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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 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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