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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on June 26th, 2013.

lemon_risotto

This just LOOKS like an ordinary bowl of rice. Oh my, no, it isn’t. It’s spectacular rice. You’ve got to make this if you are a risotto-lover and you also crave lemon in just about everything.

Why hadn’t it ever occurred to me to enhance risotto with lemon juice? It just hadn’t. But I saw Nigella Lawson make this recipe on one of her old-old TV shows, and when she put the spoonful in her mouth (and you wait for the oohs and aahs that every Food Network host makes), well, I just knew I had to try this version. The truth of the matter is that about 2 weeks ago I came down with the flu. I thought I’d managed to get through flu season, but no, I didn’t. I was down for 2 full days. I watched every single TV program on my Tivo and then some, although the first 2 days I couldn’t watch any food-oriented programs as my stomach lurched, but after 2 days that part improved – that’s why I was watching an old Nigella Lawson program. Anyway, for those first 2 days I couldn’t eat a thing, and even on day 3 I was only able to down some corn flakes and sip sparkling cider off and on all day. And even though it’s been 2 weeks (as I write this) I still have times when my stomach gives me a little turn. I’ve barely eaten any meat – a little bacon, a little chicken, one fish dinner that didn’t go down well. We spent the weekend at a lovely resort and I had difficulty eating some of the wonderful food. And yesterday my stomach revolted a little after I had breakfast. So when dinnertime came around, I craved carbs only. Not my usual shtick, for sure. I know . . . too much information, right? Sorry.

On to the recipe . . . there is nothing that difficult or unusual about this risotto. It contains shallots and celery (that’s a bit different), butter, Arborio rice, broth (I used chicken because I didn’t have any vegetable broth), a fresh lemon (preferably a home grown or organic one), olive oil, and the final fillip to this version – an egg yolk (that IS different), 4 T. of heavy cream, fresh rosemary and of course, Parmigiano. I added on the chopped chives to give the dish some color. The recipe calls for a quart of broth – I had to add about another cup of water because the rice wasn’t quite done, but that was easy enough. lemon_risotto_wide

This was all we had for dinner. No salad. No veggies. And it was so comforting. Oh yes! My hat’s off to Nigella for a spectacular recipe.

What’s GOOD: well, everything about it was fabulous. And I mean fabulous. This recipe is going onto my FAVs list if that’s any indication of how much I liked it. I’d use words like unctuous, smooth, silky, comfort food. I just loved the lemon juice and zest added in, and the egg yolk? Well, I’d never thought to add one, but when mixed with the cheese and little jot of cream, well, that’s how the dish went from ordinary to unctuous. Make this, okay?
What’s NOT: only the 30+ minutes of near-continuous stirring required, but I managed to keep it on a very low heat (I forgot to get out my battery operated Stirr thing that would have just kept the mixture moving while I did other things like zest the lemon, chop rosemary, etc.). I didn’t actually stir it continuously, it just seemed like it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lemon Risotto

Recipe By: Nigella Lawson, Food Network
Serving Size: 4

2 shallots — chopped
1 rib celery — chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter — divided use
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/3 cups risotto rice — preferably Arborio or Vialone Nano
1 quart vegetable stock — and probably more (I used chicken stock)
1/2 lemon — unwaxed, zested and juiced
Needles from 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, plus more, for garnish
4 tablespoons heavy cream
Good grating black pepper — preferably white
Maldon or other sea salt — to taste
2 tablespoons chives — minced [my addition]

1. Put the shallots and celery into a mini food processor and blitz until they are finely chopped. Heat half the butter, the oil and the shallot and celery mixture in a wide saucepan, and cook to soften the mixture for about 5 minutes, making sure it doesn’t stick. Mix in the rice, stirring to give it a good coating of oil and butter.
2. Meanwhile, heat the stock in another saucepan and keep it at the simmering point.
3. Put a ladleful of the stock into the rice and keep stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful and stir again. Continue doing this until the rice is al dente. You may not need all of the stock, equally, you may need to add hot water from the kettle.
4. Mix the lemon zest and the rosemary into the risotto, and in a small bowl beat the egg yolk, lemon juice, Parmesan, cream and pepper.
5. When the risotto is ready – when the rice is no longer chalky, but still has some bite – take it off the heat and add the bowl of eggy, lemony mixture, and the remaining butter and salt, to taste. Serve with more Parmesan if you wish, check the seasoning. Garnish with chives, if desired.
Per Serving: 614 Calories; 27g Fat (39.7% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 78g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 111mg Cholesterol; 1749mg Sodium.

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  1. Lisa

    said on June 27th, 2013:

    Hope you are feeling better. I’ve only made risotto in the pressure cooker! Wondering if I could adapt your recipe for that method? I love anything lemon so this sounds perfect!

    I’m back to normal now! Thanks. And YES, I’m sure you could do this in the pressure cooker. I’ve done it that way too and it worked quite well. Try it and let me know . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on July 1st, 2013:

    This looks like one I will have to try! I’ve done lemon risottos and loved them. I, too, like the pressure cooker for risottos–there’s a great recipe in Cooking Light from two or three years ago that I’ve made several times, though I can’t remember off the top of my head whether that one has lemon in it. I believe it’s called Champagne Risotto, but I use Prosecco. I think when I do this recipe, I’ll follow those guidelines, as it turns out great with only a little stirring at the beginning. I like the use of rosemary in this one and am eager to try the addition of cream and egg yolk.

    I know you’ll like it – just because of the cream and egg yolk, for sure. But the lemon flavor. Ah. Delish . . . carolyn t

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