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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 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!

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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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