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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 May 3rd, 2007.

Do you have go-to salad dressings like I do? My repertoire contains a list of about 8 dressings that I rely on, depending on my mood or a particular meal when I want a specific flavor addition to a meal. This is one of those, and it’s been a keeper since I first tasted it at the Mexican Village Restaurant, a 1960’s vintage restaurant in Coronado, California. I loved this dressing whenever I went to the restaurant, and was overjoyed when, in the 1970’s the San Diego Union Tribune printed a recipe, purportedly the original, but maybe it was somebody’s interpretation. Why it was called “Mock” Caesar, I really don’t know. It does have garlic, Parmesan, oil and anchovy paste in it (no lemon juice, though). It’s really just another style of garlic-Parmesan-blue cheese vinaigrette. But whatever it really is, it’s really tasty. I go-to to this often.

Note: I have received an email message from one of the daughters of the original Mexican Village family. She says my recipe isn’t anything like the one at the family’s old restaurant. Oh well. She said she and her family are trying to produce the dressing and other food items from the “old days” of the restaurant. I don’t live in San Diego, so don’t know if they’ve accomplished that goal or not. But the recipe – at the time I thought the newspaper recipe was similar. And, by the way, the Mexican Village has re-opened in its same Coronado location, but it is not owned by the previous family. The new owners just bought the name. And I’ve not heard any good comments about the food.

It keeps stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. It is at its best during the first few days, but it’s really just fine for a long time. Years ago I used to make this with the Kraft dry, crumbled Parmesan cheese in the paper can, because I sure didn’t know much about the real, Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I use the latter now, but it’s certainly possible that the Mexican Village used the paper-can type themselves. It’s certainly cheaper!

SIDE NOTES ABOUT WHITE WINE VINEGAR: In the photo above, you’ll notice at the top right is a gray bottle. That’s my white-wine-vinegar jar/pot. I have this white (well, gray) one and a red one. Into those bottles go any dregs of wine that doesn’t get consumed. Initially I started with about 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1/2 cup of wine in each bottle. I let it marinate (room temp is fine) for several days to allow it to develop, then you merely add more wine remnants. It can go months without additions. These bottles just reside on my pantry shelves. Don’t use sweet wines. And occasionally taste the mixture – if it’s not sour or tart enough, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the bottle.
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Mock Caesar Dressing

Serving Ideas: Use different kinds of greens, but few veggies in the salad so the dressing shows through.

3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons green onions
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons blue cheese
1 teaspoon anchovy paste

Smash the garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife to remove the skin. Drop into blender container with the salt. Whiz briefly and allow to sit while you collect the other ingredients. Add all remaining ingredients and blend well. Refrigerate for a few hours before using. Makes about 2 cups.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 14g Fat (95.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 305mg Sodium.

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  1. Laurie

    said on March 8th, 2014:

    I have never forgotten how much I loved the salad dressing at the Mexican Village in Coronado, CA. It must mean something that I don’t remember any of the other menu items, although the salad was just the prelude to the meal. I remember my parents buying a container of the dressing for me to take home because I loved it so much…very fond memory.

    Yes, I agree. And this recipe isn’t that much like it. I’ve never tried to tinker with this recipe to try to make it more . . . something . . . to what I remember. . . carolyn t

  2. Cutting

    said on January 9th, 2016:

    Mexican Village Salad Dressing (close enough!)

    ½ c. Bleu Cheese
    1 cup vegetable Oil
    1 teaspoon Salt
    1 teaspoon Pepper
    1 Tablespoon Worcester S.
    1 egg beaten
    3 garlic cloves pressed or equivalent

    Let mellow after blending.
    Serve over Romaine/mixed greens with avocado chunks !!

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