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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 October 1st, 2009.

woodford pudding closeup

Oh my goodness gracious. Why, oh why, oh why, did I not make this recipe before now. I’ve had the recipe for years. Eons. It was published in the Los Angeles Times Food Section (probably in the 1980’s). Each year back then, for several, the Times did a review of the previous years’ recipes and chose the top 10. So that meant they cooked and baked a whole lot of things in January and February, and narrowed it down to 10. I do believe that that particular year THIS recipe won top billing. So I always knew I’d get around to trying it eventually. What a mistake to have waited 20+ years!

So what kept me from making it? Probably because it’s kind of an innocuous recipe. An odd kind of pudding with jam in it, and a butterscotch sauce. I didn’t have a photograph of it, so didn’t really know what to expect. Fortunately I have a 12×7 inch Pyrex dish (exactly what’s called for here). Blackberry jam I didn’t have, so I sent my DH out to find some. He had some difficulty finding seedless (that was my decision to use seedless; the recipe doesn’t specify). He bought sugar-free, which was fine. The pudding was plenty sweet. And that meant my DH could have a normal serving of it. The sauce is VERY sweet, so don’t use much of it on the pudding/cake.

After doing some sleuthing on the internet I discovered that Woodford Pudding is a Southern dish. One website from Louisville, Kentucky had a 1903 version of the recipe in that typical spare teacup measuring recipe language used back then. Here’s what it said:

  • Woodford Pudding – Take 3 eggs, 1 teacup of granulated sugar, ½ teacup of butter,  ½ teacup of flour, 1 teacup jam or preserves, 3 teaspoons of sour milk, 1 teaspoon soda, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Mix well together, and stir in the beaten whites and the sour milk, with soda dissolved in it. Bake in pudding dish.

Isn’t that a hoot? I have a few recipes from my grandmother using those kinds of measurements. Have we come a long way, or what? I also learned at another website that one year when Queen Elizabeth and entourage visited the Kentucky Derby, the Derby’s Executive Chef prepared Woodford Pudding. His version contained some bourbon and was served with a bourbon sauce. So, you could probably adapt this to jam flavors of your choice, and include some other flavorings as well. I made it true to the recipes of bygone eras. Actually the history of this pudding is interesting too:

  • The dessert received its name from Woodford County, Kentucky near Lexington. Bluegrass cooks have been making Woodford Pudding for [more than] . . . a century. The recipe first appeared in the publication Housekeeping in the Bluegrass in 1875. Woodford Pudding is a spongy pudding spiced with cinnamon and similar to an English jam pudding.

Ah, jam pudding. So its origin is probably English or Scottish (you know, there were a lot of Scots who emigrated to the Kentucky and Tennessee hills, way back when). So, back to the pudding. Is it a pudding, really? It’s hard to say. It bakes up more like a cake, but yet it’s very, VERY moist and soft. Spongy sort of.  To me it’s more in-between a cake and pudding. The blackberry flavor shines through with every bite. If you make it ahead, just reheat it gently in the oven before serving, as it’s supposed to be served warm. The butterscotch sauce is just barely drizzled over it (don’t overpower it). My friend Cherrie brought some home made sour cream ice cream (recipe to come) which was a perfect foil to the sweet pudding and sauce. I didn’t begin to use up all the sauce, and I have no idea what I’ll do with the remainder. Any ideas? Well anyway, you’ve GOT to make this recipe. It’s simple, truly. Some recipes I read include 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg with the cinnamon, and another included ground cloves. Next time I make this I’ll add the nutmeg for sure. Whatever you do, you’ll be glad you did try it.
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Woodford Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

Recipe: From a Los Angeles Times article in the 1980’s.
Servings: 10

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar — [I used half Splenda]
3 large eggs — lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sour milk — or buttermilk
1 cup seedless blackberry jam — [I used sugar-free]
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 dash salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. PUDDING: Cream butter with sugar until light. Add eggs and beat well. Sift flour with cinnamon. Dissolve soda in sour milk and mix with flour mixture. Beat into sugar/egg mixture. Blend in jam. Turn into greased 12×7 baking dish. Bake at 325 for 40-45 minutes. Cut in squares and serve warm with Butterscotch Sauce. And vanilla ice cream if you have it.
2. SAUCE: Mix brown sugar with flour in a heavy saucepan. Pour in boiling water and add salt. Cook and stir about 8 minutes. If mixture seems too thick, add a touch more boiling water. Remove from heat and stir in butter, cream and vanilla. Blend and keep warm until ready to serve. Makes about 2 cups.
Per Serving (assumes you eat all the sauce, which you definitely will not): 496 Calories; 17g Fat (29.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 86g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 216mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Cabbage Patch Stew (a real family favorite, in between a soup and a stew, made with ground beef or ground turkey)

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