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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 April 7th, 2017.

chicken_pudding_pea_gravy

This recipe has such an interesting story, I just had to post it. Have leftover chicken? This makes a nice (and different) way to serve it, and get in a bunch of veggies.

Having mentioned before that I’m in P.E.O., a women’s organization, I’ve probably also mentioned that our chapter does very fun small-group fund-raising events. We, as an organization, help an all-women’s college in Missouri (Cottey College). We support a variety of other charitable causes as well, but each year every P.E.O. chapter is asked to donate money to the school. Our chapter’s method is to have small gatherings of our members (everything from a tour of some museum, or historic home, to lunch in someone’s home, or a game with lunch, or a wine-tasting, for example) and our members bid chix_pudd_bakedon attending. The money raised goes to Cottey College (we generally raise about $2000 a year for that). So, all that said, one of my other P.E.O. members (sisters, we call one another) had an event at her house – a lunch and a talk about George Washington (we love it when our events are educational). These gatherings are some of the most fun things we do, IMHO.

Chris searched for some recipes online that would have been in George Washington’s time. She came across this chicken pudding recipe from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. She made the dish according to the online recipe, and served it with a light chicken gravy (not in the original recipe, but she thought it needed something on it). When I quizzed her about the dish, she thought maybe next time she’d spice it up a little more (cooks back in those days didn’t have many herbs and spices – they were quite dear), and she thought some veggies added into it would be a good enhancement.

onion_celery_carrot_medleyThe recipe just sounded so different – a chicken pudding? Really? If you do a search online you’ll find many, all somewhat similar.  I thought veggies in it sounded good too. I added in some onion, celery and carrots, thickened it, then made a chicken gravy as well. BUT, I thought the dish needed something more colorful on top (the carrots in the pudding weren’t all that visible), so at the very last minute, I added in some frozen green peas to the gravy. Voilà.

cream_gravy_peasThe night of the Oscars, I invited 2 friends over. With my remote control in hand (we muted nearly all the acceptance speeches because we didn’t want to hear political vitriol – thankfully there wasn’t much of that this year). Anyway, I set up TV trays, served this with a salad provided by Judy, and later dessert provided by Nancy. We had a fun evening.

What’s GOOD: this is a different way to use up cooked chicken – it helps a small amount go a long way. Even though I used some spices, I think it could be spiced up even more. Thyme and parsley were about it. The gravy is simple enough to do – just be sure to add the peas during the last minute of cooking so they stay bright green. This dish isn’t going to bring “wows” to the dinner table talk – it’s a simple dish. Nice enough, though.

What’s NOT: There are several steps to making this, but none is hard, just time consuming. It probably took about 30-40 minutes to do all the prep and cooking of both parts, pudding and gravy, then about 50 minutes for the pudding to bake. I did most of it ahead of time, left them on the stove and reheated them every half an hour to keep bacteria at bay. Next time I’d make the pudding just before baking it, and make the gravy while the pudding was cooking.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Pudding with Pea Gravy

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from a Colonial Williamsburg recipe, c. 1827
Serving Size: 9

PUDDING:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion — finely minced
1/3 cup celery — finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots — finely diced
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 cups half and half
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken — cut in 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme — crushed between your palms
2 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped
GRAVY:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
11 ounces low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons dried onion — (minced type)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Melt butter, then add the onion, celery and carrots. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the vegetable are soft. Add flour and cook a few minutes over low heat.
3. In a medium bowl beat eggs well, then add half and half and mix well. Add to the pan along with the seasonings. SLOWLY bring this mixture to a simmer and cook briefly until mixture thickens. If you cook it too fast, the eggs will start to scramble in the sauce.
4. Spread chicken in a greased 9″ square baking dish (use glass or ceramic), then pour the pudding part on top.
5. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until set. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
6. GRAVY: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and remaining ingredients (except peas). Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
7. Run cold water over the frozen peas, drain briefly, then add to the gravy and cook for about a minute. Serve pudding on individual plates, and spoon the pea gravy on top. Garnish with additional chopped parsley if desired.
Per Serving: 343 Calories; 24g Fat (61.8% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 183mg Cholesterol; 189mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 7th, 2017:

    This looks like something my family would enjoy. Colonial comfort food! As it happens, my husband and I plan to take our grandchildren and their parents to Colonial Williamsburg after my dulcimer retreat in Sandbridge, VA, this fall, and I want to prepare them by reading to them about it. This gives me the idea to do some food-related activities as well. I’ll look forward to trying this with them.

    How fun, Donna. Just don’t expect something all that exciting – food in that time, I think, was relatively plain! And this dish is a bit on the plain side. Wholesome, different, etc. Let me know what you think . . . carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on April 7th, 2017:

    I enjoy plain, old-fashioned dishes now and then. I don’t know whether the kids will like it, but it will be educational!

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on April 12th, 2017:

    This is what I imagined when I read Chicken Pudding:
    http://www.food-mag.co.uk/chicken-and-bacon-suet-pudding/

    We are fond of suet puddings in England and Wales especially in a cold winter. I quite like your version too though.

    Well, considering that early American settlers were often from England, it stands to reason many similar recipes would have found their way into our culture. . . carolyn t

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