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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 Soups, on August 19th, 2007.

Do you know what this is? It’s my soup library. We’re not into soup season yet. I look forward to making soups – lots of soups – when the weather turns colder. That certainly hasn’t happened here in Southern California – the weather turning cooler I mean. It’s been hotter in the last couple of days than it’s been all summer. In the 90’s. Sticky. At least it’s sticky for us. Yet I really love soups any time of year. But hearty soups don’t frequent my table when it’s hot. Except yesterday.
Soups are so comforting. Yesterday, my DH was (and still is today) suffering from a reaction to a drug he was taking, so I thought about defrosting some soup that will go down smoothly. His tongue is swollen. He’s itchy all over. Has a sore throat as part of the drug reaction too. So I said, how about I defrost some soup for lunch? He nodded yes since it hurts to talk.

When I make soup I usually make extra. Usually a lot of extra. It’s basically the same amount of work to make a soup for 4 as it is to make it for 10. Maybe a bit more chopping and mincing, but that’s it. But then we’ve got leftovers for a day or two later AND some to freeze.

My standard operating procedure is to pour hot soup out into a large flat pan (one of those quarter sheets) or anything large and flatish. Then I label the Ziploc half gallon size freezer bags (not the kind with a zipper) using a grease pencil, so the writing doesn’t come off in the freezer. I even write the quantity so I know how many each bag will serve. When the soup has cooled enough to handle, usually within 30-60 minutes, I scoop, ladle, or pour it into the bags, trying to portion out the contents – like getting equal amounts of chicken pieces or other chunky ingredients equalized. When I do this task I make sure there’s virtually no air in the bag. This is do-able with some patience by laying the bag flat on the counter and leaving just a corner of the bag open. Holding up that tiny open corner I slide the air bubbles toward the corner, easing air out of the bag before sealing it tight. Then I lay the bags flat on our cool granite countertop for a little longer to cool some more (maybe 20-30 minutes total, usually about 10-15 minutes per side, moving the bags to a different – cool – spot). Then they’re plopped into the refrigerator to cool down completely.

A couple of hours later, using a smallish cookie sheet that’s just the same size as the Ziploc bag, I lay a soup bag on the sheet and place it in a level place in the freezer. The levelness is critical because you don’t want to stand up bags later that are heavier weighted at one end. They cause problems in the “library.” I carefully straighten the bag first, so corners aren’t crinkled (wrinkled corners will sometimes crack in the freezer if you juggle the frozen “flats” around now and then. Once frozen solid, another bag goes onto the sheet and I continue until all bags are frozen. Once frozen the bags stand upright in the “library.” Much easier to handle. Much easier to see. Much easier to remove from the shelf too.
I still have 11 soups lined up in waiting, even after removing one today. We had some tomato soup for lunch. Some of that wonderful cream of tomato soup I made in June from the French bistro cooking class in Sonoma. You can spot the bags of tomato soup in the library – all the same color, all lined up like soldiers. Or sardines in a can. Or books on the shelf.

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  1. Kristen

    said on August 20th, 2007:

    You are brilliant. I love the idea of freezing soup like this. Fantastic idea!

  2. Susan

    said on September 22nd, 2008:

    My friend sent me your link and said “you’ll really enjoy this!” We too have done this very same thing and LOVE the way we can stack it like a “library” just like your picture. It is so FUN to see that someone else does this too. We freeze our spaghetti and chili this way . . making a large enough batch that we only have to make it once a season. Another advantage of freezing in the bags is they defrost quickly in a sink of water. We freeze many of the veggies/fruits from our garden this way and stack the bags of each veggie type in a wire baskets labeled with each veggie name. . . helps keep the ‘jungle in the freeze’ a bit tamed!

    Hi Susan – Am glad you liked my post. At the moment (September) we’re just starting to get into soup season again. In fact we’re having some tonight. I’m looking forward to making more soups this winter. I just have to make room in the freezer. Unfortunately, I’m a freezer pack-rat, and have a hard time throwing out things. We’ll have to EAT some soup before I can freeze any MORE soup! Good for you, though, for freezing so much of your garden’s produce. I also freeze chili and stews in the same manner. . . Carolyn

  3. Connie Langford

    said on February 3rd, 2011:

    Thanks, Carolyn for the great idea. More economical – spacewise. I only have a refrigerator freezer, so this will help a lot!!

    You’ll be so glad once you see how great it works. . . carolyn t

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