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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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What makes my world rock? Having a fun dinner with friends, enjoying some nice, soft wine with classical music in the background, easy-going conversation, but enjoying it over a spectacular meal. Someone recently asked me why I’m willing to spend so much time cooking. Because when my hubby or a guest says “Oh, this is so wonderful.” It makes the work worthwhile.

ct-with-choc-roll

I’m in my early 70’s, and have lots of things yet to do in my life. My other half, Dave, my DH (you’ll see that throughout my posts, it means Dear Husband) of 31 years, enjoyed all my food experimentation, and God bless him, he washed all the dishes. Usually when we entertained, he even set the dinner table for me, and did much of the grocery shopping (because he LIKED to). His parents used to own a gourmet food and grocery market in Ocean City, New Jersey. [Alas, my darling husband passed away in March, 2014, of complications following a stroke. He was a Type 1 diabetic, and was very lucky throughout his life to have very few of the major problems that often accompany diabetes. He lived 74 years, 66 of those as a diabetic.]

I grew up in San Diego, went to college there, married the wrong man and stayed with him for way too many years, had a daughter during that time, was divorced and a year later found Dave, the love of my life. Between us we have 3 children (and now 5 grandchildren). They all live in California. I live in Orange County, California. In the land of sunshine.

Dave and I did a lot of traveling in our married years, as world travel was always important. I took him on a trip to England early in our relationship, as a “test run,” to make sure he’d travel well. (He passed the test, obviously, and he acquired the travel bug as well!) You find out a lot of things about a mate by living with him 24/7. We lived together for some months before we married – probably not something I’d do today – but back then I was skittish of committing myself to someone if I didn’t really know him well. We dated for 6 months, lived together for a year and married in 1983. When I wrote this bio some years ago, we still had lots of world travel places to visit or revisit (and not necessarily in this order): Tasmania (again), Spain (again), Rome (again), Venice (again, but off season), Newfoundland, South Africa, Israel (to see all the Christian historical sites), Stockholm harbor (again), Norway (again), New Zealand (also again). Places we’ve particularly loved: Italy, England (our two favorites), Spain, Turkey and inland Alaska.

At right and below is a recent picture of me in Paris (4 of us girlfriends traveled together for 2 weeks in Switzerland and France) – my friend Darlene and I were at Angelina’s, a very famous place for their hot chocolate. Did you know that French hot chocolate is thickened with flour? Who knew? I’ve recently had cataract surgery and don’t have to wear glasses anymore! That’s a whole lot of fun, though I still must wear them for reading.

When I draw on my travel memories, carolyn_in_Paris_Angelinas_hot_chocolate_200favorite places that come to mind: the villa in Provence that a group of us (friends) rented a few years ago; one of the lochs in Scotland where Dave and I were the only car for miles around. We were on a very narrow 2-lane track – we stopped the car – rolled the windows down and just listened – to the wind – to the leaves rustling – to the lapping water – it was magical; staying at a very posh hotel on the north shore of Lake Lucerne (Switzerland), and a particularly memorable meal we had in the hotel’s restaurant with a view of the lake, mostly occluded in fog that evening; standing at the Spanish Steps in Rome; the Blue Mosque in Istanbul; waking up in Giza, just outside Cairo (Egypt) to look out our hotel room window at the magnificent pyramid; seeing Michelangelo’s statue David in Florence (it’s huge); riding a Segway in Paris; the unbelievably green grass in Switzerland in the springtime; my first visit to Harrod’s in London, many, many years ago, when I bought a $200 (then) Burberry raincoat and thought I’d purchased the moon; and the week we spent in Hawaii with all our kids and grandkids some years back, at a rental home right on the sand.

Reading is also an important part of my life. I’ve been in a book review group (through AAUW, American Ass’n of University Women) for about 30 years. Mostly I read fiction, but the “better paperback” choices, not pulp fiction. Lots of my book reads will be on my blog. Maybe some cookbooks too since I read and buy way too many. I’m also in a 2nd book group now and a 3rd one too.

I’m a committed Christian, have been a member of a Presbyterian church (Trinity United Presbyterian Church) for about 30 years, sing sometimes in the 120+ voice choir, and am involved in two bible study ministries. I also help as a hostess at memorial services as well. I spend way too many hours on the computer every day. I enjoy playing a bunch of different solitaire games (they’re part of my morning wake-up exercises I tell myself), and doing my daily jigsaw puzzle at www.jigzone.com.

So come along for the ride, and see where my writing , cooking, traveling and reading take us.