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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 31st, 2016.

basmati_wild_rice_golden_raisins_salad

What a lovely side dish this is – or it could be a vegetarian entrée, it’s so filling and complete with nutrition! Technically, I  used golden raisins since I didn’t have any currants. It was just fabulous!

Looking for a variety-packed side dish (a carb) to serve with the big family dinner I did recently, I decided to try this wild  and basmati rice (my favorite kind of white rice) side salad. My cousin, who has to eat GF, was all over it (1 1/2 teaspoons of flour is called for in the recipe, to coat the onion topping, so I used his GF flour instead). My D-I-L thought it was a great find, and one she could make and pack small cups into her son’s lunch. I don’t think anyone didn’t like it, and I certainly heard only positive descriptors, so I’d say this dish was a hit. I’d definitely make it again.

Wild rice features in this, and I used one of those already-cooked packets. If you don’t have that, just make it from scratch as instructed in the recipe.

RICE CONUNDRUM: The rice is a bit of a perplexing method. Well, let’s just say that I doubted the accuracy of the recipe when I began making it . . . for over 2 cups of white rice you used just 1 1/2 cups of water? Eh what? Surely I thought that was a typo. You need more water than rice, making it in a traditional method. I went back to the recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi. Nope, it was right. So I went on the ‘net, thinking there would be others who had posted this recipe. Yes, but the few there all showed using the same amount of water. I went to Ottolenghi’s website, thinking there might be an errata page (book errors), but no, there wasn’t. I went to my food chemistry book, Harold McGee’s small encyclopedia, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. He has no less than 6 pages of info about rice (no recipes) and in one section it did elaborate that different cultures/cuisines use different proportions of water (no specifics) and he briefly discussed the Middle East’s penchant for flavorings, and the use of oil and butter. No help there. I did a google search on “how to slow steam rice” and that brought up about 100 slow-cooker methods. I took out the “slow” and then got dozens of youtube links to show me exactly how to steam rice. Not what I needed. I even went to the publisher’s website (Random House) hoping for an errata page. I couldn’t find one. What’s with that? Publishers always used to have an errata page.

So, what did I do? I cooked the rice according to the directions, but were I to make this again, I would increase the water by about half. Usually rice needs twice as much water to rice. I’d make it with 1 1/2 times the amount of water to see if that works. The rice is slow-slow cooked on the cooktop – I used my risottos cooker on its slow cooker setting and in the allotted 15 minutes it ran out of water. I let it sit for a bit, thinking that the grains would cook a bit more. I tasted it. It was okay – just a bit crunchy. Surprise. And yet, to me, the rice was on the firm side, for sure.

Once both rices are ready, you begin adding ingredients – herbs, spices, then the raisins. The chickpeas (garbanzos) are sautéed in some oil and spices too (so the flavorings stick to the beans) and those are added in. The onion is a common thread in Middle Eastern rice and grain salads, and not just onion added to the carb, but prepared separately. I didn’t deep fry the onion as the recipe indicated as I was using my cousin’s GF flour and wasn’t certain how it would react to frying, so I just used a few tablespoons of oil and did it that way. Next time I think I’d make more onions and I’d caramelize them, since that adds so much flavor. And I’d leave out the flour – some people made the onions like onion rings, but I prefer the full-bodied flavor of caramelized onions and would mix them in. I added in a bit more olive oil at the end because I thought the dish was very (too) dry, but you can go without that.

What’s GOOD: this was a wonderful side dish. I still question the quantity of water to rice and will alter the recipe if/when I make it again. The flavors were wonderful. The golden raisins (or currants) add such a surprise taste in the savory rice. It’s colorful and everyone liked it a lot.

What’s NOT: it does take a bit more time than some dishes, but none of it was difficult or all that time consuming. If I made caramelized onions next time, THAT would take some extra time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs

Recipe By: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Ottolenghi
Serving Size: 6

1/3 cup wild rice
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 cups boiling water [my opinion – it needs more water]
2/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley — chopped
1 tablespoon dill weed — minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Drizzle more oil before serving if salad seems dry
GARBANZO BEANS:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, rinsed, towel dried
FRIED ONIONS:
3/4 cup sunflower oil, for frying the onions (or other vegetable oil) [I used about 2 T. instead]
1 medium onion — thinly sliced * see notes
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1. Start by putting the wild rice in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still quite firm. Drain and set aside.
2. To cook the basmati rice, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a medium saucepan with a tightly fitting lid and place over high heat. Add the rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir as you warm up the rice. Carefully add the boiling water, decrease the heat to very low, cover the pan with the lid, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a clean tea towel and then the lid, and leave off the heat for 10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, prepare the chickpeas. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder, wait for a couple seconds, and then add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt; make sure you do this quickly or the spices may burn in the oil. Stir over the heat for a minute or two, just to heat the chickpeas, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. ONION: Wipe the saucepan clean, pour in the sunflower oil, and place over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Use your hands to mix the onion with the flour to coat it slightly. Take some of the onion and carefully (it may spit!) place it in the oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Repeat in batches until all the onion is fried. *NOTE: next time I would use twice as much onion and I’d caramelize it in oil rather than batter and fry them, only to chop them up to add to the rice mixture.
6. Finally, add both types of rice to the chickpeas and then add the currants, herbs, and fried onion. Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving (altogether incorrect because it assumes you consume the oil you fry the onions in): 445 Calories; 8g Fat (16.4% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 3rd, 2016:

    I love Yotam Ottolenghi! I have ‘Plenty’ and read it for pleasure.

    I like his recipes – those I’ve tried anyway. Most are complex ones with oodles of ingredients but the results have been really good. . . Carolyn t

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