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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 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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