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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 February 6th, 2008.


Here’s the mustard and herb chicken as it was served on the plate, on a bed of red onions, with cauliflower on the side.


Here’s the chicken after baking. Note bread crumb crust.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will remember that a few days ago I felt so proud of myself after spending many hours clipping and filing recipes. It needed doing. Then yesterday I went into our laundry room, which has two tall shelves that are completely full of kitchen equipment that won’t fit in my kitchen. And I went to a 8-inch stack of handouts from cooking classes I’ve been to, and was hunting for a specific recipe that was lacking a topping. Out came the stack and I set it on the washing machine and began looking for the Joanne Weir class where she served that particular dish. And what did I find in this stack? Oh my. More recipes that had been torn out of magazines and newspapers. From about 2004 and 2005.


And yet again, one recipe floated its way to the top and said “fix me.” I’ve only begun sorting and piecing together recipes in this new stack.

Sometimes the simplest of recipes are just over-the-top good. That’s the story about this recipe. It came together in less than 30 minutes, and while the chicken was baking I was able to throw together some pan-sauteed cauliflower to serve with it. And to saute the onions that served as the bed under the chicken. The recipe came from Food & Wine, February 2006. According to F&W’s website, this was a “staff favorite.” I understand why.

You make a crumb crust from fresh bread. The recipe calls for 2 slices of country bread. Well, we don’t have country bread on hand in our house – I buy good multi-grain bread at the Corner Bakery every week or so and slices are individually wrapped and frozen. So I used one slice of that bread plus some panko crumbs to make the topping, which also contains Parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh rosemary (I dashed outside, in the dark, mind you) and a bit of olive oil to hold it together. The chicken thighs (I only had skinless, boneless, not what’s called for in the recipe) are seasoned, then browned briefly in a large saute pan that can go in the oven. Once you flip them over you slather them with some Dijon mustard, then carefully mound the crumb mixture on top before popping the pan in the oven at a high temp to bake for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile I started the cauliflower, and about 7-8 minutes before the chicken was done I sauteed the onion, sugar and lemon juice mixture that goes underneath the chicken. DH and I both just l-o-v-e-d it. Really l-o-v-e-d it. I’ll make this again and again. The thighs were perfectly cooked. And the onions were still just slightly crunchy, which we both liked. The best part is that it came together in 30 minutes.

Cook’s Notes: The recipe says it served two (two thighs each) but for us, one thigh, with the onion bed, and another veg on the side was plenty. So for me, I’d say it served 4 if the thighs are moderate sized. I used a red onion. Any kind would likely work.
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Mustard-and-Herb Chicken

Recipe: Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, Food & Wine, 2/06
Servings: 4
NOTES: This recipe makes a strong argument for using fresh bread crumbs. Unlike store-bought ones, which can be powdery, fresh bread crumbs get toasty and crispy in the oven, making them especially delicious as a coating for these mustard-smeared chicken thighs.

1 slice country bread — crusts removed, bread torn
1/4 cup panko [my addition in lieu of a 2nd piece of bread]
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese — finely grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 whole chicken thighs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion — thinly sliced [I used a red onion]
1 Pinch sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a food processor, pulse the bread until finely shredded. Add the garlic, [panko], rosemary and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper and pulse until combined. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil olive and pulse just until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer to a small bowl.
2. In a medium, ovenproof skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the skillet, skin side down. Cook over moderately high heat until golden, about 6 minutes. Turn the chicken and spread the skin with the mustard. Carefully spoon the bread crumbs onto the chicken, patting them on with the back of the spoon. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chicken for about 15 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and crisp and the chicken is cooked through.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and sugar, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat until softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the lemon juice and cook until the liquid has evaporated, 2 minutes longer. Spoon the onion mixture onto 2 plates, top with the chicken and serve.
Per Serving: 425 Calories; 36g Fat (75.3% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 98mg Cholesterol; 271mg Sodium.

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