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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. 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 Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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 Breads, on October 10th, 2010.

There’s a long, meandering story to tell about this recipe. When we were in Britain in August we stayed in Wales for several days. And after a really interesting (and different) Welsh dinner at a pub one night, the chef served us a few Welsh cakes. Having never had them before (or ever heard of them) I was intrigued. He brought us four. We ate two and took the other two with us, which we enjoyed the next day. I almost always keep a small plastic bag in my purse. You just never know when you might need one. It was perfect for my little stash of Welsh Cakes. (And say, speaking of what kind of stuff women keep in their handbags – did any of you watch Nate Berkus on his new TV show, where he wanted to know what women keep in their purses – why we feel naked without one – and one audience member he interviewed actually pulled out a black bra from hers? THAT was weird!)

Traditionally, I’d guess a Welshman would not eat a Welsh Cake after dinner. And why the chef did for us, I’m not sure, except that he made us a typical Welsh meal. They’re more like a little treat to have with a cup of tea or coffee. Probably eaten mid-morning or mid-afternoon. The dessert I ordered, banofee pie – oh so good – was delicious, but it’s not Welsh particularly. So I guess he wanted us to end our meal on a Welsh high note.

We tasted them, and I fell in love with them. Being a scone aficionado, I quizzed our waitress about them. How were they made, I asked? In a dry skillet – cast iron preferred, she said. They were just lightly sweet, with a little sprinkling of sugar on the top of each one. They were warm, light and scrumptious. Right then and there I determined I’d learn how to make them once I got home. As we left the pub that evening the chef scribbled out his recipe and handed it to me. Comparing it in my mind with scones, I didn’t see any liquid on the list. I asked him about milk or cream, and he said no, the butter was sufficient. His instructions were so succinct as to be non-existent, so I figured I’d best figure it out later. I didn’t think any more about it then.

Within 24 hours of our arrival home I was searching my cookbooks (first I went to my EYB site – and yes, EYB told me I owned one cookbook with a recipe – and if you don’t know EYB, you can read my post about it). I went online and found several recipes too – many of them  identical. I made a kind of Welsh Cake spreadsheet, so to speak, of the different ingredients from all the recipes I found. Some had more butter (in proportion to flour) than others. Some had spices (like mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, or “mixed spice,” which is a combination jar sold in Britain). Some called for cream or milk. But every recipe called for an egg. Except the chef’s. Here’s the chef’s entire recipe: 5 ounces butter, 10 ounces self-raising flour, 3 ounces caster sugar, 1 pinch mixed spice, 4 ounces currants or raisins. 1/2 hour fridge, griddle no oil. Isn’t that a kick? That was it. He was doing it from memory as he scribbled onto a tiny piece of paper, and I think he must have forgotten the EGG.

SO, the next day I decided to try one of the recipes (not the chef’s) that included an egg and I’d see where it led me. I was pleased with the taste, but I followed a method that said to pat out the rounds by hand. I knew the chef’s had been much more structured, more precise than that. I didn’t know what temperature to cook them, either, although I quickly determined that using my nonstick electric skillet would be the best choice. I have an cast iron skillet, but the electric skillet would be more heat-consistent. I watched a precious video online of a dear, little Welsh grandmother named Betty making Welsh Cakes for her grandchildren. I didn’t try her recipe, but I watched the technique carefully. So next I tried the chef’s recipe – and decided with the quantity of flour  – that I should add two eggs. Mistake. Probably one would have been sufficient. But I didn’t think they were quite right, either, although I did use my rolling pin and got perfect rounds. And incidentally, my friend Marie, who writes A Year From Oak Cottage has a recipe on her other blog, about Welsh Cakes. Hers calls for lard, though. Take a look if you’re interested.

Now we fast-forward a couple or three weeks. I wasn’t sure which recipe I’d try next. Coincidentally, I’d had a couple of email exchanges with one of my readers, Toni-Anne, who lives in England (we’ve been emailing occasionally for the last couple of years). Just on chance I asked her whether she knew Welsh Cakes. Well, yes, indeed she did. She was raised in Wales, and recalled her mother making them often. Sadly, Toni-Anne’s mother died when she was 10, and she doesn’t have her mum’s recipe. Toni-Anne said she’d see what she could do, though.

A few days went by and then I got another message from Toni-Anne. She’d remembered that in the early 80’s she’d spent a few weeks in North Carolina and she’d made Welsh Cakes while she was there. North Carolina, I thought? From a magazine recipe, she said. And would you believe it? She still had the recipe. And the magazine! From the December, 1981 Redbook. The Welsh Cakes were credited to a woman named Blodwyn Lewis. Blodwyn? Yup. Blodwyn, a very Welsh name, I’ve learned.

Promptly, I made this recipe, and am so happy to say that this will be my go-to recipe for Welsh Cakes, thank you very much! I did make one change – I used cream instead of milk, but either will work. And I used my food processor to cut in the butter. They taste very similar to my buttermilk scones, but these have no buttermilk in them. I’ll have to make an ingredient by ingredient comparison of the two. Or maybe I’ll have to try my scone recipe cooked on a griddle. Maybe later. For now I’m sticking with this recipe. So here, my friends, is the Redbook magazine Welsh Cake recipe, from 1981, thanks to Toni-Anne and her amazing archives! Thank you, cyber-friend!

printer-friendly PDF

Welsh Cakes

Recipe By: Adapted from Redbook Magazine, December, 1981 (a recipe from Blodwyn Lewis) via one of my readers, Toni-Anne, who lives in Buckinghamshire
Serving Size: 13
NOTES: If you only get 10-11 Welsh cakes, you may have made them thicker than mine, so they’ll take another minute or so per side. You’ll get the hang of it after you’ve done one batch of these. You can also add in a pinch of mixed spices (mace, cinnamon and nutmeg) if you’d like.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter — cold, diced
1/2 cup golden raisins — or currants
1 large egg
1/3 cup heavy cream — or more if needed (or milk)
About 1/4 cup flour to sprinkle on the work surface
About 2 T. granulated sugar for sprinkling on top

1. In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse a few times to mix and lighten the mixture.
2. Add the cold, cubed butter and pulse until the mixture is coarse crumbs, with some small pieces of butter still visible.
3. Pour this mixture out into a medium-sized bowl. Add raisins and mix gently.
3. Whisk the egg, stir in the heavy cream and add to the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir to combine and if needed, add more liquid (a teaspoon at a time) until the mixture will come together into a ball.
4. Gently pat the dough into a large oval, then use a rolling pin to roll it out flat, using as few strokes as possible. The less you handle the dough the more light the cakes will be. Roll the dough until it’s about 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick and use a 3-inch cookie or biscuit cutter to make uniform pieces.
5. Meanwhile, preheat an electric skillet (or a flat griddle on your stove) to 350°. Place the cakes on the hot pan and leave them alone for about 3-4 minutes, depending on the temperature, until one side is golden brown. Gently turn them over and continue cooking on the second side for another 3-4 minutes. Break one in half to make sure they’re done in the middle.
6. Remove to a cooling rack and sprinkle a little pinch of granulated sugar on the top of each Welsh cake. Serve immediately, or cool and freeze. Ideally, serve them just barely warm. I make them ahead and when I’m ready to serve I slip them back into the electric skillet for about one minute, lid on, just to barely heat them through. They require no adornment (no butter or jam needed).
Per Serving: 209 Calories; 10g Fat (42.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 238mg Sodium.

A year ago: Olive Oil Orange Madeleines
Three years ago: Anise Pound Cake

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  1. Jane

    said on October 11th, 2010:

    Thanks for the recipe!!! Love it

  2. hddonna

    said on October 11th, 2010:

    You really did your homework on these! I made some once, two or three years ago, and thought they were yummy. I can’t remember where I got the recipe, though–perhaps in a little Welsh and Irish recipe booklet I have. I’ll try your recipe one of these days. What a lovely little treat for afternoon tea. Thanks for reminding me!

    I can’t wait to make these again, but I need some kind of occasion to do so. Making 13 of these, I’d eat 12 of them and that’s NOT what I should do! Do try them – they’re outstanding! . . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on October 28th, 2010:

    You made them! Don’t they look good? They look exactly like those that my Mother used to make, well done Carolyn; I’m glad you got there in the end.

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