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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 Chicken, on December 18th, 2007.

You’re really missing out on something wonderful if you don’t make chicken and dumplings once in awhile. One day a year or so ago, in reading The Orange County Register, the Food Editor Cathy Thomas wrote up all the joys and virtues of chicken and dumplings. It set my mouth to watering, and I promptly made hers. Oh my. Was it ever GOOD. Actually, the chicken was Jamee Ruth’s version, from the book The Cookware Cookbook (had never heard of it, actually). It’s relatively simple, although it calls for ingredients I don’t often have on hand (6 leeks, for example and 6 shallots). The gravy/broth is just delicious, helped along with the addition of apple juice of all things. This is worth a trip to the grocery store. A good recipe for a chilly winter’s evening. I like to remove the chicken from the bones (and remove all the skin too so DH won’t eat it). Just reheat briefly.

Serve it in a wide soup bowl, with the light dumplings on top. And I highly recommend Marion Cunningham’s recipe for Feather Dumplings which has fresh bread crumbs and onion in them. The minced onion gives a nice little crunch in the dumpling. Something a little different, but they’re worth making. From her book Lost Recipes: Meals to Share with Family & Friends. Although surely this dish is one you ordinarily think of as homespun, it would be wonderful to share with family, and good friends. Here it is in the bowl with the dumplings.

If you have leftovers, when reheating, put the chicken mixture in a saucepan, heat just to a low simmer, then gently lower in the leftover dumplings. Top with a lid and allow to simmer very slowly for just a few minutes, then serve. I also find that the broth/gravy can have some added water. When I made the chicken and dumplings this time, after completing all the cooking (except the dumplings), I ladled out about 7/8 of the leeks with some broth and whizzed them up in the food processor. That made the gravy a bit thicker, which is a good thing.
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Chicken and Dumplings

Recipes: Dumplings – Marion Cunningham; Chicken – Jamee Ruth
Source: Cathy Thomas, Orange County Register
Servings: 8
NOTES: If you prefer, you can remove all the chicken from the bones – in which case it’s not necessary to do the dredging, etc. Just brown the chicken pieces.
Serving Ideas: Serve this in a wide and deep soup bowl. The broth is just fabulous, which you want to consume with every bite.

CHICKEN:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 pounds chicken pieces — skin-on
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
6 whole leeks — cleaned and sliced
6 whole shallots — diced
5 whole carrots — cut in 3″ pieces
3 stalks celery — diced
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup apple juice — or pineapple juice
[Optional: green peas and mushrooms]
FEATHER DUMPLINGS:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup onion — finely minced
1 whole egg — beaten
2 tablespoons butter — melted
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — minced
Black pepper to taste

1. Prepare the chicken (called the soup): In a shallow bowl or pan combine the flour, salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour. Melt butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot on medium-high heat. Cautiously add half of the chicken using tongs. Do not crowd the pieces. Brown nicely on both sides, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and brown remaining chicken and remove to a plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add leeks and shallots, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until softened and starting to brown or caramelize. Add the carrots, celery and thyme. Stir and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add the broth and fruit juice and bring to a boil on high heat. Add the chicken on top, reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes (no more than that, or the chicken will dry out and get tough). Remove from heat and cool. The goal is to remove the fat from the broth, so you can separate the vegetables and put the broth in a flat pan to cool faster. Chill, remove fat, then you can reassemble the dish with the chicken on top. Reheat to a simmer.
3. Dumplings: In a small mixing bowl stir together the flour, bread crumbs, baking powder and salt. In another bowl lightly beat the milk, onion, egg and melted butter. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones to make a wet paste. Don’t over mix. Add parsley and pepper and mix just until combined. Drop small spoonfuls (about 12) onto the top of the bubbling soup. [Add mushrooms here.]Cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. [If adding peas, heat frozen peas under hot-hot tap water and add a few to each bowl. If you cook them in the stew, they turn gray/ugly.] Ladle soup, vegetables, chicken and a dumpling or two into wide soup bowls.
Per Serving (probably not accurate, too high): 445 Calories; 15g Fat (30.7% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 151mg Cholesterol; 1013mg Sodium.

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  1. Jancd

    said on December 19th, 2007:

    I made your Bishop Bread today and it turned out great. I was surprised that there is no butter or oil in the recipe, but I trusted the recipe and am happy I did. I had it in four small loaf pans and will be giving three away for Christmas treats. Thanks for the recipe. Jancd

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