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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, Veggies/sides, on September 5th, 2016.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad

What a lovely and tasty salad this is. It’s different – a little – because it’s served either warm or at room temp, and the Feta cheese adds such a lovely texture and the toasted walnuts too. Those are greens (baby spinach) mixed into the HOT salad, so they wilt.

My good friend Yvette made this salad at my house – so she gets all the credit for it. I provided some pots and pans, the bowl, pans for toasting the nuts, a cutting board, etc. At the very end we all tasted it to see whether it needed more feta or salt, or greens (yes, it did).

The recipe came from a cooking class Yvette took near her home, and it’s from Nancy Madok (a graduate of one of the C.I.A. culinary schools). I wasn’t able to find a website for her, but she gives cooking classes in her home in north San Diego County. Yvette has taken a number of classes from her over the last couple of years. So, the recipe credit goes to Nancy for a stellar recipe.

orzo_pancetta_feta_greens_salad1Pancetta is sautéed, then some red onions. A Dijon vinaigrette is made that contains quite a bit of fresh basil and lemon juice. Orzo pasta is cooked and drained, walnuts toasted, then you toss the orzo with all the other ingredients, while the orzo is hot, so the baby spinach greens wilt. You can serve it then – with the Feta and walnuts sprinkled on top, or mix it all in – doesn’t matter! Or, you can let it cool to room temperature (after a couple of hours I think I’d refrigerate it) and serve it that way. That’s how we had it, with a bit more dressing mixed in (pasta absorbs a lot of dressing if you leave it to sit) and some more Feta sprinkled over the top. There was just a little bit left over and I’m the happy recipient of that! Yippee.

This would make a lovely buffet salad either hot or room temp. I think you could make almost everything ahead of time – I’d toss the pasta with the spinach and some of the dressing and let it sit, refrigerated. Have everything else in a separate container and just toss it together when you’re ready to serve and add most of the dressing and leave a few pieces of walnuts and Feta to put on top. Taste for salt and pepper.

What’s GOOD: this was a GREAT salad. At the gathering where Yvette served this, there were about 15 other salads, so I’m happy it wasn’t all eaten! With the leftovers I’m going to mix in some additional baby spinach (that won’t wilt) and some more Feta too. As I’m writing this I have family coming for a week, so that will make a great accompaniment to some grilled pork chops.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It’s a great summer salad. Wonderful flavors throughout. You do have to make the dressing, cook the pasta, toast nuts, etc. but it’s not overly labor intensive, all things considered.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Orzo, Pancetta, Feta & Greens with a Basil Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Nancy Madok, C.I.A. instructor, Cucina Casa, near San Diego
Serving Size: 8

BASIL LEMON VINAIGRETTE:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil — cut in chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup pancetta — diced
1 medium red onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 pound orzo
4 cups baby spinach — roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts — toasted
8 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard and and lemon zest and juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in basil; set aside.
2. SALAD: In a medium saute pan over medium heat, heat 2 T olive oil; add pancetta and cook until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Allow to drain and then place in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Place pan back on heat and add 1-2 T more olive oil (if necessary – you need about 2 T in the pan to cook the onions) and saute the onions until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add to bowl with pancetta; set aside.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon salt, add orzo and cook as per package instructions. Drain the orzo and place in the bowl with pancetta and onion mixture. Add spinach. Toss with the hot pasta. Add most of the vinaigrette (add it all if desired) and continue tossing until the spinach has wilted. Add feta cheese and walnuts; toss until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make it ahead a few hours, the salad may need additional dressing and/or salt and pepper. May garnish with more Feta on top, if desired.
Per Serving (you may not use all the dressing and the Feta may contain a lot of sodium): 630 Calories; 39g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 1121mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 6th, 2016:

    That sounds like a meal that I would enjoy. I do like Orzo, it has a nicer mouth-feel than rice, for me. Did you know that the word Orzo in Italian, means barley? An odd fact that I learned recently.

    I am off to France – the Dordogne – on Thursday, I shall raise a glass to you when we have a good dinner.

    How fun. I love the Dordogne. Once, years and years ago, I went to that region with 2 girlfriends and we stayed at a private home in Saint-Cirq Lapopie (not sure I’m spelling it right), near Cahors with a lovely English woman that I kept in touch with for a long, long time. She was a very sweet woman; I expect she’s passed away as she’s not responded to any of my letters in about 5 years. She had a lovely (but miniscule) home and a small but more sizable structure that was for guests. It overlooked the Lot. Have a grand time, Toni. . . carolyn t

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