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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

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.

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, Desserts, on December 2nd, 2008.

banana bread or banana cake

If you did a search on the internet for banana bread you’d likely come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities. And mine isn’t anything that unusual. But it is different in one proportion (more bananas than any recipe I’ve ever read). I devised the recipe myself one year about 20 or so ago, when I had a huge bunch of bananas that were about to expire. I consulted several cookbooks for recipes, and finally decided to improvise. This was the result, and I’ve been making it this way ever since. This version is very light in texture – not dense like banana breads can be. If you happen to make it in a cake pan you can call it cake and serve it with a side of vanilla ice cream, or some whipped cream. You can substitute light sour cream. You can use a bit less sugar. You can add nuts (walnuts or pecans) if you’d like. You can also toss in some chocolate chips too. You can increase the ingredients just a little bit and make this in a bundt pan and also call it a cake (and serve it with a drizzle of heavy cream as I did with the leftovers pictured above). Or make it in a large bread pan plus a small one and just call it banana bread. And if you happened to be out of vanilla like we were the other night, substitute almond extract with no problem. Just be sure to use overly ripe bananas. And did you know that you can put whole bananas in the freezer and they’ll keep for a few weeks. Just defrost slightly (not fully) and cut them open. The resulting flesh will be very soft, but it will still taste just fine in this baked bread/cake. Just don’t wait months to use them as eventually they’ll degrade and the flesh will be almost liquid.
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Banana Bread

Recipe: A Carolyn original
Servings: 16

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 whole bananas — mashed
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Cream sugar and butter together, then add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Into a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Combine in another bowl the mashed bananas and lemon juice.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Into the sugar/butter mixtures alternately add the bananas and flour. Don’t overmix. Pour into well-greased loaf pans (1 large and 1 small, or several small ones) and bake 50 minutes (small loaves) or 1 hour (large pans). Test with a toothpick. Cool in pans before removing. If making slightly larger in bundt form, bake for 50-55 minutes.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 8g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 335mg Sodium.

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  1. Kiara

    said on December 3rd, 2008:

    I love bananas, so this recipes looks perfect for me.
    Thanks 🙂 Another thing you can do with frozen bananas is mix them with low-fat yogurt and make your own ice cream.

    You know, I’ve made banana gelato before, but haven’t made it with yogurt. Will have to try that. Thanks for the idea. . . Carolyn T

  2. Debbie McDonald

    said on December 17th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I have tried so many banana bread recipes and they were just so-so. I had 5 ripe bananas and decided to try your recipe. It is the best! I used half vanilla and half almond extract and then put some raw sugar on top. It made 8 small loaves and then in the larger loaf I put some butterscotch morsels. Butterscotch and banana go very well together. Thank you for a great recipe.

    Ah, I’m so glad! It IS a great recipe – I agree! I’ll have to try some of your variations as they sound like great enhancements! . . . carolyn t

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