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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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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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