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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 12th, 2017.

sicilian_chicken_green_olives

How many thousands of ways can there be to cook chicken? I never seem to run out of ideas (from recipes) to make it different and tasty.

Seems like I’ve been to a lot of cooking classes of late. My friend Cherrie and I really enjoy the ones given at a French restaurant in San Clemente, Antoine’s. The restaurant isn’t open for dinner (only breakfast and lunch). Chef Caroline always does a varied menu; sometimes it’s French, or some part of it, and she always has interesting stories to go along with them.

This chicken dish she whipped up right in front of our eyes on one of those free-standing single-burner induction cooktops. This is a one-dish chicken stew. In the photo, you can see polenta at the top right – that one is made with cornmeal but also with kabocha squash in it. LOVED it. That recipe will be up next.

First you sauté onion and carrots in some EVOO, then add 2 1/2 pounds of chopped up chicken thigh meat (boneless, skinless), along with oregano, basil and garlic. Red wine deglazes the pan; some raisins are added in and the dish is simmered another 20 minutes. Oh, there’s marinara sauce added, and a big bunch of pimiento stuffed olives (halved). It’s something like a spaghetti sauce (and you probably could serve it with pasta) but made with chicken, not beef or pork. The olives add a nice piquant flavor to the dish. I’m sure this dish would be better if you made it the day ahead – nearly every stewed dish is, including soups. It was delicious as-is, though.

What’s GOOD: the sauce is just wonderful – rich with flavor – and enhanced with the halved pimiento-stuffed olives in it. I like chicken thighs anyway (more flavor), so it was a no-brainer that I’d like this dish. It’s easy to make too.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – you do have to make something to go with this – a carb of some sort, but with a green salad, that would be dinner for sure.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sicilian Stewed Chicken Thighs with Green Olives & Tomato Sauce

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, Antoine’s San Clemente, CA
Serving Size: 8

4 tablespoons EVOO
1 large onion — diced
4 small carrots — diced
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs — cut into 2″ cubes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
8 large garlic cloves — chopped
1 1/2 cups red wine
30 ounces marinara sauce — jarred or home made
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups green olives — stuffed with pimiento, halved crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and carrot. Season lightly with salt and pepper, cooking until starting to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
2. Add the chicken thighs, seasonings and cook until starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine and deglaze the pan. Add the marinara sauce. Add water to the jar of marinara and shake vigorously, then pour into the pan with the raisins. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Add the stuffed green olives and simmer a further 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve. Can be made the day before, cooled, and refrigerated. The stew may need a bit more water when reheating. Or, place casserole in a 350° oven and heat for 30 minutes. Freezes well. Serve with polenta.
Per Serving: 287 Calories; 14g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 766mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 13th, 2017:

    Looks delicious. My to-try list is getting way out of hand! Will have to put it on the menu when we get tired of the Easter leftovers.

    Hope you enjoy it as much as I did . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on April 14th, 2017:

    An interesting recipe Carolyn but I wonder why it uses EVOO when Italian, Greek and Spanish cooks know that that is the best oil for salads and finishing dishes. They use second or third pressing for cooking with.

    I was looking at the following site and wondered if your locality is in bloom too? http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/ca.html

    It’s interesting that you picked that up, Toni. The chef said in this dish it needs the EVOO. I normally wouldn’t do that, either, but would use just “plain” olive oil. I don’t recall if she said why – perhaps it was for an extra boost of flavor since there are olives in it as well? I don’t know.

    As for the wildflowers, they are apparently profuse this year because we’ve had a tremendous amount of rain – after having 4-5 years of drought. The area, called Anza-Borrego, is about 3-4 hours drive east from where I live. Although, even where I live, the ground vegetation (even weeds) are prolific too. Flowers are in bloom everywhere. The photos at the website looked a bit “tricked up” I’d say (color enhanced) but yes, that’s in our California desert… carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on April 17th, 2017:

    So you don’t think the colours are quite natural? I don’t suppose it matters too much but it is good to be able to make some impact of the phenomenon. I shall never cope with the geography of your area – three to four hours driving from your home seems amazing to me. The only way to do that kind of driving over here is to drive to Scotland, otherwise we should end up in the sea!

    You have me LOLing. I think the colors were brightened with a photo program. At least some. And yes, 3-4 hours drive, all on a freeway (motorway), though. All of SoCal is a desert, but we’ve made it artificially green by importing water from all over everywhere. Well, I should qualify that – we have very high mountains within 2 hours of where I live, and they’re not in a desert, but everything down closer to ground level is a desert. What thrives are desert terrain, cactus and weeds that require little of no water.

    As for the driving, I recall counseling plenty of friends on them taking a trip to England, and cautioning them that unless they spend all their driving time on the motorways, not to expect to get very far in a day. A hundred miles in a day might even be too much. But that’s part of the wonderful charm of old-world England. The villages and little, narrow lanes and hedgerows, etc. I have so many fond memories of the driving (Dave and I both drove) we did in England over the years! Driving on the other side of the road has never been a problem for me. Some of the best trips Dave and I did were just driving here and there all over England. There are a few places I haven’t been (east of London), but nearly everywhere else we visited over the many trips. . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on April 27th, 2017:

    We are driving to Scotland tomorrow, doing the whole drive in a day and not on motorways [I get too stressed on them] at least, Dickie is driving, I keep him fed and watered. It is about 6.5 hours away. I am not a confident driver.

    Oh, how fun, Toni! I love Scotland. The last trip Dave and I did in Britain, we went with our friends from Bunny (Nottingham area) in the northern areas of England. Then Dave and I drove up to the Isle of Sky and drove all around everywhere; stayed in a lovely old castle owned by one of the O’xxx families of Scotland. Had breakfast each morning in their huge, huge dining room. Very lovely. The weather wasn’t very cooperative, and gosh was it windy of the Isles (maybe it always is?). You are too funny – you keep him fed and watered. LOL. Have fun, my friend. . . carolyn t

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