almond spice wafers coffee

It’s been several months since I’ve made any cookies. My friend Norma hasn’t been able to eat cookies for several months, and I had successfully convinced myself that I didn’t need to eat any if I wasn’t giving more than half of them to her! But we were having guests for dinner, and banana gelato was on the menu. I needed a cute cookie to stick in the top.

I have a copy of Martha Stewart’s newest cookie book, appropriately named ‘>Martha Stewart’s Cookies. What’s unique about this cookie cookbook is how it’s divided into chapters. There’s one for Light & Delicate; another for Soft & Chewy; yet another for Crumbly & Sandy; and Chunky & Nutty; also Cakey & Tender; and Crispy & Crunchy; and lastly Rich & Dense. This recipe came from the Crispy & Crunchy chapter. At the beginning (the table of contents, if you will) are pages (with the above titles) with photographs of each and every cookie. It makes deciding on a cookie SO much easier. You don’t have to read the recipe, or flip through dozens of pages to find pictures. You can see on msl cookies photos just 8-10 pages at the beginning exactly what each cookie looks like. There’s a picture of two of the pages from the Soft & Chewy section. Don’t want a sandwich cookie? No problem, you can gloss right over those. Anyway, it’s a cool method. I’ve had 2 or 3 cookies from this cookbook so far, and have been very pleased.

Perhaps I’ve mentioned it here before, but I have a real lack of willpower when it comes to cookie dough – eating it straight out of the mixing bowl. My favorite is chocolate chip. But this one, oooh, I’ll admit, this cookie dough was mighty tasty. From the brown sugar that sweetens them, plus the delicious spices throughout (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves). I licked the spoon and promptly put all the prep parts in the dishwasher so I wouldn’t be tempted to continue searching for smidgens of batter somewhere.

almond spice wafers pans Once you mix up the dough, you pack it into two smaller sized loaf pans (lined with plastic wrap), gently press it down evenly, fold over the wrap to seal it up and put them in the freezer overnight. Here’s what the pans looked like, at right.

After freezing them overnight, let them sit out for about 10 minutes so the dough is a bit easier to cut, then use a sharp knife to cut thin, thin slices. 36 of them out of each little loaf. They go onto Silpat-lined baking sheets, are stuck with a few sliced almonds and baked. That’s it. VERY easy.

Kitchen Tip:

Allow the dough to defrost about 10 minutes before trying to slice them into thin wafers.

The cutting and slicing is a bit tricky. Doesn’t matter a bit as far as the taste is concerned, but it’s almond spice wafers just bakeddifficult to cut even slices. Leaving the frozen dough out that 10 minutes does help a lot, though.

My cookies were not as perfect looking as in the Martha Stewart style. Now that I know more about the difficulty in slicing them evenly, I’ll hopefully do better on the next batch. Yes, there will be a next batch. These are good – would be especially good for Christmas.
printer-friendly PDF

Almond Spice Wafers

(like Moravian spice cookies)
Recipe: April 2008, Martha Stewart Living
Servings: 72
NOTES: I baked mine on Convection Bake at 385 degrees. They were done in 9 minutes. I did not freeze the cut cookies before baking, though.The cookie dough block is a bit hard to slice evenly. If you start slicing before it’s defrosted enough (softened that 10 minutes) you’ll have more uneven slices. The cookies DO spread a little on the baking sheet.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter — (1 cup) room temperature
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar — packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. Line 2 mini loaf pans (6x3x3) with plastic wrap. Leave generous edges which you’ll fold over the top of the cookie dough.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add eggs and spices. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions.
3. Press cookie dough into pans, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze overnight (or up to 1 month).
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from 1 pan. Let soften slightly (about 5-10 minutes). Cut eight 1/8-inch-thick slices with a sharp knife. Cover remaining dough, and freeze in pan until ready to slice and bake.
5. Place slices 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Top each with 2 to 3 almond slices. Freeze until firm, 5 minutes. Bake until dark golden brown, 9-10 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack. Repeat.
Per Serving: 64 Calories; 3g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 29mg Sodium.

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on August 31st, 2009:

    Hope I had a hand in coverting you to the Martha Stewart Cookie Book Fan Club! The ones on the cover are my favorite.

    I DO like the cookbook, although have only made 2 or 3 recipes so far (not including the ones you brought to our house that night). This one was a real winner. . . carolyn t

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