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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, on September 5th, 2007.


So, what is it about bacon that is so darned good? It’s that crispy porky piggy flavor, naturally! As with most people, especially those of us trying to watch calories and fat, bacon became a treat, a once-in-awhile kind of treat at least 20 years ago. But I miss it. However, I’ve found that a little bit goes a long way. Of course, we know that, right? But when a recipe calls for 3 strips, I use 1. I’ve used turkey bacon and it’s okay. I probably should use it always, but I’d rather have less of the real thing and get more of the real flavor. But, what do you do with a big package of bacon when you only need 1 slice? Here’s one of Carolyn’s tips coming your way. Once I open a package of bacon, I remove the slices I’m using for that meal, then the remaining ones are separated and rolled up, placed on a metal tray – raw – frozen, then the rolls are popped into a Ziploc bag and stored in the freezer. Then, when I need one slice, it’s easy to pull out just one. Here’s a photo of the bacon rolls currently residing in my freezer.

The photo looks blurry, but it’s the vapor in the Ziploc bag you’re viewing. Because bacon is mostly fat, it defrosts in a jiffy. And with these little bacon rolls if I really only want a half a slice, a sharp chef’s knife will easily cut that one roll in half. If you cut it lengthwise, it’s already cut into pieces. But you can chop it a bit more, easily enough.

I do want to talk a bit about bacon itself. I used to buy grocery store bacon. And for some, it may be all that you can afford. I understand – I’ve been there too. But I’ve never liked all the tinkering our food manufacturers do with our foods, so I try to avoid chemicals whenever it’s feasible. Now that trichinosis is a thing of the past, we needn’t worry about acquiring the disease from uncooked pork. So we don’t need the nitrates and nitrites so commonly part of the curing process in bacon and other pork products. I avoid them whenever possible. And it’s easy to do so if you have a source for Niman Ranch bacon. It’s smoked, but uncured. Our Trader Joe’s carries it nearly all the time. It’s without preservatives, and has a gorgeous taste. It’s thick-sliced too, which I prefer. There’s a photo of the bacon above – it is a smaller package – 12 ounces I think, rather than a pound. That’s to make it a bit more affordable, I’m certain. But I use so little of it, a package will last me months and months once it’s in my cute little frozen rolls.

So now, the salad. The recipe for this was published in our local newspaper, The Orange County Register, in 1994. I clipped that little gem out and made it with some home grown tomatoes we had from our garden. It was absolutely fantastic, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since. I added the basil and the croutons to the original recipe. You can eliminate the croutons if you’re watching carbs, but I enjoy the crunchiness of just a few of them. Add as much or as little of the bacon as you see fit. The recipe calls for more than I use, and we’re content with it. Certainly you need good, flavorful tomatoes. But even in the dead of winter Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry a variety of on-the-vine type that are quite good. So you can really have this year around.

I searched around on the internet today to just see what kind of recipes are out there for BLT Salad. What’s unique about this one is the use of rice wine vinegar. It adds a lovely sparkle to the dressing. You can use low-fat or fat free mayo if you want, and it doesn’t really make any difference in the taste. Normally I would say nothing but Best Foods (Hellman’s) will do, but since the mayo is diluted, there’s no appreciable change in the taste. What a great summertime treat. It was delicious for lunch.

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BLT Salad (Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Salad)

Recipe: adapted from the Orange County Register, 1994
Servings: 4
COOK’S NOTES: This salad is deceptively easy and delicious. I use half the bacon, but then I always use thick-sliced and it’s very meaty bacon. Tomatoes need to be very ripe, so this is a salad I prepare mostly in the summertime. The basil and bread cubes are an addition I’ve made over the years.

1/2 cup mayonnaise — fat-free or low fat are fine
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 head iceberg lettuce — or mix Romaine and iceberg
4 whole tomatoes — fresh only
1/2 pound bacon — meaty slices only
1 1/2 cups bread cubes
2 tbsp fresh basil — minced

1. Allow bread cubes to stale slightly at room temperature, or you may toast them in the oven briefly. You don’t want to have real soft bread, as it will absorb too much dressing and get soggy.
2. In small pan sauté bacon until thoroughly brown and crisp; drain on paper towels and set aside. Break bacon into small pieces when cool. It is best to do this just before serving as bacon won’t stay crisp more than about 30 minutes.
3. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise and rice vinegar and stir (or shake in a small bottle) until thoroughly combined.
4. In a large salad bowl chop lettuce, add chopped tomatoes, basil and bread cubes. Add dressing, toss, arrange on serving plates and sprinkle bacon pieces on top.
Per Serving: 605 Calories; 52g Fat (76.0% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 1176mg Sodium.

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