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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 easy, Pork, on June 24th, 2014.

southern_fried_pork_chops

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know I don’t usually FRY things. Sauté yes, but really fry in oil, no. My bottle of canola oil gets used mostly for salad dressings. But I just decided to do something different. In the background on the plate above there are the dry-pan roasted green beans that I’ve made 10 times in the last 6 months they’re so good. And easy.

I searched around the ‘net for “pork chop recipes”, and southern fried pork chops were the top 8 or so. Really?  So I clicked over to several (one on epicurious, and two others from blogs, but were almost identical. I kind of made my own way once I got the gist of the main recipe. A flour-based breading mixture is made (flour, cornstarch, herbs, salt, pepper) and set aside. Another is made with an egg and some milk or buttermilk. The pork chops are dipped first into the flour, then egg, then back in the flour, and ever-so gently placed into the 1/4 inch of medium-hot oil.

One thing I learned (and don’t know if it’s true) is that when you fry foods like this, it’s best to raise the heat of the oil in a gentle manner – i.e., use low heat and then raise it over the course of 10 minutes or so. If you turn the flame up to high right from the get-go, you’ll end up with oil that’s too hot. Some of that makes sense, but some of it sounds crazy. Heated oil is heated oil. Isn’t it? Any of you chemistry types out there know?

Anyway, the pork chops were dutifully dipped in the proper pans and lowered into the oil, and they were done in no time flat. One of the bloggers mentioned using a heat test before you start cooking – dropping a pinch of the flour mixture into the oil – if it bubbles, then it’s hot enough. And during the cooking you do only want the oil to bubble around the meat and not burn the coating.

The cornstarch in the flour mixture gives the breading/coating a lighter texture. Not exactly like a tempura batter, but not far from it. It was nice. I liked it. I used seasonings in my flour mixture (other than the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika that was in most of these recipes). I reached for Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning and added a couple of teaspoons. I don’t really know that I could taste it once it was fried, however. So you could use whatever suits you – like an Italian blend perhaps – or don’t add any at all. In the South I think they’d go for the plain stuff (salt, pepper and garlic powder).

The pork chops bubble around the edges as they’re frying. Be sure the chops aren’t touching – I used a pan that probably could have held more – because several recipes stressed that the chops need lots of space around them. They browned in no time flat, so I turned the heat down just a little bit and turned them over and cooked the 1/2 inch thick chops about 4 minutes per side – my guess. I didn’t time it. It was all by color.

What’s GOOD: how easy it was – only time consuming thing was mixing up the coating mixture. I got everything else finished before I even started the pork chops so I wouldn’t be distracted. They were really good. Not in the “outstanding” category, but it was an easy, quick dinner that was satisfying.
What’s NOT: well, some folks don’t like frying – like deep frying – although these weren’t deep in oil – I used only about 1/4 inch (half way up the chops).

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Southern Fried Pork Chops

Recipe By: Adapted from a website called Taste of Southern
Serving Size: 4

32 ounces pork chops — center cut, bone in (four 1/2 inch chops)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk — or buttermilk (or water)
1 tablespoon mixed herbs — I used Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Cooking oil for frying the chops (canola or vegetable)

1. BREADING: In a small mixing bowl, add the flour, cornstarch, herbs, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and paprika. Stir all ingredients well. Set aside.
2. EGG: Break one egg into a small low sided dish. Add milk and use a fork to mix it well. Mix well enough that there are no little globs of egg white.
3. MEAT: One at a time, dip a pork chop in the flour and coat both sides. Dip the chop into the egg mixture, coat both sides well. Lift and let any excess drip off. Place the chop back into the flour mixture and coat both sides and edges.
4. FRYING: Place about 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Test the oil by sprinkling in a little pinch of the bread mixture – if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Lower the chops into the hot cooking oil, one at a time. Do not crowd them (they don’t want to be touching). Cook for 4-6 minutes.
5. Watch the bottoms of the chop and when they start to brown, flip the pork chops over. Let the chops fry for about 4-6 minutes or until done but not over cooked. Test a chop by cutting into the center to make sure it’s not rare. A little bit of pink is fine. Remove the cooked chops from the skillet, place on a paper towel lined plate and let drain. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 507 Calories; 24g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 165mg Cholesterol; 378mg Sodium.

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