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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 Fish, Grilling, on May 25th, 2017.

grilled_shrimp_garlic_butter_sauce

Oh my, the most luscious garlicky buttered shrimp ever.

Having watched another America’s Test Kitchen or maybe it was Cook’s Country show on TV, and seeing them make this, I vowed I was going to make it forthwith! These are SO good. So full of garlic butter, so flavorful. Doing shrimp on a grill is a bit of an iffy situation anyway – to get all the shrimp done at the same time. If any are smaller they get over done. Larger, they’re not cooked through. So I was glad to use these giant shrimp, all uniform size to make this.

garlic_butter_foil_panFirst off, you need a medium sized aluminum pan – big enough to hold all the shrimp you’re going to grill. Into that pan goes the to-be-made garlic butter (butter, lemon juice, copious finely chopped garlic, a few red chili flakes and salt). I got that done ahead of time and set aside. Then, the shrimp is skewered (using double skewers assures they won’t flip over or around during turning)  and they’re oiled, salted and peppered. AND on one side only, you sprinkle just a tad of sugar.

Standing in front of your preheated grill, you put the aluminum pan over the heat. While you stand there (do not leave your station!) stir it as the butter melts and begins to bubble. The butter should NOT brown – just bubble and melt completely, with the garlic in it. Once that’s done, the aluminum pan is scooted over to a non-heated area of the grill – to a place where it stays warm, but doesn’t cook. shrimp_oiled_SP_sugared

Then, the shrimp is placed sugar-side-down on the hot grill. It cooks for only a few minutes, maybe 4-5, depending on the size. You want the shrimp to reach a finished temp of 120°. Turn the shrimp skewers over and cook for another 1-2 minutes until they’re just cooked through, and at that magic number of 120°. I used my trusty instant-read thermometer (Thermapen). When the shrimp is cooked, using a big fork, slide the shrimp off the skewers and into the pan of garlic butter. Have a spoon at the ready and toss and turn the shrimp so all the sides get coated with the garlic butter while they’re piping hot. Let it cook, sizzle a little and get soaked in that garlic butter. Whisk the pan to the kitchen, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve them IMMEDIATELY. To raves. I promise.

What’s GOOD: well, the shrimp I used were really big, which makes (for me anyway) a much more enjoyable shrimp-eating occasion. I don’t like little shrimp – I like them to have some real chewiness and heft. So, do try to buy big ones when you make this – you’ll be rewarded with ooohs and aaaahs. The garlic butter was perfect – garlicky enough, smoothed with melted butter and just slightly heated with chili flakes. This was a very EASY entrée to make. Truly it was. My darling Dave would have been manning the grill, but I managed. The first time I made this my friend Bud (Cherrie’s husband) cooked them; the 2nd time I made them and it’s really simple to do. Do all the prep work ahead and you’ll be rewarded with an easy dish to serve. Truly delicious with garlic butter. Do notice the low calorie count on this one, too.

What’s NOT: can’t think of any thing that wasn’t wonderful.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grilled Shrimp (Scampi)

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, large, R-T-C — peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon sugar salt and pepper
1 teaspoon oil Spicy Lemon-Garlic Sauce (below)
Three 14 inch metal skewers
SPICY LEMON GARLIC SAUCE: (enough for 1 ½ lbs. shrimp)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
3 garlic cloves — finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt a disposable aluminum pan
1/3 cup chopped parsley — for garnish

1. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels. Thread shrimp onto skewers, alternating direction of heads and tails so that they are closely pushed together. Brush each side with oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle one side of the shrimp with sugar.
2. Light large charcoal chimney with about 6 qts. of charcoal and allow to burn until fully ignited and covered with a thin layer of ash. Empty into grill, placing all the coals on one side and leaving the other side empty. Place the disposable pan with the sauce over the hot side and cook as directed, then move to cooler side. (Alternately, use a gas grill; heat to medium high and leave one section off.)
3. Place skewers with shrimp on hot side, sugared side down, and be sure the shrimp are closely pushed together. Cook for 4-5 minutes and then flip, cooking other side 1-2 minutes. Using an oven mitt, pick up each skewer and using tongs, slide the shrimp off the skewer and into the pan containing the sauce. Toss and cook until fully cooked, about 30 seconds.
4. Remove from grill, add parsley,toss and serve. DO drizzle any remaining sauce over the shrimp.
5. SAUCE: Put butter, juice, red pepper and garlic in the pan and place on the hot side of the grill, cooking until butter is melted and bubbly. Move to cooler side. When shrimp are grilled, place in the hot sauce and continue to cook for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from grill, add parsley, toss, remove from sauce and serve.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 14g Fat (50.1% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 293mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 27th, 2017:

    Can’t see a downside to this one–love shrimp, love quick and easy! I will try it soon. You come up with so many appealing recipes I can’t keep up with them–can always find good ideas on your site. Thanks!

    Thank you, Donna. I’d say our cooking styles must be very similar! . . . glad you get good ideas from my blog . . . that’s the whole point!. .. . carolyn t

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