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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 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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