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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 Salad Dressings, on April 27th, 2007.

garlic_vip_dressing

In most things in my life I’ve learned moderation. Like when a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of crushed thyme, I know to use 1-3 teaspoons. Not 3 tablespoons. Or if it calls for 2 teaspoons of Madras curry powder, I won’t use 2 tablespoons. Now cookbooks are another matter. Well, I’ve never learned moderation there, as my sagging family room bookshelves can attest. And when it comes to garlic, there’s hardly ever enough. If a recipe calls for 1 clove, I’ll generally use 2, maybe even 3 cloves. And I like to buy good-sized heads – I can’t stand those little, puny cloves that need microsurgery to remove the skins and chop. I seek out a couple of markets that always have good, fresh garlic where each clove is the size of a thimble. We’re not talking “elephant garlic” here, but just your everyday garlic. And it’s a rare day when my kitchen is without at least one or two heads in my kitchen-counter bowl. Hence, I have numerous recipes for garlic-enhanced salad dressings. And the more the merrier.

So the next question is, how do you like your garlic – minced, mashed, chopped, squeezed through a press, food processed or blended? I suppose each method would have its proponents. For me, it depends on what it’s in. Bigger pieces go into stews and braises. Minced and chopped might go in a salsa. Food processed I don’t do much anymore because my trusty Cuisinart doesn’t always get the pieces uniformly cut. So what’s that leave? Ta-da:

THE BLENDER METHOD: So, some years ago I heard or read about a method for enhancing garlic flavor. Salt, as we know, can suck the juice out of most things, and that’s exactly what it does here. Using a chef’s knife I mash the clove of garlic with the side of the blade just to remove the skins. Drop the clove(s) into the blender and then add table salt. Whiz briefly (lid solidly affixed) and let it sit for about 5 minutes. That’s while you go collect all the other things that go into this dressing. Measure things out, and you’ll be ready to finish it. I’ve made this with olive oil, but find the olive flavor overwhelms the dressing, so I prefer using Canola oil or other unflavored vegetable oil.

This recipe was given to me in the 1960’s by a family friend. And it’s become one of my standard dressings ever since. Although I’ve tried making the salad itself with lots of different vegetables, I keep going back to the way it was originally served to me – the salad must contain mostly head lettuce, small florets of cauliflower, some shaved almonds and crumbles of Feta cheese. I like the way head lettuce holds a lot of that garlic-whammy dressing. And I will add, although this dressing keeps, it’s the very best an hour after making it.

What’s GOOD: the garlicky flavor is just wonderful – it’s the mingling with the salt that makes this, I’m convinced. A good all-around dressing. You’ve gotta like garlic, however! This is one of my favorite dressings that I make over and over and over.
What’s NOT: if you don’t like garlic, pass this one by. The only downer to this dressing is that the pungency of the garlic dissipates after a day and after refrigerating it. It keeps for a week or 10 days, but still, it’s not as garlicky as it is within an hour or so of making it.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

Garlic VIP Salad Dressing

1-2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Place garlic in blender with salt. Blend briefly and allow to sit while you assemble other ingredients.
2. Add all remaining ingredients and blend until well combined. Pour into a covered container and allow to sit about an hour (ideally) before serving.
3. About ½ cup will dress a side salad for 4 people. Refrigerate remainder and use within a week. Make salad with head lettuce, Romaine, tiny cauliflower florets, Feta cheese and sliced almonds.
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 21g Fat (86.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 593mg Sodium.

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  1. Susan Downey

    said on December 29th, 2012:

    I put VIP Salad Dressing in Google search, because I was trying to remember where it came from – it’s in some cook book. It’s been a favorite in my family forever. I mash the garlic and salt together with a fork – A LOT – then mash in the other spices, then put in the blender and add lemon juice and finally, oil in a stream with blender on, like you would hollandaise. I use about half romaine and half head lettuce (recipe also says you can use watercress in place of romaine). However, we use toasted slivered almonds (family tradition – my recipe says sliced also), cauliflower (like yours), no feta, halved grape tomatoes and avocado pieces. You sound like someone who would enjoy hearing about the variations, so I thought I’d share. I’m happy to have found your bog – looks like lots of good recipes to try! Thank you.

    Hi Susan – what fun with the different variations. I rarely make my salad with the cauliflower (unless I happen to have a head on hand, but I usually don’t) and rarely add the almonds either. But it is one of my favorite dressings. I’ll have to try it your way next time and see how I like it! Thanks for sharing . . . carolyn t

  2. Susan Downey

    said on December 29th, 2012:

    And I wanted to add – I agree with you completely about the oil. Tried olive and went back to Crisco oil, which is canola.

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