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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read 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) – 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 Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was 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 first!

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 November 11th, 2009.

chocolate souffle_2

Don’t you just want to grab a spoon and scrape up that drip and move it directly into your mouth? Because the soufflé top was tilting the way it did, I couldn’t photograph the top without viewing the drip. So, drip it is. Does it make it more real?

I mentioned last week that I’d been to a Julia Child cooking class. Taught by one of my favorite teachers, Phillis Carey. She was a particular fan of Julia’s, so it was no trouble for her to find recipes for a class. Phillis made coq au vin, chicken fricassee, the Roulade au Fromage, and Beef Bourguignon too. And this chocolate treat. Over the years I have made chocolate soufflé – maybe once. And I’ve made a chilled frothy gelatin kind of soufflé, but unless it’s baked like this one, it’s not a true soufflé. And although the instructions below seem long and tedious, it’s really not that hard. One of the great things about this recipe is that, except for baking them, you can make these ahead – yes, really – you keep them chilled until you’re ready to bake. They will keep overnight, but ideally make them earlier in the day and pop them in the oven about halfway through your dinner. Small ramekins take about 35 minutes. A larger single bowl of soufflé would take longer, probably 55 minutes or so. Whatever you do, once the top is puffed up (do NOT open the oven door to peek – you need to look through the door) don’t overbake it or it will be dry. Phillis told us that in France they generally bake soufflés at a 425 (a higher temp) for a shorter time period, because they prefer the center to still be soft and molten. This may be a change Julia made to this recipe – or Phillis did. Am not sure, but these are baked at 375 for 35 minutes.

What you see in the top-center is a small hole in the soufflé where Phillis piped in some freshly whipped cream, which oozes down into the soufflé. In France they serve a dessert soufflé (making a slot in the middle of the soufflé and spooning in something) with either a chocolate or vanilla sauce. In this one it’s just whipped cream, which I liked very much. Just remember that you must whisk these to your dinner guests immediately – within a minute or two – or the soufflé will begin to deflate, and you definitely don’t want THAT! Serve the ramekins on a plate with a small cocktail napkin underneath, to catch any drips and so the crock won’t slide around on the plate.
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Chocolate Soufflé (Soufflé au Chocolat)

Recipe By: A Julia Child recipe, prepared at a cooking class by Phillis Carey, 10/09
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: The soufflés can be prepared ahead, then baked just before serving. Do serve them immediately, though. Don’t forget to sugar the dishe(es), as the souffle needs the texture in the dish to climb the sides, to puff correctly.

3 tablespoons instant coffee granules — OR
2 tablespoons instant espresso — OR use a small amount of very strong, real espresso in lieu of the boiling water
3 tablespoons boiling water
6 ounces semisweet chocolate — chopped
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups whole milk — (or a combo of milk and heavy cream to equal the approximate butterfat content of whole milk)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons soft butter
5 large eggs — separated
2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream

1. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish well and coat with granulated sugar or flour. Or use 6-8 small ramekins and utilize same process. If using a single soufflé dish you must make a collar around the top of the dish. Cut a piece of aluminum foil about 12″ wide and 1 1/2 inches longer than the circumference of the dish. Fold foil in half lengthwise, butter one side and surround dish with foil, butter side in. Secure with a straight pin, head down for easier removal.
2. Place water in the bottom of a double boiler or medium saucepan; bring to a boil and then remove from heat. In the top of the double boiler or in a stainless steel bowl place the coffee. Stir in the boiling water to dissolve the coffee; stir chocolate into coffee and set over hot water in pan off the heat. Stir briefly until chocolate starts to melt, then set aside and let rest for 5 minutes; stir until smooth.
3. Preheat oven to 375.
4. Place cornstarch in a medium saucepan; add a few tablespoons of the milk and whisk to blend completely. Whisk in the remaining milk and the 1/2 cup sugar. Stir over medium heat until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Boil, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Scrape sauce off sides of pan with rubber spatula; spread softened butter over the top of the custard and set aside.
5. When ready to continue, scrape custard into a large bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Whisk in egg yolks.
6. Whip all seven egg whites with cream of tartar and salt until egg whites form soft peaks. Sprinkle on the 2 T. sugar and beat until egg whites form stiff peaks.
7. Fold 1/4 of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Stir it to “lighten” the chocolate. Then add the remaining whites and fold gently, but thoroughly, until there are no more streaks of egg white. Carefully spoon the soufflé into the prepared dish(es). For the ramekins, fill them to just below the top of each small ramekin. You may refrigerate the soufflés at this point for several hours, or up to overnight.
8. Place the ramekins on a Silpat or foil lined sheet (in case there are any overflows) and bake, without opening the door, for 35 minutes (ramekins) or 45-55 minutes for the large soufflé dish, or until the soufflés puffed and set. Remove from oven, and remove foil collar (if using) and serve immediately with the heavy cream that has been whipped. Serve the ramekins on a plate, using a small napkin underneath each one.
Per Serving: 360 Calories; 21g Fat (51.0% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 174mg Cholesterol; 120mg Sodium.

A year ago: Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

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  1. Momstah

    said on December 26th, 2012:

    I made this recipe for Christmas and thought it turned out well. Two comments about step 6, which is confusing as written. First, the reference to salt – I omitted it as it was not listed in the ingredients. Also, calling for “all the egg whites” required a check against other recipes to clarify whether this meant the two separated egg whites (yes) or all five of them (no). Otherwise, good recipe and I will use it again!

    Thanks for the instructions enhancements. I’ll go fix that soon so it reads better. . . [later] I went to 3 other websites to compare the recipes for egg whites. I don’t own Julia’s “Mastering” cookbooks, so had to rely on online versions. All indicated you use all 7 egg whites, so I’ve changed the recipe to say “seven.” The omission of salt in the recipe must have been my oversight – it IS in the original recipes I found online, so I added it into mine as well. I hope you try it again with all 7 egg whites – it should make a huge difference! . . . carolyn t

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