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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 November 18th, 2011.

golden_bishops_bread_slices

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time already know about my Christmas favorite, Bishop’s Bread. It’s something I make every single year – because I don’t like fruitcake. You have to understand – I cannot stand those pieces of candied fruit things. This, however, is made with maraschino cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts. Okay? NOT fruitcake!

So why did I make something different than the old standby, you ask? Well, because I was reading the King Arthur Flour blog, called Baking Banter. And they did a write-up about a Golden Fruitcake they developed – about how and why they made theirs the way they did – and with a different batter to hold it together. That was what got my attention – the batter. Last year when I made my Bishop’s Bread, I thought the cake part was just too dry. I’ve noted that a couple of times over the years, but never really knew what to do about it, so I did nothing.

But  reading their blog got me to thinking and I decided I had to try it. Theirs has you soak the fruits in brandy (raisins, cranberries, dried apricots and oh-yuk – candied red cherries – all things I never put in MY bishop’s bread). It has 5 eggs in the batter. And corn syrup. Some Fiori de Sicilia (a flavoring available from King Arthur’s that I’ve had in my refrigerator for about 5 years – it’s a citrusy vanilla, sort of). And it has milk in the batter too.

With all that in my head, I just switched out their batter, and used their proportions of fruit/nuts (about 7 cups for a regular 2-loaf recipe). I also added in some dried cranberries (but decided after the fact that I didn’t like that addition at all). I did soak the maraschino cherries in brandy (and the recipe has you add whatever leftover brandy there is into the batter), but I discovered with my first batch that when my fruit mixture didn’t absorb any of the brandy, of course, the batter was too wet. The better part of the first batch went into the trash.

thermapenbatter_cherries_collageBefore I made my second test batch I did two things: (1) I reduced the amount of brandy altogether – since it was just for flavoring anyway – I didn’t need that much; and (2) I researched the web to find out the internal temperature of fruitcake – when it’s finished. Since I’ve now invested in one of those fancy-dancy instant-read  Thermapen thermometers (above), I’ve been using it for several things. And it was just the best tool for this. The answer to my online query was 200°. Even with fruit in it – you want the internal temp of fruitcake to be 200°. Knowing that, I found that in my particular bread pans, it took 96 minutes to reach that temp. Their recipe suggested 50-80 minutes baking time. At 300° it took mine a whole lot longer, obviously. Why? Don’t know, but it did and does. In the second batch I used Convection Bake and it took less time, but it browned the bread way too much, so half way through I reverted it to regular Bake and it seemed to be fine although I did have to remove it sooner. I won’t use that method again, though.

The bread has a more tender crumb – I like that part of it. You’ll notice that in the picture at top the bread crumbled a bit. I cut slices before the bread had cooled enough and the edges were still almost crispy. Once I’d wrapped it up and let it sit overnight it sliced just fine. So, I think I’ll be making this version from now on. My friend Cherrie came over the other day and we baked and baked – we made a double batch of this Golden Bishop’s Bread, and we made two batches of our other important Christmas favorite, the Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee (cookies). We’ll get together one more time in early December to make some of our other favorites – and Cherrie has a new recipe to try too.

What I liked about this version: the brandy flavor, plus the Flora di Sicilia flavor too (but if you don’t have that, no worries, just use vanilla), the tender crumb. Even the freshly grated nutmeg gives a very subtle under-note to the bread. Altogether good stuff!

What I didn’t like: well, it does take a long time to bake, but I think my old version took 90 minutes, so what’s 6 minutes?

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Golden Bishop’s Bread

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from King Arthur Flour, 2011
Serving Size: 36
NOTES: You can use your own combination of fruit and nuts – like pecans or macadamia nuts. Use carob chips if you want. If you’re not a fan of maraschino cherries, use dried cherries (soak them in the brandy). Add dates, crystallized ginger, white chocolate chips or dried apricots if you like it. For the 2-bread-pan recipe, use about 7 or so cups of these add-ins – that’s the proportion. Make it whatever way YOU like. You can also adjust the proportion of these add-ins: like more chocolate? Less nuts? Make it your own.

FRUIT and NUTS:
2 1/2 cups chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups maraschino cherries — halved, drained
2 1/2 cups walnuts — chopped
CAKE BATTER:
1 cup unsalted butter — softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia — optional (or substitute vanilla)
4 large eggs
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons brandy
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Butter two bread pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl add the drained maraschino cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
3. In a large bowl cream together the unsalted butter, sugar, corn syrup, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and flavoring. Mix at medium to high speed until the mixture is light and cream colored.
4. Measure out the flour in a separate bowl. Scoop about 1/2 cup of the flour into the bowl containing the fruit and mix gently but thoroughly.
5. With the mixer on low speed alternately add the remaining flour and milk. At the last slowly add in the brandy. Using a spoon (not the mixer) add in the fruit and nuts, and mix gently but thoroughly. Try not to mash any of the maraschino cherries as that will turn the batter a pinkish color.
6. Pour the batter into the two bread pans, and gently level the batter.
7. Bake for about 80-95 minutes (depending on your oven) until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean (it may pick up some chocolate – it’s the batter you want to be cooked through). Alternatively, use an instant-read thermometer and bake the cake until it reaches 200°, testing every 5 minutes starting at 80 minutes.
8. Remove bread and allow to sit on a rack for 30 minutes. Gently slide a thin spatula along all 4 sides of each loaf and gently turn the pan over into your wide spread hand. Jiggle slightly to remove the bread and very gently set on the rack and let it cool completely, about 2 hours. Wrap in plastic wrap, then in heavy-duty foil. Will keep a few days at room temp, or ideally, freeze loaves until you need them. You can also seal them well and store in refrigerator for up to a month. If you want to keep these extra moist, brush the loaves with additional brandy once a week until you’ve finished eating them.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 16g Fat (44.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 38mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

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  1. Linda Murray

    said on September 2nd, 2015:

    I too love Bishop Bread without the citrus in it. My recipe is a litte different than yours so I thought I would share it. Doesnt have any alcohol in it but very good none the less. Give it a try and you will be hooked, guaranteed.

    Bishop Bread (fruitcake)
    1 2/3 c chocolate chips
    2 c chopped walnuts
    1 1/3 c chopped dates (1-8oz box)
    1 c raisins
    ½ c green maraschino cherries (drained and halved)
    ½ c red maraschino cherries (drained and halved)
    1 t baking soda
    3 eggs
    1 t salt
    ¾ c sugar
    ½ c water( you can cherry juice to make up the ½ c water)
    1 ¾ c flour
    * optional 1 T rum
    Mix all dry ingredients together. Mix all fruit together well. Combine two bowls and toss. Pour into angel food pan or two loaf pans that have been sprayed with pam not buttered. DO NOT use Bundt pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 ½ hrs. Should be soft when comes out. Let sit for a bit before releasing it. Cuts best when cooled. Store in tin for several weeks.

    Did you see my “regular” Bishop’s Bread recipe here on my blog?
    http://tastingspoons.com/archives/215
    It’s got the walnuts and chocolate chips. I don’t much like dates, so I deleted that from the get-go back in the 60’s when I acquired the recipe. I’ve never used raisins – I prefer the chips/walnuts/cherries version. Thanks for commenting . . . carolyn t

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