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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 Chicken, on July 7th, 2016.

curried_maple_mustard_chicken_breasts

It may be a little hard to see, but the chicken breast has been sliced – I had large boneless, skinless breasts, so I could have fed 4 people, I swear, with just 2 breasts. The glaze/sauce is subtle but really, really good.

The recipe for this came from Food & Wine magazine, although it called for bone-in chicken breasts, which I didn’t have. I searched around the ‘net and found a few other bloggers or sites that prepared this chicken, and one suggestion was to reduce the amount of sauce. I did that, although when finished, I wished I’d had a little extra to drizzle on the finished, sliced chicken. So, I went back to the recipe and upped the amount of sauce from what I prepared. But, if you or your family like more stuff to drizzle, do more sauce that indicated below. Someone else had used part butter, part olive oil. I liked that option. SO, all that said, the recipe below is changed a bit from the magazine’s version.

First I pounded the chicken breasts to an even thickness (about 1/3 inch) with a piece of plastic wrap covering the meat. Then you briefly melt the butter in the baking dish/pan in the oven – (don’t use a big, honkin’ pan as the butter/oil will spread all over – confine it to a baking dish that’s just a bit bigger than the chicken breasts, however many you’re making). Don’t melt it for more than a few minutes or the butter will burn. You can mix all the other ingredients in at the same time (Dijon curry_maple_mustard_glazemustard, maple syrup and curry powder) but unless you watch this very, very carefully, the mixture WILL burn (mine nearly did). Then you dunk the chicken in the glaze mixture (mix it right on the pan – see photo). Once the butter melts, whisk it just a bit, then do the dunking. Turn the breasts over a couple of times to get as much of the mixture on the chicken as possible.

Then it’s merely baking the chicken until it reaches 160°F. Now, I’ll warn you – use an instant read thermometer if at all possible –  when I baked this it took about 15 minutes, but depending on how thick your chicken is, it might even be LESS than that. If it’s not quite there, just continue baking for another 2-3 minutes before you check it again. If it goes higher than 160°, trust me, the chicken will be dry.

I used frozen chicken breasts, thawed, of course, and I’ll tell you for sure – this was SO juicy. I was vigilant, though, about the temperature. I hate-hate dry chicken. So do yourself a favor and use the thermometer. I had a little bit of the wild rice salad with watercress left over from a few days ago, and it was perfect with this chicken (you can see it in the background on the plate.

What’s GOOD:  The flavors were subtle, believe it or not! The curry hardly could be tasted (I know, doesn’t sound right, but it wasn’t a strong flavor at all). You’re aware that there’s a little bit sweet, a little bit sharp (the mustard) but when mixed together it’s quite mellow. Liked it a LOT, and it was SO SO easy! I had dinner prepared in about 20 minutes. I have left overs of this, and I may put it on a salad. Actually I have 3 more meals of it ahead of me, so I’ll need to think about other ways to eat it. Very juicy and tender meat. Liked it all a lot.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything – even the pounding of the chicken took about one minute total. If you have some other left over veggies or salad to serve with it, it’s a cinchy easy dinner.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Curried Maple-Mustard Chicken Breasts

Recipe By: Adapted from Food & Wine
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon curry powder — mild or hot
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

NOTES: As shown, there isn’t much “sauce” to serve or really, to even baste with. You can double the amount of sauce, but reserve some from the beginning (i.e. don’t dunk the chicken into all of it – the raw chicken would contaminate the sauce), then use that warmed reserved sauce for serving.
1. On a flat surface place a chicken breast, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and pound gently until the chicken is evenly thick, about 1/3 inch thick. Don’t pound the thin end. Repeat with other breasts.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a glass or ceramic baking dish a bit larger than the chicken breasts, combine the butter with the maple syrup, mustard, curry powder and cayenne. Bake for about 4 minutes, until the butter is melted – don’t do it any longer or it will start to burn. Whisk in a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and let cool slightly, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add to the baking dish and turn to coat with the sauce. Bake for about 15 minutes, basting occasionally, and turning the chicken over once during the baking time, until the chicken is glazed and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 160°. Transfer the chicken to a work surface and slice into pieces, on an angle and serve immediately. If there is any sauce left in the pan, spoon over the chicken.
Per Serving: 277 Calories; 15g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 173mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on July 7th, 2016:

    I’ve done maple-mustard chicken; the curry would add a nice touch. Will try it next time I’m looking for a simple chicken recipe.

    It was nice. Not particularly memorable, but I liked it. . . carolyn t

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