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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, Restaurants, on January 13th, 2008.

When my DH says this is a keeper, I listen up. He doesn’t say those words all that often. He enjoys my cooking and does tell me all the time how much he appreciates this dish or that. But those particular words just don’t come out of his mouth frequently. I heard them for this dish. He was intrigued enough by the appearance to ask me what was in it, how I cooked it. He keeps thinking that one of these days when he takes a several-day sailing trip on our boat, going out to Catalina, or one of the other islands within sailing distance of our shores, that he’s going to cook a nice dinner for his crew. (I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I don’t go on these jaunts because I get deathly seasick, or I’m so drugged up with Dramamine that I don’t function much, or suffer from very blurred vision if I use the scopalamine patch. All in all, I just don’t go. DH reminds me occasionally that he didn’t marry me for my sailing abilities. That’s for sure. He also didn’t marry me for my dancing style, either, but that’s another story.)

So anyway, he was curious about the chicken and nearly licked the plate. The recipe came from a restaurant out in our California desert – a French place called Cuistot. We’ve eaten there several times, and enjoyed the food. A reader wrote into the Los Angeles Times (December 12, 2007) asking them to get the recipe, which the chef provided. I believe the article said this is a common bistro kind of preparation. It’s easy – from start to finish it took me about 45 minutes, with 25 of those minutes the chicken was in the oven. You heat the oven to a phenomenal 500 degrees F. Yikes. But it works. If you have a heavy-duty skillet that can withstand that kind of heat, go for it (that’s what the recipe indicates). I wasn’t sure enough to subject my Look brand nonstick skillet to that temp, so after browning the chicken pieces I popped them in an ovenproof pan. Then I deglazed the browning skillet and made the sauce while the chicken was baking. It sped up the dinner process since I was able to take the chicken directly from the oven to the plate and spooned sauce on it immediately with a bit of the drippings from the blazing hot pan.

This is the kind of dinner you could throw together quickly – providing you have shallots on hand and fresh tomatoes. Most home kitchens would have the garlic, butter, red wine, vinegar and chicken broth. I forgot to add the garnish in my haste to get the plates on the table.

You see, I was late getting home – went to see Kite Runner at 3:55 and didn’t get out of the movie until 6:15. And, oh my goodness, was that a movie! I’d read the book a year or two ago, right after it came out. The photography was excellent – even though it was filmed mostly in China. The bulk of the real story takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it certainly looked authentic. The story is heart-wrenching to say the very least about it. Highly recommended. And, of course, the book is better, but I thought the movie was exceptionally well done.

So, after a 30-minute drive home, it was late for dinner before I even started. Bang, clang, and I served it in a jiffy. And now this will go into the KEEPERS file. DH even asked that the next time this is on the menu, he’d like to make it. Now that makes this a real red-letter dinner! He’s never said that. Ever.
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Sautéed Chicken with Red Wine Vinegar Sauce

Recipe: Cuistot Restaurant, Palm Desert, California, via the Los Angeles Times
Servings: 4
Cook’s Notes: I sliced the garlic (as usual, I didn’t read the recipe real well when I started – sheepish grin here), but discarded it after baking, since it was for flavor, not eating anyway. I also used chicken thighs and breasts, because that’s what I had on hand. Surely in my cache of vinegars I have cabernet vinegar, but in my haste I decided not to hunker down on the floor perusing for bottles behind bottles. And, I cooked the sauce longer than I should have – I kept reducing the liquid, but I’d already put in the tomatoes, so they weren’t just flash fried and still fresh-looking. Tasted great, though. We had the leftovers for dinner last night. DH again mentioned this chicken was “wow” in his book. We both agreed, though, that more sauce is needed, so next time I’ll double that part.
The chef recommends Cabernet vinegar for the red wine vinegar in the recipe.

4 pieces chicken breasts — skin-on chicken breasts or whole legs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter — divided
4 whole garlic cloves — skin-on
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
3 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
2 whole plum tomatoes — peeled, seeded and diced
Chopped chives or parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle each piece of chicken lightly on each side with one-eighth teaspoon salt and a grind or two of pepper.
2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the chicken, skin-side down, along with the garlic cloves. Sauté over medium-high heat, until the skin is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the chicken and repeat on the other side.
3. Place the pan, with the chicken skin-side up, in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until cooked through. The meat will be firm and the juices will run clear, and a thermometer inserted will read 165 degrees.
4. Remove the chicken from the skillet, cover and set aside in a warm place. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings from the pan, and return to the stove over medium heat. Add the shallots, cooking until they caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add the red wine and vinegar and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes and stir to combine; adjust seasoning. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter, swirling to thicken the sauce.
5. Return the chicken to the sauce and heat 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through. Sprinkle with chives or parsley and serve immediately.
Per Serving (assuming you consume the chicken skin, which we did not): 583 Calories; 33g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 62g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 201mg Cholesterol; 443mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on January 15th, 2008:

    This the best recipe for Chicken I have ever cooked and tasted. I get my chicken from and this was a great way to cook what i got. I am always looking for cool new ways to cook my food, and this was really a change for the best!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on January 16th, 2008:

    So glad you enjoyed it. We sure did too, and it will become one of those go-to recipes when I’m in a hurry but still want something full of flavor.

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