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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 Uncategorized, on May 2nd, 2017.

patio_wine_roses

What a lovely day and lovely event!

Months ago I signed up in my PEO chapter to host an event here at my home. A wine tasting (all wines contributed from my cellar) with food pairing. Two other gals agreed to co-host with me, and it was 2 days ago, on Sunday afternoon. What a nice time we had. Just wonderful food, and about 14 bottles of wine from my cellar. Each person paid $35 apiece (toward a charity within PEO) and the 3 of us coordinated the tasting of a bunch of lovely food. I worked hard at finding the right kind of combination of food to go with each of the wine courses.

As the folks were gathering on my patio, we served Trader Joe’s Secco Peach Bellini (pictured). It’s a very light sparkling wine with a bit of peach puree in it – it’s $4.99 at Trader Joe’s. We had some honey chevre out with crackers to go with that. We also had some delish hummus with pita bread too, although I don’t know that hummus necessarily goes well with peach Bellini, but one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare the home made stuff and really wanted to bring it. It was very good and disappeared quickly enough.

Then we moved on to Chardonnay. Two different bottles were brought out from my cellar, and we had a cute Belgian Endive spear filled with a chicken salad with mango. Perfect with the dry, oaky chardonnay. (I don’t drink chardonnay, but I had two bottles in the cellar. There’s only one more bottle of chard in the cellar.) We also had some spinach turnovers to serve with the Chardonnay.

Next was sherry. I really enjoy Sherry, and hadn’t had any for years! It’s not much of a popular drink. I researched a bit about the bottles I had. Did you know that the dry, fino sherry should be consumed within 2 weeks, once opened? I sure didn’t. But then, I didn’t have any fino anyway. I had medium sherry, 3 different types, and we tried them all. Also had two dulce or sweet sherries too, which also got sampled along with almonds and Manchego cheese and crackers. I asked everyone to roll the wine on their tongues, then take a taste of the Manchego to taste the difference. Same thing with the almonds. Many of my guests were surprised they enjoyed sherry so much. The winner of the evening was Osborne Medium, in case you’re interested. I preferred Savory & James Amontillado (a medium). Most of the bottles I had on hand (all opened) were just fine – they tasted great, even though they’ve been there for years and years. Sweeter sherries have a stable shelf life even once opened. Except for one bottle, all the sherries were imported from Spain.

Next up was both Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I had a few bottles of each in the cellar, so chose the older vintages. Everyone was offered some of both wines to drink with some delicious pea, yogurt and lemon crostini (recipe will be up in a few weeks). I’d made that dish over Easter and felt it was a great success, so I asked one of my co-hostesses to make it. She did. It went really well with both wines.

Then we moved on to reds. My cellar has mostly red wine, so there was a big conundrum as to which ones to choose. I finally decided on pinot noir and cabernet. With the Pinot Noir we served a beautiful platter of home cold smoked salmon with crème fraiche, capers and fresh dill. I served Stephen Ross Pinot Noir (a really wonderful vintner in California). One was a 2004 and the other 2005. Both stellar bottles.

Next was Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of mine, though I think it needs to be drunk with food. I’d not ever sip a Cab before dinner – it’s too heavy and needs food to go with it. With that I grilled some sausages on my nearby grill (Polish sausage and some chicken Italian sausage). I cut them up into small bite-sized pieces and passed them, hot with toothpicks, as folks sipped the wine. And one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare Tabbouleh, which was really great with the Cab. It was made the way it’s supposed to be – mostly parsley and very little cracked wheat. It was wonderful.

While all that wine and food settled, I went into the kitchen and started on the dessert. The recipe won’t be up here on my blog for awhile (June – I’m that far ahead with posts) but it’s a real winner and super-easy. It was a Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin (find the recipe on Smitten Kitchen if you’re anxious to try it). I asked everyone to save a bit of the red wine in their glasses and we passed a platter of Humboldt Fog. That cheese is just to-die-for, in my opinion, and is such a winner to eat with a complex red wine. Most of my guests had never had Humboldt Fog, and I think everyone was a convert!

Then came the dessert – to serve with after-dinner wines. I had two half-bottles, one a French Sauternes, (a 2001 Chateau Lamothe), and I had a bottle of something called Chocolate Splash. It’s a red wine impregnated with chocolate. It’s very unusual – from Narrow Gate Vineyards, in case you’re interested. With THAT wine we served some milk and dark chocolate, just a bite for each person. The dessert was served with the Sauternes. Both winners – the dessert and that wine. I have about half a cup left of that in the bottle. I’ll enjoy it in coming days.

Lastly, I served coffee. It was a very warm evening and was surprised anyone wanted coffee, but several did! A lovely evening from beginning to end. I expected that some of the bottles I opened might have been “over the hill,” but every bottle was exceptionally good. I’m so glad. I certainly hope that my DH, Dave, happily in heaven, liked the fact that I contributed some of his wine collection to the event.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 2nd, 2017:

    What fun! And what a great way to use some of your DH’s collection. I love learning about wine. I have seen the bottled Bellini at TJ’s and wondered if it was any good. I think I’ll give it a try next time I see it. It’s no overly sweet, I take it? A sherry tasting would be very interesting. I use sherry only in cooking–any time I’ve tasted it otherwise, I haven’t cared for it, mainly because I don’t care for much oak. It’s possible, even likely, that I haven’t tasted anything really good. I would love to find one an affordable one–I like to drink. (Had some Humboldt Fog on a cheese board at a restaurant once, and I agree, it’s marvelous.)

    Sherry comes in about 6 different levels from dry (fino) to cream/sweet. Perhaps you’d like the fino. And yes, I think all sherry is kept in oak barrels, though maybe they do some of it in stainless these days. I don’t really know. The TJ’s bellini is a bit sweet, but it’s very refreshing for a spring or hot summer’s day or evening. For $4.99 you can try it and not worry if you don’t like it, throw it out! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 22nd, 2017:

    Sounds like a fun evening- I would love to try that kind of thing. Whilst I enjoy most wines, I would have no idea of what food would go with it. Well done you.

    Thx, Toni. How was your holiday in Scotland? . . . Carolyn T

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