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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 Salads, on August 20th, 2016.

beach_house_watermelon_salad_greens_macadamia_gorgonzola

No, those aren’t cherry tomatoes in there – they’re cute little balls of watermelon, mixed into a delicious salad garnished with macadamia nuts and Gorgonzola cheese. And the dressing . . . well, read on.

My friend Joan L has been mentioned many times on this blog – I’ve garnered a number of recipes which I’ve posted – she’s most famous amongst her friends for a fabulous pasta salad, appropriately called Joan’s Pasta Salad! It’s a winner of a recipe and very easy to make. Joan is a very good cook and I’m happy to share another of her recipes. She brought this to a potluck dinner we had in 2011 when we were bidding farewell to dear friends, Sue and Lynn, who moved to Colorado (some of Sue’s recipes are here on my blog too). Joan gave me the recipe and I filed it and hadn’t made its acquaintance since then.

Having been invited to a luncheon, I needed to bring a salad of some kind and I chose this one. Six ladies made salads, and mine was the only one containing greens! How funny! There were two orzo and shrimp salads to make an appearance, but they were both very different. What makes this one unique: (1) the dressing contains some fruit, which is a bit unusual; (2) macadamia nuts – not too many, which is good since they are quite dear; and (3) the watermelon, which doesn’t make many appearances in green salads!

Joan’s recipe comes from The Beach House Restaurant in Poipu, Kauai. I don’t know how she came by the recipe – perhaps it’s on the web already . . . I haven’t searched. But it’s a real winner. It’s unique and very special. You might not make this for a weeknight dinner since it does take a bit of time to make. The dressing contains some seedless raspberry jam (Smucker’s makes a good one) and some pureed fresh strawberries. Although it’s somewhat sweet (from the fruit and jam) it seems to blend in perfectly with the mixture of greens and nuts and cheese. The recipe, as is, makes about twice as much dressing as you’ll need. You could halve it and be fine for serving 6, I’m sure.

Once you prep all the different components (the sliced onion, sliced or shaved carrot, crumbled cheese, watermelon, chopped and toasted macadamia nuts) they could be set aside for awhile. The dressing can be made in a shaker jar, for sure and made ahead too. The salad gets tossed with the dressing. I found that the salad needed a bit more dressing than some – I think that’s because the other garnishes aren’t dressed with the salad, so it’s nice to have ample dressing on the greens. You can make the salad on a platter to pass, or make individually plated salads; either one works fine. I tried it both ways. The original recipe called for watermelon wedges to be placed around the edge of the plate (my guess is this is an entrée salad). But I didn’t want wedges, so I made melon balls and actually when I served it, I mixed the melon balls into the salad (after the dressing was tossed with the greens).

What’s GOOD: everything about this salad is lovely. It’s a bit sweet and savory, with unusual ingredients like macadamia nuts and Gorgonzola crumbles. Really delicious.

What’s NOT: if you don’t like sweet dressings, you won’t like this; otherwise it’s a stellar recipe.

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

Watermelon Salad with Field Greens

Recipe By: From my friend Joan, she got it from The Beach House Restaurant in Kauai, Hawaii
Serving Size: 8

SALAD:
6 cups field greens — mixed variety
1/2 cup red onion — thinly sliced
1/2 cup carrots — cut in curls or shreds
1/4 cup macadamia nuts — toasted (or pecans)
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese — crumbled
RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE:
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup strawberry puree — (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

NOTES: If you don’t want to have much of any dressing left over, make about half of the recipe.
1. VINAIGRETTE: Whisk ingredients and set aside or prepare in a shaker jar.
2. SALAD: Toss greens with enough vinaigrette to coat them well – be generous with the dressing as the other ingredients aren’t “dressed.” You’ll use just a part of the dressing.
3. Either plate individual servings or pour all of the dressed greens on a platter, then garnish with the Gorgonzola, nuts, onion and carrots. The watermelon: you may cut watermelon into balls, or in the original recipe cut watermelon wedges are arranged around the greens.
Per Serving (not accurate because you use only a portion of the dressing): 422 Calories; 42g Fat (86.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 213mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 20th, 2016:

    This sounds really good. I’m fond of salads with watermelon in them, even though I’m not big on watermelon itself–don’t dislike it, but often find it tasteless and disappointing. But I’ve had a yen for the Panera watermelon salad several times this summer, and it was wonderful. The one in this post is different in that it calls for gorgonzola rather than parmesan. And since I just opened a package of gorgonzola, and there are some macadamia nuts in my freezer, there’s a good chance this recipe will appear on a menu at my house one of these days! In fact, my daughter and her watermelon-loving family will be here next Sunday for a seafood boil. This would make a good accompaniment.
    Good! I hope you’ll enjoy it as I did. . . carolyn t

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