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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 Appetizers, on October 7th, 2016.

artichoke_crostini

Such a fun appetizer – artichoke hearts (frozen, defrosted) with garlic and a bit of fresh spinach, then pureed with lemon juice, Parmesan, Feta. THEN, the best part, served with a light sprinkle of lime salt (fresh lime zest mixed with flake salt). I absolutely loved it.

My assignment for the dinner group was an appetizer. Someone else was bringing gazpacho, so the hostess asked for something else, finger food of some kind. I scanned through my many recipes and found this, that I’d recently read from Valerie Bertinelli’s cookbook One Dish at a Time: Delicious Recipes and Stories from My Italian-American Childhood and Beyond. If you haven’t caught it, she has a show on the Food Network. Every dish I’ve prepared from the show, and now from the cookbook (at the library) has been gosh-darned good.

artichoke_puree1First, I defrosted a 12-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts (Trader Joe’s), drained them, then lightly sautéed them in a little olive oil, then added the garlic and fresh spinach (just a few handfuls). That mixture got pureed in the food processor with a light amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some Feta, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It is improved with a bit of sitting in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, I made the LIME SALT. Nothing but a zested lime (the juice is not used in the dish) and some good flake salt. Some fresh, tasty radishes were thinly sliced, a baguette was sliced and the pieces lightly toasted, and it’s all done.

lime_saltMy friend Sue was visiting and she helped me make this, then we assembled them at the host’s home just before serving. One side of each baguette slice is rubbed with a raw half of a garlic clove (the mixture is fairly heady with garlic – it took about 2-3 garlic cloves to rub all the bread slices), then you pile the artichoke mixture on top, and wedge a slice or two of radish on top and sprinkle with the lime salt. See photo at right of the lime salt .

What’s GOOD: For me, this dish was just fabulous, and the lime salt is what makes it. You definitely taste the lime and the salt, but it enhances the subtle artichoke and garlic flavors. The crunch of the fresh radishes is also a big boost of flavor and good mouth-feel. I’d definitely make this again. Do note, if you’re interested, this is very low fat but high on flavor. If I’d had sufficient left overs, I was going to add a bit of olive oil and add it to some hot pasta. But no, didn’t have any left overs!

What’s NOT: There is a bit of prep to this, but it’s not excessive. It helped that I had a friend to help me with it and we got it done in less than 30 minutes. It takes very few minutes to assemble it if you have all the parts done ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pureed Artichoke Crostini with Lime Salt

Recipe By: Adapted from “One Dish at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts — thawed and patted dry
2 cups baby spinach
2 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
LIME SALT GARNISH:
2 tablespoons sea salt flakes
1 lime — zested
SERVING:
1 baguette — sliced into thin rounds and toasted lightly
2 cloves garlic — halved
4 radishes — very thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the artichokes, spinach, chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice and saute until the spinach begins to wilt and the garlic becomes fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, feta, parsley and the remaining tablespoons lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Add the kosher salt and season to taste with pepper.
2. SALT: In a small bowl, combine the sea salt flakes and lime zest with your fingers. Set aside.
3. Cut the remaining garlic cloves in half and rub, cut side down, onto one side of each slice of toasted bread. Spread the artichoke mixture generously among the slices, place on a platter and serve with radishes standing up in the artichoke mixture and sprinkled with a tiny pinch of the lime salt (so you can see it on the radishes); or, spoon the artichoke mixture into a serving bowl and serve with the bread slices on the side. Garnish with the radishes and lime salt.
Per Serving: 139 Calories; 3g Fat (19.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1385mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 10th, 2016:

    This really sounds yummy. Looks like just the thing to bring to the fall dulcimer club picnic! We’re supposed to bring a dessert, appetizer, or side, and this should fill the bill nicely!

    Just don’t assemble them ahead of time – the baguette slices would get soggy, and can’t have that! Hope you enjoy this as much as I did. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on October 10th, 2016:

    I wonder if we have frozen artichoke here – I never look in the frozen food aisles in our supermarkets – though I know we can get them in jars. I like the concept of this recipe, thank you.

    Well, you can try using jarred or canned artichoke hearts, but NOT the ones that are marinated. That would totally destroy the delicate flavor of these. Good luck! . . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on October 11th, 2016:

    I was thinking that for the picnic it might work better to serve it as a dip with the toasted baguette slices alongside. I thought I could decorate with the radish slices and sprinkle on the lime salt at the last minute. In fact, though it wouldn’t be quite as pretty, perhaps I should julienne the radishes or make a fine dice so it would be easier to dip.
    As long as you think people will do the steps. The radishes add such a great crunch and the lime salt. Maybe a little sign in front saying “don’t forget the radishes and lime salt.”. . . Carolyn

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