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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 easy, Fish, on May 21st, 2013.


Wow. Was this easy baked salmon ever off the charts delicious! I almost can’t wait to make it again, it was that good. The salmon is flavored with red onions, garlic and green onions, then soaked in olive oil, agave nectar and lime juice. And an itty-bitty pinch of cinnamon.

This salmon dish could hardly be easier. Well, maybe a little, but we’re not talking much effort to make this, that’s all I’m saying. The recipe came from a fellow blogger, Karina Allrich, also known as the Gluten-Free Goddess. Karina eats GF (gluten free), but she has plenty of “regular” recipes as well (meaning they’re not alternative-flour-centric) on her very popular blog. This one was from some years ago. I used the essence of it and adapted it slightly to suit our family. Agave nectar, although it’s a low glycemic carb and slow absorbing into the body of a normal person, is still SUGAR to a any person, let alone for a diabetic, like drinking sugar syrup.

salmon_packet_rawAt left is a photo of the fish before I sealed it up in foil – onions, garlic, green onions and you can see the olive oil/agave mixture around the bottom.

There were 4 of us for dinner that night, and since this dish is made in individual foil packets (hooray for easy cleanup!), I was able to adapt my DH’s serving with less agave. The other 3 portions were as the recipe shows below. Here’s what I did differently from Karina’s recipe: (1) I sprayed the foil to make sure the salmon wouldn’t stick; (2) I reduced the amount of agave and olive oil, just because I thought 1/3 cup of each was more than needed for 4 servings – in any case, you don’t eat all of it anyway; and (3) I used ample of the dark green part of the green onions – flavor, I suppose, but also for color. The only thing I’ll do differently next time – and I’ve put this in the recipe below – is place the slices of garlic underneath the salmon. We found the garlic was still nearly raw when placed on top of the salmon. Perhaps if the garlic was placed in direct contact with the salmon flesh it would cook, but I’d put the onions on first, then the garlic and they were definitely raw. Anyway, I salted and peppered the salmon first, added the pinch of cinnamon, then thin slices of red onion are placed on the salmon fillets, a bunch of the green onions, then I mixed up the olive oil/agave mixture and used a spoon to drizzle it all over the top of the salmon. It puddled below in the packet, but all of the salmon was dampened with the mixture. Then, just before sealing it up I squeezed a half of a lime over the top – I drizzled it directly on the salmon. The packets were sealed up, then I placed them on a big rimmed baking sheet (4 just barely fit).

The 350° was just right – the salmon cooked in exactly 20 minutes. The fillets we had were about 1” at the thickest part, so 20 minutes was perfect. If you have thinner fillets, you’ll want to reduce the baking time by a few minutes.

What’s GOOD: every single, solitary morsel of this dish was fantastic. The fact that it’s relatively easy to make just made it even more fun to prepare. Worthy of a company meal for sure. The taste is on the sweet side – just know that going in.
What’s NOT: nothing. Absolutely nothing!

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

Baked Salmon with Agave and Lime

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Karina’s Kitchen blog, 2008
Serving Size: 4

24 ounces salmon, skinless
1/2 red onion — thinly sliced
4 whole scallions — sliced (using equal amounts of dark green tops)
3 whole garlic cloves — sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 whole limes — halved
1 pinch cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. Tear off eight pieces of foil; two for each piece of salmon.The top piece can be slightly smaller than the bottom one. Spray 4 pieces with EVOO spray. Place garlic pieces on the foil, in a line where you are going to place the salmon. Then place one serving of salmon on one piece of foil, folding under the thin, tapered edge of the fish. Season with a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
3. Sprinkle the salmon with onions and scallions.
4. Combine the olive oil, agave, lime juice and touch of cinnamon in a glass measuring cup. Pour the sauce all over the salmon pieces.
5. Place the remaining pieces of foil on each serving and fold the edges to create a packet.
6. Bake in a preheated oven for roughly 20 minutes, until it flakes easily- but is not dried out. One inch thick fillets were perfect at exactly 20 minutes. When serving, remove the fish from the packet and place on a warm serving plate; discard the juices.
Per Serving: 284 Calories; 13g Fat (40.5% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium.

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