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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading Unsaid: A Novel by Neil Abramson. I think I read about it on amazon because I don’t remember anyone telling me about it. Perhaps amazon recommended it to me because I’ve read several books about African animals lately. The narrator of the book is the soul and voice of a woman who has just died of cancer. So she’s a ghost, of sorts, or an angel. But she’s hanging around her old life (her husband, her friends, her co-workers – she was a veterinarian) because she’s so very worried about her menagerie of animals she owned and worked with. The crux of the story is about a chimpanzee that is part of a U.S. government study – measuring the intelligence and sign language ability of this one chimp. The funded study is suddenly ended, and the intelligent and sentient animal (that word, sentient – I had to look it up – is used several times in the book – it means with “feelings”) is going to be returned to the general population of chimps used for maybe not-so-nice drug studies and likely would die from an inflicted disease. The widower is an attorney, and he’s thrown into battle with the U.S. government about saving the chimp. There’s a huge message here about the use of animals in drug studies and it’s hard to come away from this book without feeling “feelings” for the sweet chimp, whose intelligence was measured as the age of a 4-year old human. You’ll be drawn into the many other animals, the husband’s grief, and the team of people trying to save the chimp. Quite a story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – many reader friends recommended it, and oh, is it good! If you’re at the end of your tether with reading WW II resistance stories, you’ll want to skip this one, but you’ll be rewarded if you do read it. It’s the story of 2 sisters who live in a remote area of France and both get caught up in the war. There are some very terror-filled moments in this book – I won’t kid you – the deprivation, torture, hunger, betrayal; all the things that make a book real, wartime real. The relationship between the sisters isn’t always good. One becomes a resistance fighter; the other is a mom whose husband fights for France, but is imprisoned for years. She eventually participates by shepherding Jewish children to safety. It’s a riveting book, and the 2 women are portrayed with great realism.

Also read The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a novelized biography of King David, the man who was a sinner from his youth. If you’ve studied the Holy Bible, then you’ll know that he reformed, eventually, and he is credited with writing most of the Psalms. If you’ve spent much time reading Psalms, then you’ll know there is so much angst contained within the poetic verses. David was a consummate writer and poet – no question about that – and he was a musician as well. But he had his appetites, which betrayed him over and over and over. He laments his bad character in the form of the Psalms. I can remember singing in our church choir one of the Psalms about Absalom, his beloved son, that he had killed. King David’s time was primitive, life for life, where trust wasn’t taken lightly. It’s a really fascinating portrayal of the man, his vices, and his eventual redemption.

If you’re already a fan of Molly Wizenberg, then you’ll know about her book Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. Molly started off writing a blog some years ago, called Orangette. She wrote a book (part memoir and cookbook) a few years ago, and her prose is a delight to read. She’s a commander of words. This book is the story of meeting and marrying her husband Brandon, and their journey to realizing HIS dream of opening a pizza restaurant (Delancey) in Seattle. It’s a very interesting read since they built the restaurant in a questionable neighborhood; they had insufficient money. Let’s just say that along the road to getting the restaurant open, there are many hurdles, including her own belief in the project. I loved the book. And yes, there are a few recipes included too.

After I read The Elephant Whisperer (which was a fabulous book), I read online that Lawrence Anthony considered his best book The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. So I had to read that, of course. It’s the very sad story about his effort to extract 6 rare white rhino from deep in the jungle of Africa, in an area controlled by guerrillas. He’s unsuccessful, and now the only known white rhinos left are in zoos. They’ll likely be extinct in the next generation. I wasn’t as enamored with the book as I was with the elephant book – maybe because the mechanics of trying to find and negotiate to get the rhinos wasn’t as riveting as the elephant stories. Jungle politics, nighttime helicopter flights, slogging in the mud all play important parts. If you want to know more about rhinos, the rare northern whites, then you’ll want to read this book. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have one in your local zoo. Great literature this is not, but it tells an important story about poaching and why we must fight to eliminate it with education.

Also read, for one of my book clubs, Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain. It’s the biography of Beryl Markham, but only of her early life. Beryl’s own book, West with the Night has long been a favorite of mine, but she only wrote about her later life once she learned to pilot a plane and flew all over Africa. The McLain book is about her youth on her father’s horse farm, her coming of age and about falling in love (she was a philanderer from way back), her young adulthood, her marriages, her successes in life and her failures. It’s a VERY good book that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Markham is known more compellingly for her piloting career, but she led a fascinating life before she ever began to fly. Worth reading.

Read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Oh my goodness. When one of my book groups met to discuss this book, we all talked about the crying we did at the end. Oh yes, me too. This is a novel with a point to make (somewhat like Jodi Piccoult’s books). In this case it’s the right to die issue and it’s cloaked in a fast-paced page turner. A young woman who is a bit at loose ends, accepts a new job as a caregiver, something she’s never done before, to a young man who had recently become a quadriplegic. There are numerous sub-stories (about her family, her relationship with her sister, her boyfriend and her relationship with him, the patient himself, who is grumpy, and his relationships with his mother and father and ex-girlfriend). And, it’s about his wish to end his life. During the last 100 pages I could hardly put it down. I don’t want to jinx the story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s gritty in a way, but charming. Loved the book. Now I’m going to order the sequel, the book the author never really intended to write, but so many people wrote her asking for one. I’m right there too. This book is being made into a movie.

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 December 5th, 2008.

panettone slices, hot out of the oven
You’ve all seen the big, tall cylindrical boxes of panettone available around holiday time, right? I think our Costco even carries them. And until a few years ago I’d never tried it – because I reasoned – how could any bread be good when it’s made in Italy, shipped across the ocean and kept for likely several months before I buy it. I mean – bread I bake here at home is stale within a day or two, so how could this be any good? Then we were given one as a gift, and I let it sit for a few more months before I finally said, okay, gotta open this thing up, so I can tell the gifter “thank you.” I wanted to be able to say I’d at least tried it. Well, I was quite amazed. It was actually very good. A drier kind of crumb, but still it was quite tasty. It wasn’t stale (how do they DO that, I wonder?), just a bit on the dry side. Then we went to Italy a few years ago and lo and behold I had it there, and it was delicious. And not all that much different than the one I’d had that was shipped across the ocean.

But, I’d never considered making it. Although there are recipes out there, I just wasn’t convinced I’d be successful. Besides, I didn’t have an appropriate pan anyway (I thought). Then, earlier this week I was readiing Baker’s Banter. Detour here to explain. Those of you who are bakers will likely know all about King Arthur Flour. I’m a big fan of their products. I do buy the flour sometimes at my local markets, and I order things from their catalog now and then too. They have superior products, both food and non-food items. They test things. They have a test kitchen. And the bakers who work there in the test kitchen maintain this wonderful blog. There are a couple of people (maybe three?) who provide posts for the blog. They include copious photos. Lots of instructions. And usually very fun stories about what they do. If you are a baker, you definitely should read their blog, updated every day or two.

Okay, so I was reading the blog and they did a long, detailed explanation all about panettone bread. How they’d devised the recipe, what works and why. It was a very interesting read, just by itself. Then and there, I decided to try making this – in my old, dented, but trusty tube pan. The King Arthur recipe was for what they called American-Style Panettone (with the fruitcake kinds of fruit). If any of you have been long-time readers of my blog, you already know I detest usual fruitcake. Can’t abide it. I have yet to make my Bishop’s Bread this year (the one that contains walnuts, maraschino cherries and chocolate chips rather than that icky glaceed fruit stuff). Bought the cardboard pans the other day, but haven’t made the bread itself. I will in coming days. But in the write-up about this panettone, they mentioned another recipe they’d worked on for apricot and crystallized ginger panettone. Wow, that sounded good, I thought. The first recipe calls for an ingredient most people won’t have – Fiori de Sicilia. It’s a vanilla-like essence (means flowers of Sicily). I bought a small bottle of it from King Arthur some years ago to make a sugar cookie (that I’ve not blogged about, but I should). If you don’t have it, don’t not make this because of that. Just add a bit more vanilla instead.

If you click to the Bakers Banter printable recipe for either one, you’ll have a choice of volume or weight (choose weight if you have a kitchen scale). I used the recipe from the American-Style Panettone, but the fruit ideas from the ginger and apricot one. The two recipes are different – in both the sponge and the bread recipe itself, so you choose. I went with the first one, but I added more fruit (golden raisins, some chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, the ginger . . . and I soaked the dried apricots in dark rum). I hoped for a nice bread to make our morning toast.

panettone dough rising in a tube pan

The recipe is not difficult, but it’s certainly more verbiage than a normal recipe. So I’m not going to write it up in total – I’ll just point you (above) on the way to find King Arthur’s recipe. I followed it to the letter – including choosing the version “by weight,” meaning that I measured every ingredient by weight on my kitchen scale, rather than volume. And really, I repeat, it is NOT difficult to make. You start with a biga (a sponge) the night before which I left below my cabinet lighting for the full 12 hours. Then you combine it with other bread ingredients, mix up using your bread machine or stand mixer with dough hook. It is a very sticky dough – nothing like a traditional loaf. Except for sprinkling just a bit of flour on my granite countertop to mold it into the form that will fit in the tube pan, I stuck with the recipe exactly (well, except for the fruit additions). Then it was allowed to rise. That takes awhile, what with all the fruit in it. You’ll want to do this on a day when you’re going to be around home since you can’t just go off and leave it all day. A few hours in strategic places, yes. All day, no. It does take the better part of 24 hours, but well worth it.

The verdict? What do you think by looking at the photo? This reminds me some of Stollen (which I used to make every year when I baked bread for extra money back years and years ago when my daughter was a baby). Probably Stollen is the German version of Panettone, or vice versa. They’re very similar in texture, but very different in shape. I’m sure there must be a story about that – probably something to do with the Pope’s hat, or something. You think? No, after searching at wikipedia, it’s nothing like that. There are several legends about the bread, but one specific baker decided to make the shape we know, rather than a loaf style. Soaking the fruit in wine is not the custom (oh well, I did anyway, in rum). The traditional panettone is filled with just lemon zest and citron. The perfume in my kitchen was just lovely from the rum.

Here’s the fruit I added to the dough:

  • 2 ounces crystallized ginger, minced in tiny pieces
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2/3 cup dried apricots, minced with scissors then soaked in about ¼ cup rum (drained after soaking 30 minutes) and tossed with about 2 T. of flour

If none of this interests you, be sure to buy a ready-made Italian panettone loaf this year and try it. Last year I bought one that contained a few bits of chocolate. It was good; that’s why I added chocolate to the panettone I made yesterday. Since making this was so easy (but I’m not intimidated by yeast breads, either) I’ll likely do it again.

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  1. PJ Hamel

    said on December 7th, 2008:

    Carolyn, looks WONDERFUL. Glad the recipe worked out for you. I don’t like those icky fruit peels and candied stuff, either; that’s why I use golden raisins, apricots, and dried pineapple, and maybe dried cranberries. But ginger – YES! Next time… Happy holidays! PJ Hamel, King Arthur Flour baker/blogger

  2. Joan Landers

    said on December 12th, 2008:

    Carolyn, thanks so much for sharing some of this wonderful panettone with us. It was absolutely wonderful!!!!

    Am so glad you enjoyed it. We’re down to our last two small pieces. I may have to make it again – and give you a couple more samples so Tom can have at least one or two pieces. . . . Carolyn

  3. Mimi

    said on December 11th, 2009:

    I love panetone and yours looks scrumptious!

    Thanks, Mimi. It really was good, and I’ll be making it again this Christmas. . . carolyn t

  4. Joanne

    said on December 13th, 2009:

    Coming from an Italian home, we are usually given MANY loaves of panettone during the holiday season. I love the texture of it, although I don’t like the ones with the glaceed fruit. I prefer the plain versions or the chocolate chip ones. This looks excellent, however! Crystallized ginger and dried apricots are two of my favorite dried fruits/spices. Delicious.

    The chocolate chips, dried apricots & crystallized ginger are favorites of mine, too, that’s why I made it with that combination. . . carolyn T

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