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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 Pasta, Vegetarian, on May 16th, 2016.

pasta_alla_trapenese

Oh my goodness, was this stuff delicious. Mostly it’s eggplant (see it on the bottom?) – with tomatoes, almonds, garlic, some good Italian cheese and crispy bread crumbs. Lick the plate good! It’s vegetarian (no protein) and the eggplant is the star of the show.

As you know if you’ve read my blog for a long time, I don’t post pasta recipes very often. Not that I wouldn’t like to, but I convince myself that pasta’s not good for me when I’m trying to eat lower carb. But then, a month or so ago I posted a delicious recipe for linguine with cauliflower and peas. It was SO good too. Now, here I am, a month later and I’m craving pasta.

Rachael Ray prepared this on her show. I’ve been recording her show for awhile now, and I glance at the show notes to see if the recipe looks interesting, or the guests. Half the time I delete before I’ve even pressed the “play” button. This one, though, I watched to get to this recipe. Rachael explained that this is Sicilian (her heritage). And it’s not only prepared a bit differently, but it’s also served differently. The PESTO isn’t pesto like we know it – ground up mushed stuff – no, the “pesto” is just a cooked mixture of fresh tomatoes, herbs, almonds, and garlic. And oil, of course. But first, you prepare the eggplant – Rachael specifically mentioned that you need a very FIRM eggplant, so I sought out one. I used more eggplant than the recipe indicated – I wanted this to be more about the eggplant than the pasta. The eggplant is cut into small bite-sized planks – about 2” long by 1/2” wide, and browned in just a tiny bit of oil, it was just cooked through to the soft, silky stage. The other difference in this dish was the serving – you put the eggplant into the pasta bowl first, then the mixed up pasta on top, then garnished with cheese and toasted bread crumbs.

From the photo, you can hardly tell the pasta was mixed with anything – there isn’t much sauce, as we might be used to. Almonds are toasted (she used whole almonds – I used slivered ones) and set aside, bread crumbs are toasted and set aside, then you cook some fresh tomatoes with olive oil, herbs, crushed red pepper flakes and basil. The almonds are added back in and cooked briefly – THEN you add in some of the cooking water from the pasta – it helps spread the flavors of the tomato almond pesto. Next time I make this I’ll add in more tomatoes. Rachael’s recipe calls for 4 plum tomatoes – I just think it needs a bit more than that.

But, you see, as an American, I probably like the sauce more than I like the eating of the pasta. Italians eat pasta to savor the flavor and texture of the pasta itself. The sauce is an aside! Only there to slightly enhance the pasta. This dish has quite a bit of eggplant in it, however, so since you serve it with the eggplant on the bottom of the bowl, it seems more likely the eggplant is the star of this dish. It sure was for me. I didn’t have any Pecorino cheese – only Parmigiano – but they’re very similar.

And whatever you do, don’t eliminate the bread crumbs. I used panko, and they were toasted in olive oil and they add such a different dimension to the dish. No flavor particularly, but with every bite I got a little bit of crunch. Loved it all.

What’s GOOD: As I said – I loved the whole dish. Love-loved the eggplant. Wanted more of it, so next time I will nearly double the amount – just cuz it was so delicious. The whole dish came together in about 30 minutes, even with the cooking of the eggplant and heating the water for the pasta. I also loved the crunch of the toasted panko crumbs.

What’s NOT: There is a bit of chopping and mincing, and brown this, and brown that, removing, setting aside, etc. But IF you have everything set out and ready when you start, it comes together very quickly.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pasta alla Trapenese with Almond Pesto and Eggplant

Recipe By: Adapted a bit from a Rachel Ray show, 2016
Serving Size: 4

1 large eggplant — very firm, cut into planks then pieces 2-inches long by 1/2-inch wide (see NOTE in directions)
1 tablespoon salt — to sprinkle on the eggplant
8 plum tomatoes — or vine tomatoes [I prefer double this amount]
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil — divided
1/2 cup panko — or homemade breadcrumbs
3/4 cup almonds — peeled
4 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves — chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup basil leaves — torn into small pieces
3/4 pound strozzapretti — or other short-cut pasta [I used penne rigate]
1/4 cup Pecorino cheese — freshly grated
1/2 cup starchy pasta water — saved from the pasta pot

NOTE: I prefer more eggplant – the original recipe called for a medium one, but the eggplant shrinks a lot – so use more is my advice. Don’t eliminate the bread crumbs – they give a lovely crunch to nearly every bite.
1. Salt eggplant and let drain on a kitchen towel for 20 minutes; press off excess liquid.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score the tomatoes on the bottom with an X and blanch them for 30 seconds; cold shock and peel. Seed the tomatoes and finely chop. (You may also use canned tomatoes, drained and hand crushed if you prefer.). [If using smaller tomatoes, cut them in half, then scoop out the seeds, then chop – this method doesn’t require the blanching.] Reserve pot of blanching water to cook the pasta.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, 2 turns of the pan, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggplant until golden brown, turning them at least once, about 10 minutes, remove and reserve. Add another tablespoon of oil to pan and toast breadcrumbs to golden; remove and reserve.
4. Add nuts to the skillet to toast; remove and set aside.
5. Add final tablespoon olive oil and garlic, and stir 30 seconds. Add chopped tomatoes and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Stir 2 minutes.
6. Add almonds to the tomato/garlic mixture. Stir in chili flakes, basil and EVOO, about 1/4 cup.
7. Turn the heat back on under the pot of blanching water. Salt water and cook pasta to al dente, reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water and add it to pesto. Drain pasta and toss with pesto.
8. Arrange the eggplant in shallow bowls and top with pasta. Combine cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over pasta to serve.
Per Serving: 921 Calories; 57g Fat (54.1% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 88g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1646mg Sodium. (This is high in sodium because of the salt on the eggplant; most of that is wiped off. But Pecorino is also salty.)

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  1. Marlene

    said on May 16th, 2016:

    This looks great, Carolyn. I love eggplant pasta dishes. So many calories, though! I always oven roast eggplant instead of pan sautéing, sometimes brushing it lightly with olive oil. That would make the dish easier. Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks, Marlene. I like baked eggplant too, but this one used very little oil, so I think I’d stick with the method of frying. Hope you try it – let me know what you think. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 17th, 2016:

    This one’s right up my alley–I love eggplant. I’m the only one in my household who does, though–but this looks worth making for just myself.

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