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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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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