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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 Veggies/sides, on August 23rd, 2007.

roasted-asparagus
I was trying to put away a stack of miscellaneous recipes yesterday. I’m an inveterate recipe collector. I even have a sort-of-a furniture piece where I now store all of my clippings and miscellaneous food related paper. It’s a sort of file cabinet, but looks more like furniture. Sort of. Since I’ve been doing this recipe-collecting for about 45 years, there are a LOT of recipes and papers in there. I rarely purge. I have, but not much. I’m always certain that as soon as I do so, I’ll decide I really wanted that recipe.

These are rattan-type baskets inside a kind of 3-shelf stand in a wrought-iron frame. Doesn’t look like a file cabinet, exactly, and isn’t too unsightly. It sits in a hallway about 15 feet from my kitchen. When I file, I have to take a chair there and sit and sort. Because it’s not very convenient, I tend to pile up recipes and other filing (restaurant reviews, and a little bit of other food trivia stuff) until I have a bunch to go through. There are frames inside each basket which allow you to hang Pentaflex folders, so then I have pocket file folders for lots of food categories. You can see one pocket folder sticking up there. In case you’re interested, you can buy this piece at FurnitureFind. That’s not where I bought it, but since I couldn’t remember where it came from, I did a search and they do have it for $218.

So, I got distracted there. I was going through my stack of recipes to file. I was really trying to find a cauliflower and bacon soup I’d made awhile back (we had some from the freezer the other day and it was just wonderful, but I can’t find the original recipe . . . I’d like to make it again). But while sorting I ran across this recipe for asparagus. Brought back a pleasant mouth-watering memory.

I really should be posting this in about March when asparagus hits the markets in abundance. We can buy it year around, but surely it’s at its peak in the late spring. Some years ago I bought a Dacor oven. I L-O-V-E my Dacor oven. It has convection and regular baking options. I’d had a convection oven before, but never seemed to figure out, exactly, the best ways to use it, or when NOT to use it. So I was delighted to know that I could attend a cooking class at the Dacor headquarters, which are here in Southern California. In fact they’re only about 15 miles from our house. My friend Cherrie, who also owns a Dacor full range, and I have been to 2 or 3 Dacor classes. They’ve been great fun. Some are for Dacor owners; others you can attend for a fee.

Twice now she and I have been to the convection class. We keep needing refresher courses. I probably should have some kind of cheat-sheet I use to help me decide whether to use convection or not. Even with classes, I don’t always know. But this recipe was by far the standout recipe for convection use. And it was served both times, and I’ve made this innumerable times myself. It’s super easy. And scrumptiously delicious. I could make an entire MEAL of this asparagus. Don’t overwhelm the piquant flavors with a complicated or highly spiced entree. Allow the citrus flavors to bloom and predominate. The first time I made this, for a company dinner, I bought 3 pounds of asparagus, assuming we’d have lots of leftovers. At least that was my plan. Ha. Gone. All gone.
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Roasted Asparagus with Chile Citrus Butter

Recipe: Dacor
Servings: 6

2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice — freshly squeezed
1/2 cup lemon juice — freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
salt and pepper — to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375° on pure convection, if available. Cut off the ends of the asparagus. Rinse to remove any dirt or debris. Dry them on a dry towel to remove all moisture and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before proceeding.
2. Layer the asparagus in a flat pan and season with salt and pepper, then drizzle on some olive oil, and toss with your fingers to cover all of the asparagus.
3. Bake for 15 minutes if they are of medium thickness. Use fewer or more minutes depending on asparagus size. If you don’t have a convection oven, just increase cooking time by a little bit.
4. Meanwhile heat a small saucepan containing the lemon and orange juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-6 minutes until the juice is reduced by half. Whisk in the butter, cayenne, salt and pepper. When asparagus is cooked, toss with this dressing and garnish with lemon and orange zest.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 11g Fat (69.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 61mg Sodium.

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  1. Elizabeth eeclegg@yahoo.com

    said on August 23rd, 2007:

    Love your soup library photo, wish I had one! I’ll have to start, thanks for sharing your tips.

    I have made the Grandgirl’s Apple Cake recipe you have in your recipes, its so good, great one to have on hand during apple season.

    The Califlower Bacon soup you mentioned sounds really good, I really like califlower soup but have never made one with bacon, of course it would be good! Do you think this might be the recipe you tried? http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/236879. If not, I hope you post it when you find it. Thank you!
    Elizabeth.

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