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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 Fish, Salads, on May 24th, 2016.

salad_nicoise

Is there much of anything more French cuisine than a Niçoise salad? I think not.

Recently, a good friend, Joanne (who used to be an employee of mine, way long ago), invited me to come visit her at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Those of you not familiar with the Los Angeles region might not have heard of it – it’s a 20+ mile long coastline south of L.A. that’s right on the Pacific Ocean – and about 90 minutes or so from my home further south. The area is big and encompasses several miles inland and is a world apart from the bustling city of L.A. It had been years since I’d been there. Wayfarer’s Chapel is there – a place that’s entertained many weddings. Once upon a time I attended a wedding there – so beautiful. See photo below.

But I was just there to visit with Joanne and her husband Larry this time. It was a beautiful Southern California spring day – warm in the sunshine, but still almost cold without a light jacket. When you drive to Palos Verdes, it’s all city for the approach to the crest of the hills, and then you arrive at the top and it’s suddenly all residential, meandering, curving streets, even some open land, which is hard to come by in our part of the state of California. They live on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s ever so peaceful there – no city noises, and no city to view, either. Just the ocean.

When Joanne came to work for the ad agency I owned with my business partner, she was a brand new bride. This was back in the 1980’s. They’d moved from Brooklyn to California where Larry had taken a new position. They’d moved into a small home and she was so happy to set up housekeeping, and to decorate her house. Joanne says that I was her inspiration to learn to cook (she says she didn’t know a thing about cooking when she got married), and indeed, I recall we used to talk a lot about recipes, restaurants, cooking techniques, etc. And probably where to source some ingredients now and then. I‘m sure I shared recipes with her. Her husband is Lebanese by heritage, and he grew up with his mother making lots of ethnic dishes. Joanne brought one joanne_hparticular salad to some of our potluck lunches we had – her recipe is already here on my blog, a Syrian Pita Bread Salad that I posted way back in 2008. I haven’t made that salad in awhile – it’s SO good – very lemony, and delicious with the crunch of toasted pita chips.

Joanne prepared a gorgeous lunch – this salad (recipe below), a fougasse (a yeasted savory bread) and an apple cake. You’ll have the other two recipes within the next week or so. At right is Joanne in her lovely kitchen. Joanne and her family spent many years living abroad – first in Amsterdam, then for several years in Paris, and most recently they lived for 4-5 years outside of Geneva. Their 3 children grew up attending private schools, and learned French for sure. Their twin boys have just graduated from college here in the U.S., and their daughter is attending a university here in California. Larry is retired (gosh, does that make me feel OLD since they were young newlyweds when I first met them!) and enjoying it. Since their children were born Joanne has been a stay-at-home mom.

As Joanne put together the lunch salad, the Niçoise (that’s pronounced nee-SWAZZ), we talked. She mentioned that here in the U.S. sometimes restaurants will serve a Niçoise with seared ahi. Well, that is absolutely a no-no to the French purist, from whence this comes. It’s canned tuna. Period. The components of the salad must be prepared ahead – the green beans must be cooked al dente, the salad leaves cleaned and dried, the dressing prepared and allowed to sit for just a little while, the tomatoes chopped, the potatoes (a waxy type only) cooked and cut, eggs hard boiled, peeled and cut, all artfully arranged either on a large platter for everyone to help themselves, or on individual plates as Joanne did this day. She lightly dressed the lettuce with a bit of the dressing, and passed a pitcher of the dressing at the table. Ideally you’ll have Niçoise olives – they’re a black somewhat bitter olive, but so traditional in this salad. Capers are usually added too, just sprinkled on top. The salad is so satisfying – all good-for-you things. The dressing is piquant and so-very-French (it’s a French shallot vinaigrette) that will keep for a few days.

The recipe came from one of Joanne’s favorite cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Joanne has prepared many of the recipes in that cookbook and had raves for each and every one. I own the cookbook too – I don’t remember if I’ve shared any of the recipes from it or not. It’s a beautiful cookbook – almost worthy of a coffee table book, but it’s a practical and entertaining guide to many homespun recipes, the kind the French would eat any normal day, not necessarily for entertaining. I love to read Dorie’s headnotes – the stories she writes about the origin of the recipe or about the ingredients.

What’s GOOD: all the mix of ingredients are sublime – the potatoes even, the tuna mixes with everything, and the dressing just brings it all together. It’s a keeper of a recipe for sure. (Thank you, Joanne.)

What’s NOT: the only thing is the time it takes to prepare some of the ingredients – cooking the potatoes, the eggs and the beans and giving them time to chill. The dressing is easy enough, though. Try to prep the potatoes, eggs and beans the day before.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Salade Niçoise

Recipe By: Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

12 small potatoes — scrubbed
2 cups haricot verts — green beans
4 hard-boiled eggs
8 ounces canned tuna — packed in oil, drained
5 cups salad greens
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes — or regular tomatoes cut into chunks
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1/4 cup capers — drained and patted dry
8 small anchovy fillets — rinsed and patted dry
DRESSING:
2 tablespoons wine vinegar — red, white or sherry
1 shallot — finely minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few pinches sea salt
fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Cook until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 10 – 20 minutes. Scoop them out of the pot and put them in a bowl to cool.
2. Blanch the green beans in the potato water until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, then pat dry.
3. Make the vinaigrette: Add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper to a small glass measuring cup or jar and let sit 10 – 15 minutes to mellow the shallot. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly.
4. Assemble the salad, on one large platter, or individual plates: salad greens, halved potatoes, green beans, halved eggs, tuna, tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies and drizzle with the shallot vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 22g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 813mg Sodium.

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  1. soozzie

    said on May 24th, 2016:

    The canned tuna used in France and Italy is of a much higher quality than we find in American grocery stores. Often it is whole cuts from the tuna belly — tender, rich, fatty, and not as fishy and fibrous as American canned tuna. There are a couple of Italian brands that appear occasionally in the US, but even these are not really what stars in the traditional “salade”. I think this is why Americans often default to seared tuna or other protein. So keep a look out for the real deal, and your salad will be elevated to new heights!

    I have an Italian deli nearby that has shelves stacked with all kinds of canned goods from the old country. I think I’ve seen tuna there – I’ll be sure to look for it. Thanks for the info. . . carolyn t

  2. Madonna

    said on May 24th, 2016:

    This is such a delicious salad. I found really good tuna at Wholesome Choice on Culver and Michelson. It spoils you- it is difficult to eat any other tuna once you have had “good tuna”. 🙂
    Are you talking about canned tuna? What brand did you buy? . . . carolyn t

  3. Madonna

    said on May 25th, 2016:

    Tonnino Tuna Fillet in Olive Oil, 6.7 Ounce. It comes in a jar.

    THANK you, Madonna. I’ll look for it!!! . . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on May 27th, 2016:

    I have never had this salad without it being ‘composed’ that is to say, not separate ingredients on a plate, always mixed, at least it is in France. Not that I would eat it nowadays, I simply cannot stand the smell of the Tuna even though I used to love it. Life is strange, no?

    I can’t imagine not liking tuna anymore, but then I don’t drink hardly any wine anymore, myself. Never thought that would happen. . . carolyn t

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