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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 Beef, on May 13th, 2007.

If we’d wanted these ribeye steaks to turn out any better than they did, I don’t know what we could have done to make them so. The recipe is very exact in its cooking method, and with the help of my meat/oven thermometer, they cooked to perfection. The smear underneath is a puckery sauce made ahead and plopped on the hot plate just before serving.

Up until last night’s dinner, we’ve been a bit disappointed with steak we’ve purchased lately. The Costco ribeyes weren’t all that tender, and even the steaks from Whole Foods weren’t very tasty or tender, either. So we decided to splurge on our next steak dinner and buy U.S.D.A. Prime meat, only available at a local, independent butcher (Pacific Ranch Market in Orange Park Acres).

It was money well spent, as these steaks were outstanding in every way. The recipe comes from Hugh Carpenter, a prolific cookbook author and entertaining instructor. He came to my attention about 16 years ago with classes he taught in Los Angeles and Pasadena. I’ve purchased several of his books, and a couple of years ago he taught a grill or barbecue class at Sur la Table in Newport Beach (SLT is rarely doing guest chefs anymore, so don’t look for him there or at any other SLT store . . . perhaps I’ll write a rant about the Sur la Table cooking school on another posting . . . I used to be a big fan, but no longer). This was the recipe he prepared that night, and it’s been a success every time. I believe it’s from his book Hot Barbecue printed a few years ago, which I do not own.

Buy the best quality meat you can afford. Make sure you have a very reliable meat thermometer like the one pictured here. This little number has been a lifesaver for me more times than I can count. And as good as anyone thinks he/she is as a grill king, it will make a believer out of you that every cook needs one. This particular model by Polder tracks the temperature in the grill oven as well as the food so you can make adjustments. The method of cooking is this: the steak is marinated for a few hours. Meanwhile, make the Amazing Glaze sauce and allow it to cool.

After removing some to serve on the finished plate, drain the steaks, blot them dry and let them sit in remaining glaze for about 40 minutes. Heat grill to medium high, sear the steaks for one minute on each side, then put them on a rack on a baking sheet and place back in the grill at 300° but not over the direct heat. Watch the meat thermometer carefully and remove them when they hit 120°. Allow to sit for 5 minutes covered loosely with foil. Serve! You won’t be disappointed.
Happy grilling . . .
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Ribeye Steaks with Amazing Glaze

Recipe: Hugh Carpenter, cookbook author
Serving: 4
NOTES: Sauce is very spicy. If you prefer more highly seasoned, add more Tabasco. And this recipe assumes a VERY hearty eater with 12 ounces of steak per person. Most people would eat an 8 ounce steak. Another option: buy bigger ribeyes and cut them in half after they’re grilled. The “secret” to this recipe is the cooking method and it has worked perfectly every time. We take the steaks off at 120° and let them sit for a few minutes covered lightly with foil. The sauce keeps for months and months in the refrigerator.
Serving Ideas : This is best served with a smooth carb – like garlic mashed potatoes or creamy polenta. Grilled onions make a good accompaniment as well.

48 ounces steaks — 4 ribeyes, 12 ounces each
10 ounces Worcestershire sauce
3 whole lemons — squeezed
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 whole yellow onion — chopped
6 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups Heinz 57 Sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1. Place the steaks in a large rectangular container. In a small bowl combine the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and water. Pour over the meat and chill for 1-8 hours.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the Sauce: In a 2 1/2 quart saucepan add oil and onion. Sauté until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for just 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove lid, increase heat and boil until the sauce has reduced about half. Transfer to a bowl, cool, cover and refrigerate.
3. Set aside one cup of the sauce to serve with the meat. Drain and discard the meat marinade. Blot the steaks of excess liquid, then spread remaining sauce liberally over the steaks, to coat evenly.
4. Grilling meat: Preheat oven to 300°. Use convection, if available. Then preheat a stovetop grill over high heat. Grill steaks on hot grill and cook about 1 minute per side. Place steaks in oven on a rack, on a baking sheet and insert a meat thermometer in the center of one steak. Bake about 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature is about 120° – 130°. At 120° = medium rare, at 130° = medium. Cut into one steak when it is about 5° below desired temp. It may require a few more minutes, depending on your oven temperature.
5. Remove steaks from oven and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Slice steak into thin slices and serve on a heated plate with a puddle of the sauce beneath it.
6. If you would prefer to use a GAS GRILL, preheat it to medium heat. Brush the grill with oil, then lay on the steaks, marking them, but cooking no longer than that. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet with a rack, and place steaks on the rack in the grill, but not over direct heat. Reduce heat to 300°. Insert meat thermometer, close lid and continue to cook until meat reaches temperature desired (see above). Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

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