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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 Soups, on January 22nd, 2017.

roasted_tom_soup_pesto

Can’t quite believe I’m posting yet another tomato soup recipe. But yes, I am, and is it ever good. And contains no cream or dairy at all, but you’d never know it.

One of my favorite recipes is a tomato soup I learned at a cooking class about 10-12 years ago. It’s on my list of FAVS, called Cream of Tomato Soup. Just typing those words makes my mouth water. Guess I need to make some soon. But maybe I’ll make THIS one instead, as it was almost as tasty and has no cream in it but is loaded with flavor.

This one came from a cooking class with a French chef, and it’s one of her favorites, made with roasted Roma tomatoes. The day of this particular class, the chef, Caroline, couldn’t find good looking Romas, so she used on-the-vine tomatoes instead, and they were delicious. This time of year it’s hard to find really red-ripe tomatoes, so Caroline was disappointed in the orange-y color of the soup – she blamed it on the under ripe color of the tomatoes. The quartered tomatoes and a red bell pepper are tossed with olive oil and roasted 45 minutes. Meanwhile, you cook a yellow onion in EVOO and add the roasted tomato mixture to it, along with some chicken (or vegetable) stock. It’s pureed in the blender and reheated. If you like a really silky consistency, put the soup through a strainer or a Chinois to remove all the pulp and other stuff – I probably wouldn’t bother as I like texture.

If you have ready-made pesto, use it – chef Caroline diluted some store-bought with just a tiny bit of water so it would drizzle. Done. Easy. She served the soup with little French bread croutons with melted goat cheese on top – it was just an easy accompaniment to the soup to help round out the course.

What’s GOOD: how delicious the soup is – it must be the roasting that gives it so much flavor – it’s easy to make. Just be sure to buy good tomatoes.

What’s NOT: not a thing – a delicious soup – but if you can’t find good tomatoes, skip making this until you can.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Coulis

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, Chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds Roma tomatoes — (ripe) stemmed, quartered
1 whole red bell pepper — stemmed, seeded, cut in 1″ squares
5 large garlic cloves — peeled, smashed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Ground black pepper — to taste
1/4 cup EVOO — (for tomatoes)
2 tablespoons EVOO — (for onion)
1 large sweet onion — peeled, chopped
2 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
PESTO COULIS: (optional)
1 tablespoon pesto sauce — store bought is fine
1 tablespoon water — or more if needed

NOTE: If Roma tomatoes aren’t nicely red and ripe, substitute on-the-vine tomatoes.
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On the parchment, toss the tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic, with salt, pepper and the larger quantity of olive oil.
3. In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the smaller quantity of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Add the roasted tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Cool slightly, then puree soup in a blender, in batches so it doesn’t overflow. Press through a sieve if you’d prefer it that way. Adjust seasonings.
5. In a small bowl combine the pesto and water – if the pesto is particularly thick, it may need more water to make it somewhat runny. Drizzle on top of the hot soup.
OPTIONAL: toast baguette slices lightly brushed with olive oil, then top with a little spread of soft goat cheese. Bake or broil just until golden and serve alongside the soup.
Per Serving: 206 Calories; 16g Fat (65.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 22nd, 2017:

    I think you might successfully substitute good quality canned tomatoes if you can’t get decent fresh ones. I know that we have some cans of excellent provenance.

    I make a similar soup, without the roasting, using tomatoes, red bell pepper and red onion. In fact, the red peppers come from a jar of Gaea flame roasted, I love the flavour of these.

    I agree with you, Toni. Especially if the tomatoes are from Italy. We have large cans of really delicious Roma and San Marzano types. I think the latter are just great, and I’d be happy to substitute. Your soup sounds lovely. We don’t have that brand (Gaea is a brand, right?) here in the U.S. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 23rd, 2017:

    Am always ready to try another tomato soup recipe. I like the idea of the roasted red pepper–and roasting the tomatoes. When I make tomato soup, it’s usually on the spur of the moment. Either I remember seeing a recipe recently, or I check one of my cookbooks, and I haven’t made one with roasted tomatoes only because there’s no time to do that. Guess I’ll have to plan ahead to give this one a try.

    This was a very nice soup, and truly, I don’t know if you didn’t roast them, would they change in flavor all that much. My blogging friend Toni, who commented here on this recipe, suggested canned tomatoes are equally flavorful, and I agree with her. Unless you made a batch with roasting and one using canned, good quality tomatoes for the other, whether there would be all that much difference between them. I’m too lazy to do that! . . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on January 24th, 2017:

    How about canned fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen?

    Yes, those should be JUST as good, don’t you think? . . .carolyn t

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