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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 Brunch, Chicken, Pork, on August 27th, 2013.

pork_turkey_breakfast_sausage

For a couple of years we’ve been enjoying a single breakfast sausage most mornings. Trying to make it more healthy, but not giving up the pork aspect altogether, we’ve settled on a mixture of half ground pork and half ground turkey. Delish.

For the longest time we ate Costco’s all pork breakfast sausage, which comes from a distributor in San Diego. If you go outside of SoCal, you’ll find different branded sausage at Costco. I’ve been trying to find more healthy alternatives, though, and at first I tried making sausage patties with all ground turkey. We just didn’t get the flavor and texture we were looking for, so after going back to breakfast sausageCostco’s sausage for some months I decided to give it another try. This time with the half and half mixture and more spices. I’ve been making this for about 3-4 months now, and we’re very happy with the results. One of these times I’m going to use slightly more turkey than pork.

The spice mixture started out as one from my friend Sue, who now lives in Colorado. Sue’s mild turkey breakfast sausage  had great flavor, so I went with her combination, but just used a bit more.

Here’s a little triptych at left of how I do it:

(1) all the meat goes into a big bowl

(2) the seasonings are sprinkled all over – do NOT just throw it into one little pile – it will never get mixed in well enough – trust me on this

(3) mix it up and separate those spices as much as possible

(4) use a cookie scoop (or a spoon) to make really large 2-tablespoon-sized balls, approximately, and roll them, then flatten carefully

(5) On a metal sheet lined with waxed paper (or foil) place the patties a hair’s breadth apart, stacking 2 layers with waxed paper in between layers

(6) place tray on a flat surface in the freezer and allow to freeze solidly for about 3-4 hours

(7) remove from freezer and gently pry the patties off the waxed paper and place in Ziploc freezer bags (the quart size will hold about 16 or so of them). Seal up and replace bags in the freezer.

Below is a photo of them during the freezing process. I balance the cookie sheet on several items in the freezer so they’re almost level – and not touching the top rack, obviously. Can you tell my freezer if pretty darned full? I make a double batch of these each time (2 pounds each of turkey and pork) and they keep just fine for a couple of months in the freezer.

sausage_freezing

When you’re ready to have some, remove the number you want from the freezer bag and slowly (on a low setting) microwave/defrost them for about a minute until they’re defrosted. Do not “cook” them in the microwave – once you actually start to cook them in a frying pan, they’ll cook unevenly if they were partially cooked in the microwave and will tend to dry out.

The only advice I have – don’t over cook them – if you make these you’ll learn how quickly these cook and to remove them just when they’re done. They go from tender and juicy to dry and firm (and not very tasty) in a jiffy.

What’s GOOD: we like everything about this combination. We feel a little bit healthier because we’ve cut out half the pork, but with some in it, it still has all the pork flavor I’m looking for. I really like the subtle mixture of spices – be sure to sprinkle the red chili flakes all over the bowl – they’re potently hot – I speak from the voice of experience here.
What’s NOT: nothing, really. It’s a bit of a nuisance to make, but you’ll have enough to last awhile. Or make a double batch like I do.

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Pork & Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Recipe By: Adapted from my friend Sue, from a friend of hers
Serving Size: 30

1 pound lean ground turkey — (a mixture of light and dark meat)
1 pound ground pork — (not seasoned, just plain ground pork)
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/8 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves — rounded

1. Place ground pork and turkey in a mixing bowl. As you add the seasonings, sprinkle them all over the meat, which makes it easier to distribute it when you mix it in.
2. As gently as possible mix in the herbs and form into individual patties (about 2 T each and use a cookie scoop if you have one) and place on a waxed-paper lined sheet pan. You can cook them at this point, but I freeze the whole batch. So, freeze them, then remove from waxed paper and store in a Ziploc freezer bag. To defrost, remove and use a low setting to defrost in microwave or place them in the refrigerator the night before you want to prepare them.
3. Fry the patties over low heat (they cook quickly and will dry out if cooked over high heat). When frying them, add just a little jot of canola oil to the pan if desired.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 4g Fat (62.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 161mg Sodium.

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