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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 Miscellaneous, Vegetarian, on September 4th, 2013.

dianes_dads_summer_sandwich

This came about because I was listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the “Found Recipes” segment. You may THINK this sandwich doesn’t sound or look all that worthy of a blog post, but I’m telling you it absolutely IS good, if not fantastic.

So, the NPR program was all about mid-summer favorite dishes. Listeners were invited to send (or call) in their suggestions and the story that went along with the recipe, and the list was narrowed down to 3. Those 3 contenders’ stories (in their voices) were featured on the program, then listeners were asked to vote for their favorite. This recipe was the winner, and when I listened to the 3 stories, this is the one that stood out in my mind too. It was so unusual, I just had to try it myself.  (The other two stories were about a strawberry trifle and a spicy cole slaw).

We don’t keep sharp cheddar on hand, so we needed that, and a hothouse cucumber. And by the way, the author says it’s really important to have sharp cheddar, not medium or mild. The slice does not need to be all that thick to do its job. We have good grainy bread, but at the last minute I decided to make it with the super-soft white bread I had in the freezer. Usually the bread I use is a thin sandwich bread, but my DH bought the wrong kind. Oh well, no matter.

According to the story from Marti Oleson (an elementary school librarian), she used to work with Diane Dickey of the recipe’s name, but the recipe, if you can call it that – yes, it IS a recipe – was from Diane’s Dad. Hence the full title. According to the story – this sandwich, composed of bread, peanut butter, onion, tomato, cucumber and cheddar cheese – must be made in a specific stacking order. Here’s the exact order, from the bottom up . . .

P – peanut butter, CRUNCHY

O – onion

Cu – cucumber

T – tomato

Ch – cheddar, SHARP

My brain is getting old and remembering that order was going to be a problem, so I needed an acronym – POCU-TouCH. Not quite remember-able. but maybe it will stick in my brain. I’ve added the ou in the middle just because it helps to make a word –  and added the u for cucumber and the h for cheddar. Got it? Okay, good.

The full sandwich (2 regular slices, preferably grainy bread) uses 2 T. of crunchy peanut butter. I made a half a sandwich, so of course, used just 1 T. crunchy peanut butter. I also soaked the regular  onions in some acidulated water (1/2 c water, 1 T white vinegar) because I’m not so crazy about raw onions. Nor did I want to buy a sweet onion (they’re expensive) for just one slice of it. Soaking doesn’t take out the crunch from a regular onion, but it removes the rawness from the onion. I had a beautiful yellow heirloom tomato with just a few tinges of red on it. I sprinkled the tomato with salt and pepper, then added the thinly sliced hothouse cucumber, and finally the 2 thin-thin slices of sharp cheddar.

I took my first bite. Oh my goodness! Was it ever good. I mean it. I really, really mean it. How to describe it – you taste and feel the crunchy cucumbers and onions, but the tomato slightly squishes (in my sandwich, the tomato is thicker than any of the other interior components), and gives some nice moisture to the bite. The cheddar gives it loads of flavor. And the peanut butter – funny thing – I couldn’t even taste it until the last when all the cucumbers and onions were gone, when all that remained were tomato and cheddar.

When I entered the recipe into my MasterCook recipe program, it had a big hissy fit over the “1 slice cheddar cheese” – either the program’s got a bug, or defining calories of a “slice” of cheddar cheese is just not specific enough. It wanted to add about 800 calories for 2 slices of cheese. At any rate, the calories are a little off on the recipe below, but not by much. I ate HALF a sandwich and it satisfied me all afternoon. I’m not including the nutrition because I had to remove a few ingredients and make them text (meaning no calorie count added). Without doing that the calorie count was over 1800 calories. Adding in each ingredient, I finally narrowed it down the problem to the slice of cheese (obviously a variable) that was throwing off the numbers. Anyway, this sandwich is about 550 calories for a whole one. Maybe 600. Next time I’ll make it with the very thin sandwich bread. Or maybe I’ll use the good grainy bread I have. But eat it again, I will!

What’s GOOD: everything about it. The crunch from the cucumbers and onions, first and foremost. The fresh veggies. The squishy tomato. The soft, but tasty bread. Oh, the cheddar too. It’s just fantastic. Will I make it again? You betcha! Sooner rather than later, I’ll tell you for sure!
What’s NOT: nothing at all. It’s fabulous. Note that I made it with a soft white bread – you can decide. I also specify Laura Scudder’s peanut butter, but you can use whatever brand you want.

printer-friendly CutePDF
MasterCook 5 file or MasterCook 14 file

* Exported from MasterCook *

Summer Sandwich

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from NPR’s All Things Considered, Found Recipes, July, 2013
Serving Size: 1 (or 2 if you’re sharing one sandwich)

2 slices whole grain bread
2 tablespoons Laura Scudder’s Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/2 slice sweet onion — (thinly sliced) or sweet red onion
12 thin slices hothouse cucumber
2-4 slices ripe tomato
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
sharp cheddar cheese slices

1. On the bottom slice of bread spread the crunchy peanut butter.
2. Separate the onion and place on top of peanut butter (you can use regular onion, but soak in acidulated water for 15 minutes to reduce the rawness of it – 1/2 cup water, 1 T white vinegar).
3. Overlap the cucumber slices on top of the onion, adding more layers if the slices are really thin.
4. Place sliced tomatoes on top of cucumber.
5. Add cheddar cheese and place top bread on. Pick up sandwich with both hands, with peanut butter on the BOTTOM and dig in!

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