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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 July 25th, 2007.

buttermilk scones
If you’re a connoisseur of scones, as I am, then you already know that there are about as many variations on the scone theme as flowers in the universe. I became a scone lover about 20 years ago. They popped up on the food scene, I guess, because of the proliferation of “afternoon tea” in various places. My friend Cherrie and I liked trying different afternoon tea locations as often as we thought we could fit it in, maybe every 2-3 months. We went on Saturdays because we both worked full time back then. But then scones became part of the coffee bar circuit too – Starbuck’s, Peet’s. Wherever you went for morning coffee, they all had scones. Dry scones. Not very tasty scones in my book. I usually left disappointed.

But in the intervening years, Cherrie and I have tried about 15 or more tea places within easy driving distance of our homes. We enjoy the whole event – from the tea itself (usually Earl Gray) to the tea sandwiches, the scones, jam, clotted cream (not whipped cream, mind you) and little tasty sweets. We enjoyed the whole package so much that she and I took a “Tea Tour” in England one year and had a ball. It was a 10 or 12 day trip with Penelope Carlavato, a proper English lady who lived in Southern California and led tours in England every year. There were about 12 of us on the trip and we had afternoon tea 5 times in 10 days, I believe. After that, I didn’t have an afternoon tea for at least a year! On that trip we sampled scones of all varieties. British scones are drier than mine. Thicker too, I think.

Recipe Tip:

This is one of my favorite recipes – a “signature” dish if I had such a thing.

But I’m spoiled. I like my own scones too much. It’s so easy to make your own and get just the kind of texture you want in your own home made ones. I’ve made them for Christmas morning – I get all the ingredients gathered up the night before and can whip them out in a hurry in the morning. I don’t make them often – they’re a special occasion treat for me. The last time I had afternoon tea was in Paris, a year ago May, when I was there alone (DH couldn’t go because of a leg injury) and friends I was meeting invited me to join them at Mariage Freres for lunch. Very special indeed.

Once a year a group of girlfriends of mine (we’ve been meeting for breakfast about every other week for the last 30 years) get together to celebrate a Christmas breakfast. We move from house to house, year to year. We exchange gifts, talk about our children, our grandchildren, and what we’re doing for the holidays. Once I started making these, though, they’ve become a regular on the menu, at whoever’s home we’re meeting. I take the ingredients and make them there.

My scones are more like rich Southern biscuits – American Southern Biscuits. They’re buttery, with layers of tender dough. These are not on the dry theme at all. If that’s what you prefer, you won’t like this version one bit. Stop right here. But if you like rich and buttery, then these are for you. I got the recipe from a Canadian friend of mine (my former business partner), who got it from a Canadian friend of hers, who got it from Canadian Living magazine in 1991. Since I tried these the very first time they’ve been my one and only scone. Hope you enjoy them. The original recipe called for currants. I didn’t have any, so began using golden raisins. Other than that, I usually fix the recipe exactly as shown.

Follow the directions to a T, except where noted that you can. These don’t keep well – if you don’t eat them right away, cool and freeze immediately. You can also substitute different dried fruit, or make them plain. I’ve shared this recipe with many of my friends over the years. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Try with a bit of clotted cream and jam. They hardly need butter, but I always serve it anyway.
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Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins

Recipe: Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine, June 1991
Servings: 10
NOTES: Variations are easy with this recipe. Sometimes I substitute 1/2 cup of rolled oats for 1/2 cup of flour. Or, if you prefer, substitute other dried fruits: currants, dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries, or apricots. You could also add about 1 cup of shredded cheese (omit sugar and currants). Do NOT substitute any margarine in this recipe. These scones are a rich, buttery biscuit type, not dry, as some people prefer them. I particularly like scones using buttermilk as it makes a very tender crust.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter — cold, cubed
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup buttermilk
1 whole egg — lightly beaten
2 tsp lemon rind — finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in raisins and lemon rind.
2. Add buttermilk to mixture all at one time, stirring with fork to make soft, sticky dough. With very lightly floured hands, press dough into ball and on a lightly floured board knead gently 10 times (NO MORE!). Gently pat dough into 3/4 inch thick round. Using a floured biscuit cutter, cut out rounds (about 1-1/2 inches across) and place on ungreased baking sheet. Gather up scraps and form into more biscuit shapes.
3. Brush tops of scones with beaten egg and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to racks or serve immediately. Or, allow to cool and place in plastic bags and freeze. These scones stale quickly, so don’t allow them to sit out for more than a few hours. Reheat in microwave, if necessary, for 15-20 seconds each.
4. Hints: When mixing ingredients, stir in liquid only until combined; overworking the dough makes it tough. Knead dough gently and pat out scraps only once to yield flaky results. Instead of throwing out the scraps, press them together into “cook’s scones” – the not-so-perfect ones that YOU get to eat! Also, if you use a different brand of flour, you may find the scones will be too dry, so alter recipe accordingly. The dough needs to be fairly sticky. Most of the time I eliminate the egg wash.
Per Serving: 236 Calories; 10g Fat (38.5% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 32g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 47mg Cholesterol; 419mg Sodium.

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  1. Sonia Checchia

    said on February 27th, 2017:

    I just found your blog and was drawn in IMMEDIATELY. A search for Ina Garten’s Coq au Vin recipe led me to you, and then I quickly found that we have tried a lot of the same recipes over the years. You have instantly become an authoritative source for my recipe searches. Thank you! Made these scones last night, with yellow raisins and orange zest. Big hit with me, toddler, and hubby. I used a small scoop (1.5 inch), and they baked in the time it took me to warm up 5 oz of formula for little baby! Talk about fast. Thank you! Love your writing style, and love how you outline “how to make a recipe” before you provide the recipe itself. Very helpful.

    Well, thank you for finding and enjoying my blog! I adore those scones. Really and truly. They are my go-to scones whenever I make them. . . carolyn t

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