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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 17th, 2017.

mushroom_cauliflower_risotto

Brown food doesn’t always look all that great in photos. But what it might lack in picture worthiness, is more than made up for in flavor. And low calories. And low fat. And nearly zero in carbs. There is no RICE in this dish, just so you know.

Cauliflower “rice” is sold at Costco, and at Trader Joe’s. Perhaps at other food purveyors as well. Trader Joe’s has both cauliflower and broccoli (more stems than green part) that’s been “riced.” That’s not what one usually means by riced, as in using a RICER with a cooked potato – no, this is the fresh, raw vegetable chopped up finely in a food processor so it has somewhat a similar shape as a kernel of rice. You can do it yourself with your own food processor. I’ve not tried it, but you could try using the grater with cauliflower too.

This dish was prepared at a cooking class I attended last month – a great class of French food, and this was served alongside a delicious beef tenderloin. Since then I’ve made it myself as well, and it was every bit as good. Using the word risotto, of course, connotes rice and a creamy consistency. I won’t tell you that it tastes just like risotto, but if you don’t think about it, you can conjure up the toothsome-ness of rice and slightly creamy texture. The success of the dish is all about the mushrooms, actually, and probably the jot of soy sauce added in for umami flavor. You absolutely do NOT taste cauliflower. I can guarantee it!

I’ve mentioned it here before, that one evening several years ago I served mashed cauliflower as “mashed potatoes” and fooled a friend, Lynn, about it. I didn’t know he detested cauliflower – I just thought it was so fun to mimic mashed potatoes, so I didn’t tell anyone it was cauliflower. Lynn lapped it up and liked it. Ever since, when he and Sue visit me, Lynn is wary of what I’m going to serve him. If he knew this was cauliflower he probably wouldn’t eat it, but if I didn’t say anything, I’m sure he’d wolf it down like everybody else did!

Shallot, minced up finely, starts the dish. Along with both Crimini mushrooms and Shiitake types (you need the Shiitake for extra flavor – they’re expensive, but you don’t need all that much of them). Dried thyme and garlic are added, then the cauliflower rice. You add a bit of low-sodium soy sauce, just a tiny bit of heavy cream, and truffle salt (if available). You cook it briefly – about 2 minutes for the Trader Joe’s type, and a bit longer for Costco’s (because theirs is a bit bigger chunks). Parsley is added at the end, and you serve it immediately while it’s still steamy hot. I did make it and had leftovers. When reheated, it wasn’t quite as good, only because the cauliflower was softer with further cooking it.

What’s GOOD: this is a veggie dish that’s loaded with flavor and it’s very satisfying. Add some grated Parm on top if you want to make it extra special. The soy sauce is almost indistinguishable, but it adds good umami flavor. I think this dish is spectacular – I’m fooled that it IS rice.

What’s NOT: nothing, really – it’s quick and easy – certainly comes together a whole lot quicker than making real risotto!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mushroom Cauliflower “Risotto”

Recipe By: Caroline Cayaumazou, chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon EVOO
10 ounces Crimini mushrooms — sliced
3 1/2 ounces shiitake mushroom — sliced (discard stems)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large shallot — sliced
1 large garlic clove — chopped
1 pound cauliflower — in “rice” form (Trader Joe’s or Costco)
4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Truffle salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped

1. In a large skillet or 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and shallot. Cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute only.
2. Add the cauliflower “rice” and stir well. Add soy sauce, cream, truffle salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cook for a minute or two (longer if using Costco’s cauliflower) until the cauliflower is cooked through, but not so long that it becomes mushy. Stir in parsley and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 126 Calories; 5g Fat (29.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 587mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 17th, 2017:

    In the past, I haven’t considered cauliflower “rice” worth the bother. I like cauliflower as cauliflower, and I dislike chopping it, even in the food processor–little bits all over the place. This, however, definitely looks worth trying, since I won’t have to do the chopping, I love mushrooms, and I’m always looking for low-carb dishes to round out a meal. And I bet any leftovers would be great with a fried egg on top–a low-carb breakfast as a bonus!

    You’ll be surprised at the taste. Be careful of the soy sauce – if you use too much it’ll have an Asian taste, and that’s not desirable, of course. And don’t overcook it, or the cauliflower takes on a mushy taste. Let me know what you think. I’m not a big fan of cauliflower in much of any form unless it’s got a significant amount of butter or cheese on it. Even cauliflower “steaks” don’t wow me, though I’ve made them and even wrote it up here on my blog. I know it’s good for us, though. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 18th, 2017:

    First I’ve got to find the riced cauliflower, which might mean waiting until I can get to Trader Joe’s. But I’ll let you know what I think when I get a chance to try it. I do agree that butter and cheese work wonders for cauliflower, but I also enjoy it roasted until there are crispy bits. I tried a whole roasted one once, with a yogurt sauce, and it was a big dud. Did Smitten Kitchen’s Silky Cauliflower Soup a few days ago, and liked it a lot. It was super simple and didn’t call for much fat, and no milk or cream. It just has half a cup of parmesan–the good stuff–which was different. Wouldn’t mind a little more of it, though.

  3. hddonna

    said on January 22nd, 2017:

    We just had this for dinner tonight. I found the riced cauliflower at my usual supermarket, but it was $4 for 10 oz. I was determined to try this, so bought the cauliflower, but I wasn’t about to get two. I happened to have part of a head of cauliflower in the fridge, so I did what I said I didn’t want to do and whizzed it up in the food processor to make up the amount called for. Turns out there’s nothing to it–it wasn’t messy and took practically no time at all, and you could not tell the difference between that from the supermarket and the stuff I did myself. I was surprised at just how good it was. I thought it would need parmesan, but it didn’t. Mine was a bit too salty, even though I used light soy sauce–maybe mine’s saltier than yours. I could definitely taste soy sauce, too, but that was OK with me. Next time I’ll hold back some until I taste it for salt, though. And there will be a next time! Thanks for the recipe–without you, I would not likely have gotten around to trying riced cauliflower.

    I’m glad you liked it, Donna. I found it too salty also, and I used low-sodium soy sauce. And I agree about thinking it needed Parm, but it didn’t. Maybe it needs less soy sauce altogether. I can’t imagine making it with the full 3 or 4 T the chef recommended. And yet when I had it at the class, I didn’t notice the saltiness, though she also used a low-sodium soy sauce. I suppose every brand IS different. . . Carolyn T

  4. hddonna

    said on January 23rd, 2017:

    I did put in the full four tablespoons of soy sauce. Had you meant to reduce the amount in the version of the recipe you posted?

    No, I think I mentioned in my first comment here to be “careful” about the soy sauce, but I didn’t clarify that that meant maybe not to use as much. When I made it, my cousin was visiting and he eats GF. There is gluten in soy sauce, so he asked me to use less, so I used a bit more than ONE tablespoon, and thought it was plenty. I haven’t revised the recipe, since it was the chef’s “original” recipe. Next time you make it, you might use half that (2 T) and see what you think! . . . carolyn t

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