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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 Salads, Vegetarian, on July 16th, 2017.

watermelon_haloumi_salad

The best halloumi I’ve ever had – grilled and served with watermelon and arugula and mint, plus pine nuts and a balsamic glaze drizzled over the top.

My only experience with Halloumi (see Wikipedia info here) has been at a local Greek restaurant, where they serve it fiery hot in a small pan with some bread. My take-away (that one and only time at least 20 years ago) was that it was so salty I couldn’t eat it. Since then I’d never tried it! What I’ve learned is that people in the “west” prefer a less salty version. I suppose the Greek restaurant serves it the way they do in Greece where it’s aged and cured some, so the salt content is more pronounced. (FYI: the 4-ounce package I bought when I finally did locate some shows an ounce of Halloumi contains 673 milligrams of sodium. A lot. Some brands contain less sodium – look for them if you can.) My guess from my reading is that if you buy a U.S. made version, it will likely be less salty. You might check the sodium level before you buy it. Halloumi is usually made from a mixture of cow and sheep milk.

sub_zero_wolf_showroomRecently my friend Joan invited me to a cooking demo at our local Wolf/Sub-Zero Demonstration Kitchen. I said SURE, I’d be happy to go along. We had much fun with seats right in front of the chef. She was a fountain of information (mostly about Wolf kitchen appliances, though they also have Sub-Zero refrigerators and freezers – the two companies are merged somewhat). My Sub-Zero freezer (separate unit) and refrigerator (also separate) are models that date back 15 years or so. Newer ones have lots of new features not available when I had to replace the ones in this house I’m in (that was in about 2004). When we remodeled the kitchen in ‘06 I kept the two, obviously, since they are very pricey! Though I’m very happy with them – I’ve been a fan of Sub-Zero since I bought them for our previous house when we remodeled it in 1990.

Anyway, Joan and I watched as the chef took out nice little rectangles (measuring about 3” x 3” by 1/4”) of halloumi and placed them on the olive oil greased Wolf flat grill. (I was very impressed with the grill – wish I had it in my kitchen – it kind of looked like a mini-restaurant flat grill). My stove top is made by Dacor and then I have 2 Dacor matching ovens under my kitchen island. I’m not in the market for any new appliances, but Joan is, as she’s about to remodel her kitchen. (If any of you are considering remodeling your kitchen, I’d recommend  you at least look at Wolf – their appliances are pretty darned amazing and you can attend a cooking class in their demonstration kitchens without having purchased any of their units.)

haloumi_grilledhaloumi_grillingThe chef grilled the cheese at a very low heat, so it just barely bubbled and sizzled and got just gorgeously golden brown (see photos). The Wolf grill top can be set to a specific temperature (nice) which was 375°. She prepped the salad first by laying the little strips of sweet watermelon on the plate, then the little mound of arugula and mint which she dressed with a bit of olive oil. Then she just placed the hot halloumi on the side. Then she sprinkled the toasted pine nuts on top and drizzled it with balsamic glaze (I buy it at Trader Joe’s, but you can make your own if you want to – you can find lots of recipes online for how to do it).

The cheese was just outstanding – I wanted more, it was so good. I’ve been looking for halloumi at my local markets since this class and so far have not found it. I’ll need to go to a more upscale market or a Whole Foods or Bristol Farms to find it, I suppose. I want some!! It keeps frozen for months and months.

This dish could easily be a light entrée and if you served it with more of the cheese, it could be dinner, for sure. In this case, at the class, it was a first course as we were served fried chicken (done in the Wolf deep fryer) and delicious mashed potatoes. Then we were served a fresh peach half with a bread crumb, nut and brown sugar topping on it (done on convection bake in one of their numerous Wolf ovens). All delicious. But this salad won the day for me. I’ll be making this if only for myself.Perhaps you live in a location where there is a substantial Greek population and Halloumi is very popular. I don’t, so it’s a bit harder to find. Seek out a store that carries a goodly selection of world cheeses.

What’s GOOD: if you find the less-salty halloumi, this is a winner of a recipe. All prep-able ahead of time, so easy to serve with just a few minutes of arranging and drizzling.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Watermelon and Halloumi Salad

Recipe By: Wolf Demonstration Kitchen, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 cups watermelon — cut in 3″ long batons
8 ounces halloumi cheese
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
6 ounces arugula
3 tablespoons EVOO
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
4 tablespoons balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat griddle or flat pan to 375° F.
2. Cut thin rectangles of Halloumi cheese and gently brown the pieces on the flat grill or pan for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until the cheese is golden brown.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the arugula and mint. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
4. On each plate, place two slices of watermelon side by side. Mound the arugula on top, but allow most of the watermelon to show. Place hot cheese leaned up against the arugula, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Drizzle salad with balsamic glaze and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 219 Calories; 17g Fat (70.2% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 361mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 21st, 2017:

    I had Halloumi once and it squeaked on my teeth so I won’t ever try it again. When you eat Watermelon in a restaurant – how do you get rid of the seeds from your mouth? I am sure you would not spit them out…

    Ha . . . in a restaurant I’d probably use a knife and fork to cut around the seeds and push them aside. But here, we can buy mini-watermelons that have very small seeds that are completely edible. When serving watermelon, from a big one, a hostess would likely remove all the seeds – or only use the heart of the watermelon where there aren’t any seeds! I LOL’d when I read about squeaky teeth – yes, you’re right about that. It does have a squeaky texture to it. That’s so funny. I guess it didn’t bother me enough to not eat it, though . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on July 24th, 2017:

    I have the same problem with squeaky beans! Green beans and our own Runner Beans have to be cooked to a precise stage, I can’t stand them when they squeak. Funny that it didn’t bother you but it would be a big thing for me.

    I’m giggling here, I guess that’s what makes the world go ’round – we all have our little idiosyncrasies! I made the grilled Haloumi cheese last night for dinner (on beautiful heirloom tomatoes, with a mound of basil, and dressing on top). I tasted the Haloumi first, and yes, it was salty – not unbearably – and it had no squeak. BUT, once I cooked it – it squeaked! It didn’t bother me, though! . . . carolyn t

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