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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 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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