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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 Soups, on October 1st, 2007.

Okay, friends. Listen up. I’m sharing today one of my very favorite recipes ever. I’ve been making this soup/stew since about 1966. That’s 40 years. Wow. Even surprises me! So why have I waited 6 months to tell you about it, you ask? Simple. It wasn’t soup season. This is one of those dishes that sticks to the ribs. Hearty. Hot. If I had a restaurant, say, Carolyn’s Country Kitchen, this would be at the top of the menu as Carolyn’s signature soup. Or stew. Or stoup, as Rachel Ray calls these kinds of concoctions.

This is so much of a favorite that it’s going onto my Carolyn’s Fav’s , a tab at the top. Now, you need to love soup and stew to like this recipe. And vegetables. And cumin (although you could leave that out). To me, the cumin is an important component, however, even though it wasn’t in the original recipe; that was one of my additions. And you need to like mashed potatoes.

Many of you know how much I like soups, and that I keep a regular stock of soups in my frozen soup library.

Here it is in the pot, stewing away. Note the thickness to it – I had just added the cabbage. Over the years I’ve adapted it with my own additions (garlic, cumin, shrooms, some heat, etc.) but the basics are the same. A ground beef (or turkey or chicken) and vegetable soup (cabbage, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and kidney beans) with a mound of buttermilk-enhanced mashed potatoes on top. As you eat it, the mashed potatoes just begin to kind of melt into the soup. This recipe is very forgiving. You don’t like cabbage? Fine, leave it out. Same with mushrooms. Add corn. Or substitute something else or just leave out the things you don’t care for. But, when you prepare it, it needs to have a thick consistency – not a lot of liquid, in other words, but mostly veggies. Here, below, it’s in the bowl, ready for the mound of mashed potatoes. The soup mixture is not thickened (like a creamed soup where you’ve added flour), but it’s “thick” with vegetables.

I make this in a very large quantity when I do it because it’s a real winner for freezing. I make the mashed potatoes too, and pile them into smaller Ziploc freezer bags (doing the same procedure, flattening them out so they freeze and defrost easily), then the soup goes into a larger bag. When I want a quick dinner I just take out one soup and one potato bag to defrost.

Now mashed potatoes become a weird duck when you freeze them. They lose all their form and become mostly a liquid. So just a warning here – don’t be alarmed and think the potatoes are ruined. Once you heat them up, the starch firms them right back up again. Amazing, but true. Sometimes I even put the potato bag (smaller) into the larger Ziploc bag, then pour the soup around it. Then it’s all contained in one package. But then you can’t get so much soup into the larger bag, so I usually separate them.

About 7-8 months ago, before I had my own blog, I was reading Tummy Treasure, Erika’s blog. She was trying to make some thrifty meals, so I emailed her this recipe. She liked it so well she wrote up a blog post about it. I was so thrilled! Wow, my recipe in lights! If you’d like to read it, click

If soup season has arrived at your house, I highly recommend this one. A lot. Our son-in-law, Todd, is visiting us at the moment, and he ate two full bowls last night and would have licked the bottom if he could. My suggestion: you need to order up a bowl right away.
printer-friendly PDF

Cabbage Patch Stew

Recipe: Originally from a Betty Crocker cookbook.
Servings: 8

SOUP:
1 pound ground beef (or chicken, turkey or soy protein chunks)
2 medium onions — sliced thin
1 1/2 c cabbage — shredded or sliced thinly
1 1/2 c celery — diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 c kidney beans — canned, undrained
2 c tomatoes — canned, undrained
2 c fresh mushrooms — sliced
2 tsp chili powder — or more to taste
1 tsp ground cumin – – or more to taste (I usually add about 1 T.)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c chicken broth – – or water (or vegetable broth)
1 tsp beef broth concentrate — diluted in water (or vegetable concentrate)
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 c water
POTATOES:
10 med potatoes
1/2 c buttermilk (or soy milk)
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter

1. Brown ground beef over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, cabbage and celery and cook until vegetables have lost their raw color. Add beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and seasonings (and some water if it appears to be too thick) and continue to simmer for 15-25 minutes. The original recipe called for the addition of 2 cups of water, but I’d recommend about 1 cup, maybe 1-1/2 cups.
2. Meanwhile, boil potatoes until fork tender and mash them using the butter, buttermilk and salt & pepper to taste
3. Serve about 1 to 1-1/2 cups stew per person in large bowls, then add scoops of hot potatoes on top.
Per Serving: 505 Calories; 18g Fat (30.9% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. ann

    said on October 2nd, 2007:

    Oh that sounds delicious! Faintly Polish or Hungarian or something, but perfectly Betty Crocker. Thanks for sharing. It does sound perfect for that first truly cold fall day. I’ll keep it in mind!

  2. Erika W.

    said on October 2nd, 2007:

    Mmm. It IS delicious. This reminds me that I should pick up some cabbage and make it soon. My favorite part is the beans- I’m on a bean fetish right now, and anything that includes beans is a winner in my book.

    Carolyn, I’d love to add a link to your blog in my blogroll, but I thought I should ask if that would be okay with you. You have some great stories to tell- I would love to share them with my loyal readers.

  3. FOODS & BEVERAGES

    said on October 4th, 2007:

    Mmmmmm,oh my god just reading this blog entry made me hungry!N now i’m going to the store to get some cabbage and try it.Thanks buddy for sharing.

  4. Pixie

    said on January 20th, 2008:

    What a wonderful soup, I’ll definately try this recipe as well within the next few weeks!

  5. Carolyn T

    said on January 20th, 2008:

    Pixie – I do love this soup. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and what’s so funny is that there’s nothing all that special in it. Ordinary ingredients, but put them together and they make magic.

  6. Mary S

    said on November 4th, 2013:

    I would never have thought to put a scoop or two of mashed potatoes in the middle of a bowl of stew, but now that you mention it…. What a wonderful idea!! I can’t wait to make this stew. I think when I do make this, I will add a couple cups of corn to the mix. I feel about corn, the way your husband does. Yum!

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe, especially now that the weather has turned towards the cold and wintery.

    The soup/stew is a wonderful comforting bowl of goodness. I’m sure you’ll like it. And I like the idea about adding corn – I know my DH would love it too – I’ll have to remember that. The dish is also very, very simple! . . . carolyn t

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