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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 Desserts, on July 30th, 2012.

wattleseed_ice_cream

Ever heard of wattleseed, or wattle seed (one or two words, you’ll see it both ways)? It’s the seed from a specific type of Australian acacia shrub. It’s not a variety grown anywhere but Australia, otherwise I’m certain we’d have  wattle seed on our spice shelves.

wattleseedflowersMy daughter-in-law brought me a very small package of  several Australian herbs and spices some years ago after a trip, and I’d planned on using all of them, but we had a bug infestation in my pantry, and they loved the wattleseed and everything else in the other packages too.

So it wasn’t until we visited Australia a couple of years ago and I sought out some wattleseed (not on every grocery store shelf, I discovered) that I now have some to try. I’d intended to make something with it right away, but I stored it in a jar and promptly forgot about it. The picture at left was taken near Hobart, Tasmania, and shows my DH’s hand holding the acacia flowers out in the sunlight. The seed pods from this shrub were and still are harvested by the Aboriginal people in Australia. They use it in a variety of cooking methods – in a drink – in stews. Eventually non-Aboriginal people discovered the interesting flavor profile it has, and began using it in other (mostly dessert) dishes.

ground_wattleseedWhen we were in Australia we ate some wattleseed gelato. Oh my goodness, was it ever good. Tasting it, it conjures up hazelnut and vanilla  on my taste buds. It has tiny dark and light flecks in it which look something like the tiny seeds in a vanilla bean. It’s the kind of mottled color of ground coriander (see picture at right), but bears no flavor resemblance. Some people taste chocolate and coffee in it too. I’ve not found any source for ground wattleseed here in the U.S. (although I read somewhere that any U.S. grown wattleseed is poor quality and not worth buying – I haven’t found it in any case). Here’s a link if you’re wanting to buy this from Vic Chericoff, the man who really put wattleseed on the world culinary map in the 1980’s. Maybe one of our friends will visit Australia sometime soon and I’ll be able to ask them to buy it for me – although as I mentioned, we had trouble finding it. My DH was so patient with me – we walked all over a farmer’s market in Melbourne trying to locate some – finally did at a butcher shop, of all places. They said they used it for a particular kind of seasoned roast.

Anyway, after all that info about wattleseed, let’s get to the recipe, okay? The only recipe I had was wattleseed ice cream which I researched a couple of years ago after we returned from Australia. Going online I also found a recipe for a cake, which I made, and will post here in a few days – it was kind of like a pound cake using wattleseed and citrus. There aren’t lots of recipes for the spice, surprisingly. There is a short list here, and here. You may not remember a post I did from our trip to Australia about the ANZAC biscuits – I wrote up a recipe provided by our Aussie guide’s sister who brought a plate full of them to our tour bus when we stopped near where she lives in New Zealand (they’re cookies developed during WWII to ship to soldiers at the front because they’re sturdy and because they couldn’t get eggs and butter during the wartime shortages, yet they’re still very popular today). Anyway, I did find several wattleseed ANZAC biscuit recipes.

Some years ago Emeril made wattleseed ice cream on one of his Food Network shows, and it’s his basic recipe I used, although I did make a couple of changes. Vic Chericoff mentions Emeril’s recipe on his website and makes suggestions like not adding vanilla, as he feels it’s redundant since wattleseed has vanilla undertones all by itself. He also doesn’t think you should strain the custard mixture of all the wattleseed segments because they add a lot of color and interest to the ice cream. I used a really fine-mesh strainer and most of the seeds still went through it, which was fine. Usually you strain the ice cream base because you want to remove any possible egg “stuff.”

When you use wattleseed, you want to extract as much flavor as possible, hence adding the ground wattleseed to the cream you scald helps accomplish that. Other than wattleseed, the base mixture is very similar to every other egg-based ice cream base you’ve made. In my case I poured the base into a plastic bowl, nestled it into a bigger bowl filled completely with ice, then I added another bowl on top filled with ice – all this to chill it faster. And chill it below 38°. Chilling the base as fast as possible doesn’t allow for as many ice crystals to form (makes for smoother ice cream).

So, after making the ice cream base – and chilling it quickly, I made it in the ice cream machine. Since it was so cold, it only took about 40 minutes. I scooped it out into a quart-sized plastic container and froze it. When I served it about 3 hours later it was still slightly soft and smooth in the middle – made for easier scooping.

Serving it to our friends Cherrie and Bud, who have never been to Australia, and had never heard of wattleseed, they were blown away. I mean blown away by the taste. Dave and I relived our Australia visit too.

What I liked: well, there’s no question I like this stuff or I wouldn’t have run all over in markets throughout Australia trying to find wattleseed! Good. Tasty. Ah yes. I have just enough to make one more wattleseed something and it will be ice cream. Wattleseed has such a unique flavor spectrum. It’s worth seeking out somehow. Any of your friends going to Australia? Get them to buy you some! Buy me some too, okay?

What I didn’t like: well goodness – nothing at all. Loved it! As long as you can find wattleseed!

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Wattleseed Ice Cream

Recipe By: adapted from Emeril Legasse (food network)
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: Don’t serve this with anything too powerful in flavor as you want to taste the wattleseed. If you don’t have wattleseed, don’t even make this ice cream – it’s just a vanilla type plain ice cream base but it’s a neutral flavor so the wattleseed nuances will shine through.

2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup fat free half-and-half — [I used Trader Joe’s]
2 tablespoons ground wattleseed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon wattleseed extract — [optional – I don’t have this ingredient]
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
5 large egg yolks

1. In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the half-and-half, cream and fat free half and half, powdered wattleseed, vanilla, wattleseed extract (if using), sugar, and salt, over medium heat. Bring the cream to the boiling point to scald it. Remove from the heat.
2. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl. Add the cream mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, to the beaten eggs, whisking in between each addition, until all is used. Pour the mixture into a saucepan, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (optional).
3. Chill the custard mixture in a bowl with ample ice to bring it down in temp (below 38° which is the temp for standard refrigeration) if possible. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for churning time. Scoop into a plastic container and freeze solid, about 3-4 hours.
Per Serving: 225 Calories; 14g Fat (57.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 131mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium.

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