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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 October 3rd, 2016.

chix_breasts_emmental_arugula

Yet another filled chicken breast. You pound out the breast so it’s thin, fill it with a couple of strips of Emmental cheese (similar to Gruyere) and stuff in some arugula. Fold over, sear, roast and serve with a nice white wine, shallot and butter sauce.

My Colorado friends were visiting me – this was awhile back; it’s just taken me awhile to get this posted. One night we had dinner here at home, so I made these chicken breasts with a white wine and shallot sauce. We had some watermelon with Feta and mint and also enjoyed a dessert, which I’ve posted already.

The recipe couldn’t have been much simpler. Chicken breasts are pounded out thin with a mallet or a stainless pounder, so they’re about 1/4 inch thick. Two narrow slices of Emmental cheese are chucked in chix_breasts_raw_emmental_arugulathe fold, along with a little handful of arugula. The breasts are seasoned with salt, pepper and some kind of mixed herbs, they’re seared in a bit of oil and hopefully the same pan can go straight into the 350° oven for just a few minutes (5-7) until the breasts are just cooked through and the cheese is amply melted. Whisk them to a plate and serve with the white wine sauce you made. Probably should start the sauce before you cook the chicken.

The sauce was easy enough, although it did take awhile to boil it down (reduce it) so that it thickened some. I actually sprinkled in a tiny bit of flour, but it probably wasn’t necessary. It contains shallot and garlic, white wine white_wine_sauce_shallots_honey_basiland chicken broth, lemon juice, honey, fresh basil and at the last, a couple of T. of butter. That was drizzled over the finished chicken breasts. I forgot to take a picture of it once it was served . . . sigh. With trying so hard to get dinner on the table, hot, I forgot photos! Do have everything else done before you start cooking the chicken, as it comes together very rapidly.

If you like arugula, make a little side salad for the plate. The recipe came from Tarla Fallgatter, from a long, long time ago, 2002, from a class I took from her.

What’s GOOD: overall, this is a very nice, tasty dish. I liked the cheese (there isn’t a lot of it, or it might be too rich), and I liked the bit of arugula too, but then, I’m an arugula fan. You can stuff the chicken ahead of time, so all you’d have to do it pan sear it and quick-like push the pan into the oven for a few minutes. A lovely guest-worthy dish.

What’s NOT: some people might say this is too fussy, with pounding and stuffing. It really doesn’t take long to do. The sauce might not be necessary, but I think it added much to the flavorfulness and moisture for a chicken breast, which can often be dry. This wasn’t. But, the sauce does take some extra steps and minutes to get it just right.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Breasts with Emmental & Arugula

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Tarla Fallgatter recipe, 2002
Serving Size: 6

6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves — pounded to an even 1/4 inch thickness
2 cups baby arugula
8 ounces gruyere cheese — or Emmental, cut into 6 2-inch long strips
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Mediterranean herbs — or herb blend of your choice
SAUCE:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup shallots — peeled and minced
2 tablespoons garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
3/4 cup dry white wine — or red wine
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup fresh basil — thinly sliced (divided use)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. SAUCE: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the shallot, with the salt and pepper, for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking another 30 seconds, then add white wine, honey and broth and let bubble for another 5-8 minutes until reduced by half. Add red chile flakes. Lower heat to below a simmer and add the unsalted butter a tablespoon at a time without letting the sauce boil at all, then add half the basil. Use remaining basil to garnish the chicken.
3. CHICKEN: To prepare the chicken, place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4 inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Discard plastic wrap. Top each chicken breast half with 1 slice cheese (or two small strips), and 1/4 cup arugula, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Fold in half, pinching edges together to seal; sprinkle with salt and pepper. (The chicken can be prepared up to a day ahead, covered and refrigerated at this point.)
3. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet (one that’s heat-proof to 350° oven temp) over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes on each side. Place chicken in a shallow baking pan; bake for 5 minutes or until done and internal temperature reaches 160°F. Do not insert thermometer into the cheese. Keep warm.
4. To serve, place chicken on a cutting board and cut into 1-inch slices. then place chicken onto a heated platter or individual plates and drizzle with sauce and sprinkle basil on top. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 457 Calories; 25g Fat (50.9% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 214mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 9th, 2016:

    Oh dear, I had forgotten what arugula is in English – it is rocket!

    I like food preparation so pounding and stuffing would be a relaxing time for me. I like the idea of the sauce too. I have bookmarked this to practise on soon.

    I like the combo of arugula and emmental too. It was a delicious dish. . . carolyn t

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