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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 20th, 2008.

pumpkin raisin (and walnut) yeast bread
Here’s a little quote for the day:

The smell of bread baking,
like the sound of light flowing water,
is indescribable in its evocation
of innocence and delight.
. . . . M.F.K. Fisher

You’ll find very few yeast breads here on my blog. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I’ve just tended to cook other things, and there are so many good artisan breads out there now so we can find good breads in several markets close by. But back in my ancient history I used to bake all of my own bread. I know I wrote up a post about it once upon a time. I even used to sell bread to family and friends when I was a cooped-up young mom. At the time my ex and I had just one car and only twice a week did I get to have it, so the other days I was home trying to find things to do. Making my own bread was so much better to eat because the markets had nothing but the mega-bakery institutional kinds of breads. The kinds I didn’t like then, nor do I like now.

One year during the time I was baking every week I came across this recipe for Pumpkin Raisin Bread in a raised, yeast type. My old notes don’t tell me where I got the recipe, but I have changed it over the years, so it’s really my own anyway. I added more spices, more pumpkin, reduced the sugar and sometimes added walnuts too. This bread didn’t get baked all year around – just in the Fall months. It was very popular with my friends. And, I will tell you this bread is just fabulous with turkey sandwiches. I made it every year – for years and years – the day before Thanksgiving so we’d have some for sandwiches. It freezes well – whole, or you can slice it, freeze it in foil, then in plastic bags, and it will keep for several weeks. At Thanksgiving, though, it never lasts more than a day or so. Periodically I make it now, and it’s usually this time of year.

Pumpkin bread with apple butter - sublime!

Pumpkin bread with apple butter – sublime!

Just realize this is NOT a sweet tea kind of bread. It’s a toast-kind of bread, or a sandwich-type of bread. It’s light and airy, not dense. And if you’d like to include more healthy flours, substitute about 1 cup or so of whole wheat flour for white bread flour. For some years I attempted to recreate this recipe in my bread machine, but have never been successful, except at mixing up one loaf at a time and using the machine for JUST the mixing process, not the rising and baking. This bread needs a different rising time than the machines offer. This time I mixed it up in my stand mixer, using the dough hook. Instead of combining and mixing things in separate bowls I just started with the water and yeast mixture in the mixer bowl and once it had bubbled enough so I knew the yeast was good, I just added the other ingredients to the bowl. That kept the dirty dishes down to a low level. Every house I’ve ever lived in I’ve had to find the right spot for raising dough. Yeast dough likes a quiet, warm place without drafts. This time the wide bowl sat on top of my espresso machine and within a couple of inches of the under-cabinet fluorescent lighting, which gave the bowl a nice warm place to do its thing.

 

My YEAST TECHNIQUE: I’ve mentioned it here before, but I have a technique for proofing (proving it’s viable) yeast. It’s not my own idea, but back in those olden days when I was baking all the time I read lots of bread cookbooks, and one explained all the chemistry of yeast. And this cook’s advice was to mix the yeast with warm water as usual, but to also add a tiny bit of ground ginger and sugar. Yeast is a growing thing, and it needs “food” to develop its skill, and the ginger and sugar help give it a jump start. My breads back then made a successful leap. I don’t think I ever had a yeast failure ever again.

So, this bread is fairly straight forward – you mix up a batter, add the other extraneous ingredients, mix, add the flour (not all of it unless you have to). One of the secrets to bread baking is to add only as much flour as the dough needs to keep the stickiness under control. If you remember that adage, you’ll not likely have any problems with yeast dough. I add the raisins and nuts after the first rise, but the recipe indicates it’s done during the first mixing. Your choice. And if you are doing this for turkey sandwiches, maybe you don’t want to add the nuts. They don’t serve much purpose for sandwiches. But they’re great if you’re making toasting bread.
printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC; 14 contains photo)

Pumpkin Raisin Walnut Bread, a Raised, Yeast Type

Recipe: A Carolyn T original
Servings: 36

YEAST MIXTURE:
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
BREAD MIXTURE:
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 medium eggs
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts — (optional)
6 – 6 1/2 cups flour — bread flour is best [part whole wheat is fine]

1. In a glass measuring cup, add water (just slightly warmer than room temperature), sugar and ginger, then sprinkle in the contents of the yeast packages. Stir with metal spoon and remove the spoon. Use your finger to push off the spoon any yeast back into the water. Set it aside while you gather your bread ingredients.
2. In a large bowl combine the evaporated milk, pumpkin, butter, sugar, salt, spices. Add about one cup of the flour and mix. The yeast mixture now should be dissolved and bubbly. If it is not, the yeast may need to sit a few more minutes. Or, the yeast could be old. Add the yeast mixture to the large bowl and stir into the pumpkin mixture. Add the eggs and stir in until combined, then begin adding the additional flour. ONLY add enough flour so the mixture will hold together.
3. Spill the dough out onto a floured board and begin kneading, using the heels of your hands. Add flour as needed so the dough becomes elastic, about 10 minutes. Toward the end of the kneading, add the raisins (and walnuts, if using) and distribute them evenly in the bread ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow to rise – about 45 minutes to an hour – in a warm place. Be sure there are no drafts.
4 Pour the dough back out onto your floured board and knead again until you’ve popped all the bubbles out of the dough. With a sharp, serrated knife, cut the dough in half and knead each half until it’s an elongated oval. Place into two bread pans and cover. Allow them to rise until they’re mounded above the pan. This dough rises fairly quickly, so you will want to be prepared to put them in the oven – don’t wait until they’re high enough to turn on the oven as they may deflate! Preheat the oven to 375°.
5. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and using mitts or large hotpads, remove the bread and allow to cool on a rack.
Per Serving: 135 Calories; 3g Fat (20.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 141mg Sodium.

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