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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, Vegetarian, on May 11th, 2013.

cucumber_sandiwiches

Well. There are tea sandwiches, and then there are THESE tea sandwiches. Oh gosh were they delicious. As I’m writing this – and it’s breakfast time this moment – I’d eat these for breakfast if I had any of them!

Our daughter Sara decided to throw a tea for a group of her girlfriends. Her rule: no children allowed – it was going to be a time for her friends, all busy moms – to sit and relax. Since we were driving there to visit them that evening, she asked if I’d come early. Of course! I’m always up for tea! At home, I made two kinds of cookies to help her – the Baked Cinnamon Toasts I’ve already raved about here and the Moravian Sugar Cookies, although my recipe calls them Almond Spice Wafers. I also made lemon curd, and couldn’t believe it when we got all done and realized we’d forgotten to put it out! Oh, so sad. Sara made the middle cookies you can see below, rich chocolate shortbread kind of cookies pillowed with a chewy caramel layer. cookies_for_teaSara made 2 kinds of tea – a rooibos, which is her day to day favorite decaf tea, and a pot of Earl Grey. She also put out some gorgeous spring strawberries, sugar, milk, teacups and saucers, some crème fraiche that I sweetened with a little bit of sugar (this was in lieu of clotted cream), and napkins, of course.

The COOKIES: Baked Cinnamon Toasts are on the left, Sara’s chocolate caramel filled cookies in the middle and the Almond Spice Wafers on the right. Sara thought the Cinnamon  Toasts were the hit of the cookie category. I agree. I had about 5-6 of them I kept at home and within a day they were gone – even my DH, who rarely eats anything sweet – gobbled down 2-3 of them. Guess I’ll have to make them again.

I’ll write up a post in the next day or so with the two scones we made. One an apricot-orange and the star of the show, a lavender white chocolate chip.

The winner of the tea sandwich category at Sara’s tea was this cucumber one. I mean, what would a ladies’ tea be without some cucumber sandwiches? Sara found some tea sandwich suggestions at this website. For this sandwich it said:  Cucumber-Butter – Mix 4 tablespoons softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs. Spread on white bread and sandwich with sliced cucumber. Trim the crusts and cut into pieces.   We were making 5 whole sandwiches (which made 4 little quarters each), so we had 20 of each sandwich we made. I added minced chives, lemon zest, some salt and a teaspoon or so of fresh minced thyme leaves. I used 1 cube of butter for the 5 sandwiches and it was just enough.

Over the years, I’ve learned that you need to get just the right proportion of filling to bread.

Tea Sandwich Advice:

Make one tiny test sandwich with the filling and taste to see if it’s too bready, or too buttery or has too much filling. Adjust and taste again until you get it just right!

So in this case, with our first taste test, there wasn’t enough butter. The butter needed salt too. And the cucumber wasn’t quite thick enough. Obviously start with very soft butter, add the flavorings and taste. Cut off the crusts on the bread. We chose not to make round cutouts (too much trouble), so I generously buttered both sides of the bread and placed 4 cucumber rounds on each sandwich. We chose to cut just one slice rather than use many ultra-thin slices as I knew the multiple slices would slip and the sandwich would come apart from the moisture in the cucumbers. So one slice – in our case the cucumber was about 1/8 inch+ thick. The bread used was some very, very soft white sandwich bread we bought here in our local village at a Japanese bakery called Cream Pan. They make the softest and fluffiest white sandwich bread. Kind of like Weber’s bread, but a whole lot more tasty. With the cucumber in place the other bread slice was very carefully positioned, then I gently – oh so gently – cut the sandwich into 4 squares, trying not to cut into any of the cucumbers.

The sandwiches went onto a nice serving tray and Sara covered the platter with a dampened tea towel, which kept them very fresh for the hour prior to the start of the tea. We didn’t refrigerate them – but there wasn’t anything like mayo in anything, so that worked just fine.

prosciutto_pea_puree_sandwichesThe other tea sandwich was just okay. I probably wouldn’t make them again, but it was certainly different. Sara really wanted sandwiches containing some prosciutto, so the website suggestion said: Pea-Prosciutto: puree 1/2 cup thawed frozen peas with 1 tablespoon each olive oil and water in a blender; season with salt and pepper. Spread inside a split loaf of focaccia and fill with prosciutto and shaved parmesan. Cut into squares. 

My suggestion had been to use ham instead of prosciutto, but Sara really wanted the prosciutto, so I bought some imported less-salty prosciutto from our local Italian deli. Sara made the pea puree, which was cinchy easy. I spread the bread with the pea puree, then we took small strips of the prosciutto and layered about 3 ultra-thin slices on each sandwich, added some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (very thin). My other suggestion to Sara had been that we chop up the prosciutto instead of laying it in strips (ribbons, really) in the sandwich, but Sara wanted to SEE the prosciutto. Cutting this sandwich was more of a challenge because of the grain of the meat, cut the long way it was easy, but across the prosciutto grain was difficult. For sure use a serrated knife, like a bread knife and use a gentle repetitive sawing motion. Even she agreed later that it would have been easier to eat if we’d chopped it up. Prosciutto has a tendency to be kind of stringy – very do-able if you’re eating a slice out of hand, but not so easy when it pulls apart a dainty tea sandwich! But overall, we were unimpressed with this sandwich. It needed something moist in it – like a thin-thin slice of tomato maybe, or lettuce? And I think I would have added some mayo to the pea puree. I don’t think anybody went back for seconds on this sandwich, but that’s mostly because the cucumber one was SO delicious.

What’s GOOD: well, the herb butter just “made” the sandwich, I think. And the combo of the so very soft thin white bread [it was so perfect for this . . . too bad white bread isn’t all that healthy!] with the crispy cucumber slice, and the lemon zest. It was all just fantastic!
What’s NOT: nothing at all – just know you can’t make this very far in advance – an hour or so. Enlist someone’s help with it so if you’re the hostess you can be doing other things like stirring up scones and boiling water for the tea, setting the table, etc.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file (remember where), run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cucumber Herb-Butter Tea Sandwiches

Recipe By: foodnetwork.com
Serving Size: 10
Description: Makes 20 small quarter-sandwiches.

10 slices sandwich bread — (very fresh)
1/2 cup unsalted butter — softened to room temp
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chives — finely minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Salt to taste
20 slices cucumber — cut slightly more than 1/8″ thick

NOTES: Advice – make one small sandwich to get the proportion of butter- to bread – to cucumber, until it tastes right.
1. In a small bowl combine the butter, chives, thyme, lemon zest and salt. If time permits, allow this to sit for 2-3 hours (or overnight) to blend flavors.
2. Cut crusts off the bread. Working on one sandwich at a time (to keep the bread ultra fresh) spread a generous amount of the herb butter on one side of each piece of bread.
3. Place 4 cucumber slices on the sandwich, separated and not overlapping. Place second piece of bread over and very gently slice the sandwich into 4 small squares.
4. Place sandwiches on a serving platter and cover with a moderately damp tea towel for up to about an hour. Re-dampen the towel if it dries out too much.
Per Serving: 230 Calories; 11g Fat (40.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 163mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 11th, 2013:

    I bet that lemon really adds some zest to this sandwich :). I do love cucumber sandwiches, and these sound so good, I’m not going to wait for my next tea party to make them. My daughter-in-law and baby granddaughter are coming for a visit this afternoon, and I think she and I will have our own little private tea party on Monday! Your daughter’s tea party sounds lovely–what a treat for everyone!
    Thanks for a super idea.

    You’re so welcome. Hope you enjoy this version as much as we did. . . carolyn t

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