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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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