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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 18th, 2008.

wednesday breakfast scones from Anne Hughes Cafe

I’m not sure I ever thought I’d find a scone recipe that I liked as much as my own Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins. I’ve made them for years, and have been so happy with the recipe, I’ve never wanted to change. Then we stayed in Portland, Oregon for a couple of nights, at the Rose Cottage B&B just outside the city. The owner, Sally, served us just the lightest, most flavorful scones. The proportions of things are very similar to my tried-and-true recipe, but these have more flour in them – mine are more like very rich, flaky round biscuits. Sally’s were light, perfectly crumbly, huge and served in wedges. And, incidentally, if you’re ever up Portland way, I highly recommend Sally’s Rose Cottage as an ideal close-by location. She’s not in downtown, but it’s easy driving distance. She’ll serve you a breakfast that is enough to feed a small infantry, but it’s worth every single delicious-laden calorie.

Sally was kind enough to share the recipe for the scones with me. She said it was printed in the Portland Oregonian newspaper in 2004, and she raved about the chef, Anne Hughes, who created them. I believe she said the café that Hughes used to own is no longer in business. But Sally was happy she had THIS recipe from her café. Sally follows the recipe to the letter with the following exceptions: she mixes it by hand with a pastry blender AND she freezes the butter – she cuts the butter up in small chunks and puts that in the freezer so they’re all ready to go when she decides to make a batch (as a B&B owner, obviously she makes the scones quite frequently), then uses the pastry blender to cut it up a bit more (from a frozen state). She said you definitely don’t want to mix it so much that you can’t see the butter flakes. If the chunks are a bit larger (like little flat pieces the size of your little finger) they’ll be perfect for the flakiest results. These have a hint of lemon peel in them, and you briefly knead the dough just to pull it together, roll it out, sprinkle some of the zest on top, fold it over, then slice the pastry into wedges before baking on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sally also adds fruit (like fresh Oregon blueberries) to the dough sometimes. I made my batch in the food processor (per the Oregonian recipe) and they seemed wonderful to me, but perhaps doing them by hand would produce even more flaky and flavorful scones. I also didn’t have frozen butter either, but I do like these enough that I might try those techniques next time I make them. I made them for my hubby’s Bible Study group the other day. They were gobbled up in short order.
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Wednesday Breakfast Scones

Recipe: Anne Hughes, of Anne Hughes Kitchen Table Cafe, Portland, OR
Servings: 8-10

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sugar — to sprinkle on top
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter — cold, cut into small cubes
1 cup buttermilk
3 teaspoons lemon zest — from about 2 lemons
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 400. Set aside an ungreased baking sheet (lined with parchment).
2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, baking powder, soda, 1/3 cup sugar and salt. Process with 6-8 one second pulses.. Remove the cover and evenly distribute the butter over the dry ingredients. Cover and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps (about 16-20 one second pulses).
3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the buttermilk and half the lemon zest; use a wooden spoon to stir until mixture begins to form a dough, about 30 seconds.
4..Transfer the dough to a floured surface and divide into two equal balls. Use a rolling pin to lightly roll each half into a circle about 7 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the remaining lemon zest over both circles and use the rolling pin to lightly press the zest into the dough, then fold each circle in half (making a half circle), then cut each into 4 wedges.
5. Place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet.
6. If desired, glaze the scones by brushing tops with the heavy cream and sprinkling with the remaining one T. of sugar.
7. Bake until the scone tops are golden brown, about 18-23 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes to firm up. Serve warm if possible.
Per Serving (assuming you make 8 very large scones): 382 Calories; 19g Fat (43.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 498mg Sodium.

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  1. Anne Hughes

    said on September 5th, 2011:

    Dear Caroline,

    I chanced on your post about my Wednesday Breakfast Scones and was delighted to see that you enjoyed them and passed it on to your followers.

    Your blog brought back fond memories of the guest house, the Wednesday Breakfasts and the Kitchen Table.

    I am now somewhat retired, though I do organizing work for various clients, and I even make up a batch of those scones once in a while.

    Thanks again for the mention.

    Best regards,

    Anne Hughes

    Thanks for the memories!

    How very sweet of you to send a comment. And yes, indeed, we enjoyed those scones very much. I don’t make scones very often anymore either – except when we have guests. Yours are really special, though! . . . carolyn t

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