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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 Fish, Salads, on February 11th, 2008.


You can’t see the toasted couscous on the bottom, but it’s there, topped with watercress, then lightly breaded shrimp, and drizzled with a delicious orange mayo sauce.

Another recipe from the “stack” I sorted through the other day. And this one is an absolute over-the-top winner.

Ordinarily I might have passed by this recipe. We don’t eat couscous, generally, because it’s a high glycemic carb. Couscous is actually little tiny orbs of pasta, and takes no more than adding water (hot) to it and it’s cooked and ready. But, this recipe won a cooking contest at Cooking Light in 2006. (I know, I told you, I’ve been behind in filing my recipes :-), and the rest of the recipe sounded so delish that I held onto it. DH and I went to a local farmer’s market and had bought some fresh shrimp with no plan as to what I’d make with it.

Here’s the crux of the recipe: you make a mayonnaise-based cold sauce with reduced orange juice, lime juice, cilantro, ginger and cumin. Then you toast the dry couscous in a large pan. THAT I’d never done before, but it added a wonderful taste to the simple prep of couscous. You add chicken broth and orange juice to plump up the couscous, then green onions and almonds at the last. The shrimp: rolled in egg white, then tossed around in a plastic bag with panko, cilantro, fresh ginger and some pepper. You quickly saute the shrimp, then start the artful arrangement: couscous on the bottom, a nice mound of fresh watercress, the hot shrimp, then you drizzle the whole thing with the sauce.


First photo, the couscous toasting golden brown in the pan.

The mayo sauce (small amount, really) based orange ginger sauce that’s drizzled over the top and becomes a kind of salad dressing.
Lastly, the crunchy shrimp moments before serving. They’re crusted with panko, cilantro, fresh ginger and ground black pepper.

The history of the recipe: Cooking Light – the Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest, 2006. There were several categories, but the judges were all, hands down, in love with this dish, which won first prize. The cook: Karen Tedesco of Webster Groves, Maryland.

Notes: I think next time I’d make a little more of the sauce – it was barely enough (because it’s so darned good). Watch the couscous when you’re toasting – it goes from normal to toasted in a matter of about 30-40 seconds. I’d chop up the watercress just a little bit. I’m kind of haphazard when I wrench off most of the stems, but even medium stems are hard to eat. This is a one-dish meal – you need nothing else with it. No salad. No side. It takes about 30-40 minutes from start to finish. Would make a lovely company meal.
printer-friendly PDF

Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce

Recipe By: Karen Tedesco, Webster Grove, MO via Cooking Light
Servings: 4

SAUCE:
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
COUSCOUS:
1 cup couscous — dried
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons sliced almonds — toasted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
SHRIMP:
20 jumbo shrimp — peeled and deveined (about 3/4 pound)
1 large egg white — lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger — grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups watercress — washed, trimmed, coarsely chopped

1. To prepare sauce, bring 1 cup orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; cool completely. Stir in 1 tablespoon cilantro and next 7 ingredients (through red pepper); set aside.
2. To prepare couscous, place couscous in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add 1 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; add onions, almonds, and butter, stirring until butter melts. Keep warm. If made an hour ahead, briefly reheat in same pan until it’s hot all the way through.
3. To prepare shrimp, combine shrimp and egg white in a bowl, tossing to coat. Combine panko, 1 teaspoon cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and black pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp to bag; seal and shake to coat.
4. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; arrange shrimp in a single layer in pan. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until done.
5. Divide couscous evenly among 4 plates; top evenly with watercress and shrimp; drizzle sauce over shrimp.
Per Serving: 423 Calories; 17g Fat (34.3% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 11th, 2008:

    What an interesting recipe. I’ve heard about dry frying pasta before boiling it but couldn’t quite see the point. You have made it clear to me. The flavourings in this dish are some of my favourites, especially the cilantro; or coriander as we call it over here.

  2. Karen

    said on February 12th, 2008:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I’m glad to have found your blog – this is my recipe! It’s so fun to see that you enjoyed making it – this is one that I actually make a lot for company, too. And I agree; the amount of sauce is too small AND I usually add a little more oil to the pan when cooking the shrimp.

    In order for this to be a “light” recipe, the fat portions are strictly portioned – you know how that goes.

    Cheers!

    Karen

  3. yvette

    said on March 17th, 2010:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I served this at a dinner party at my home for my sister Yvonne’s
    50th birthday celebration. The meal was amazing. No wonder it is on your
    “Favorites Lists”. It surely belongs there !!
    I will make this again and again and again.

    Yvette

    I think that recipe is SO unique. And really very easy too. Glad you and your family enjoyed it. . . carolyn t

  4. yvonne

    said on March 23rd, 2010:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I knew I had to make to this recipe after having it at Yvette’s house for my birthday. I hosted a Bunco party at my house and invited 12 of my friends for dinner. It was a huge success. I received rave reviews on the
    dinner. All the gals left with a copy this recipe. The general consensus was “This is what I would expect from a fine dining restaurant”. Thank you!

    Yvonne
    (Yvette’s sister)

    Hi Yvonne – so glad you enjoyed the salad. It’s one of our favorites too, and relatively easy as well. . . carolyn t

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