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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 Beef, on August 13th, 2007.

I probably should start out this posting with the sentence: I love thyme. It is this recipe that introduced me to its culinary virtues. And I’ve been a frequent user ever since.

My memory served me poorly on this recipe. I’ve been making it for so long, and it’s been written into my old recipe binder for so many years that I didn’t remember who gave it to me. When I did a search for the title (in French), sure enough, I found it. This is Julia Child’s recipe from her first major tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set). I found a write-up about the recipe on the Julia-Julie Project (the young woman who decided to methodically cook the entire contents of Julia’s book in a year, all the while blogging about it, and she subsequently wrote a book based on her blog). I tried to read her blog a couple of years ago (after I read Julia’s memoir, My Life in France  by Julia Child, written by her nephew, which I just loved), but this woman, named Julie, has such a foul mouth I just couldn’t continue. (I’m not even going to insert a link to her site because I disliked it so much.) I don’t understand why people feel they have to use the f and s words in every sentence. (Later note . . . Julie’s website was taken down once work started on the movie, Julie & Julia.)

So, obviously, this isn’t anything original. This has been a staple in my cooking repertoire for 35 years. I’ve even served it to guests (I double the sauce in that case), and whenever I do make these I make extra and freeze at least 4 patties so I can make them just by defrosting. They aren’t difficult. Not in the least, although they do take a bit more time than just making patties from raw meat and cooking them.

Since I haven’t read Julia Child’s take on using minced beef (raw), I don’t know the origin of this either. But she recommends using lean beef, then you ADD butter to the raw meat. Interesting, huh? Most current chefs and cooking magazines recommend using nothing leaner than ground chuck. But, realize that when you cook these, if the cold butter is in the middle, when the heat finally reaches the butter, it melts right into the meat, not out into the pan. That’s what gives the meat it’s richness. But first you saute some onion and butter, cool it, then combine that with egg and thyme to make thick patties. It’s necessary to allow these to chill a little bit (with the egg to hold it together). That’s an important step. Then you dredge them in flour, then fry them up until done to your liking.

You remove them from the pan and set in a warm oven while you make the sauce. Then you drain the fat from the pan, and add wine or broth. I usually use red wine, but have also used sherry. You can also use broth, or white wine for that matter. You deglaze the pan, scraping up any of those pan juices and little sticky parts, until the wine has evaporated some. Remove from heat and add some additional butter, in bits. Pour into a HOT little pitcher to serve at the table. The recipe says pour the sauce on the burgers, but then most of the sauce ends up on the platter, not on the burger, so I prefer a pitcher.

I like serving this with pasta, just simple buttered pasta. Because some of that sauce tastes great with the pasta. Then with a bright colored veg – like broccoli, or green beans perhaps. And a salad. This used to be – back in the days when nobody thought anything of eating beef 3-4 nights a week – a frequent visitor on my regular family menu. Now it’s a treat.
printer-friendly PDF

French Hamburgers

(aka Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise)
Recipe: Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
, Vol. 1
Servings: 4

BEEF PATTIES:
3/4 c onion — minced
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp butter — softened
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1 whole egg
DREDGING MIXTURE:
1/2 c flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
SAUCE:
1/2 cup red wine — or sherry or port or broth
2 tablespoons butter

1. Cook minced onion slowly for 10 minutes in butter, until tender, but not brown. Pour into a mixing bowl. Add the ground beef, additional butter, and seasonings to the onions and beat just until combined. Form into 4 patties, 3/4 inch thick. Cover with wax paper and chill several hours.
2. Just before sauteing the patties, gently roll them in the flour. In a large, heavy frying pan, melt butter and oil, bring to a moderately high temperature and add patties. Sear them until they’re brown on both sides, then reduce heat until they’re done to your liking. This usually takes longer than I think – about 15 minutes.
3. Remove patties to a heated oven. Pour fat out of the pan and add sherry (or other wine), scraping up the pan juices, until it’s reduced to a thick syrup. Take off the heat and add the butter (allow butter to melt) and serve in a small pitcher to pour over the patties. I often poke holes in the top of each patty (with a fork) so the sauce will ooze down into the meat.
4. Note: the original recipe calls for red wine, white wine, vermouth or beef stock for the sauce. You can use either red wine, sherry or light port or even Madeira.
Per Serving: 766 Calories; 60g Fat (73.4% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 235mg Cholesterol; 1160mg Sodium.

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  1. Kalyn

    said on August 13th, 2007:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I wondered if you knew that Lisa from Champaign Taste is having a blog event to celebrate Julia Child’s birthday on August 15. This recipe would be perfect for it!

    You would have to edit and add a link to Champaign Taste if you wanted to enter; then just send Lisa the permalink for this entry and she would mention your blog and recipe in the roundup. No pressure, I just thought you might like your recipe to be included.

  2. Carolyn T

    said on August 15th, 2007:

    Thanks, Kalyn. I did read her blog a few weeks ago and had forgotten all about it. Thanks for the reminder. Don’t know if I’ve made it under the deadline or not. We were out of town for 2 days and just sent it this morning. We’ll see.
    Carolyn T

  3. Fully Alive

    said on April 29th, 2016:

    We just finished dinner – the Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise along with the Pasta in Tomato Cream Sauce and fresh steamed asparagus. We are rubbing our bellies and smiling. Both were delicious and quite easy. Even better – just a few inexpensive ingredients. Thank you for sharing.

    Debbie

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the dinner! Two of my favorite recipes. Thanks for letting me know . . . carolyn t

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