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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 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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