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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 Beverages, on April 8th, 2009.

margaritas

What is it about beverages – they just don’t photograph very well. Of course, I was in our daughter’s kitchen, using ambient light, no background to speak of. And she didn’t have martini glasses (neither do I, for that matter). You’ll just have to trust me that this recipe is worth reading about and trying yourself. I don’t like a salt-rimmed margarita, so my glass was just kinda plain looking.

It was about 5-6 years ago when I read an in-depth article in Cooks Illustrated about margaritas. And because the prose about it was so grand, I decided I had to try it. I’m not a fan of bottled margarita mix. It’s got some kind of off flavor to my palate. It’s certainly easy; but I’d almost rather do without than have to imbibe the ready-made mix. So this recipe for the real thing, using JUST fresh lemon and lime juices plus some sugar (plus the tequila and triple sec) is SO, SO much better. I made a huge quantity (to serve 10 adults for our son-in-law’s birthday) and had about 2 cups of the lemon/lime juice leftover. The next night we invited our friends Sue and Lynn over for dinner. Lynn said, after he’d downed two of them, “this, I think, is the best margarita I’ve ever had in my life.” I concur.

What sets this recipe apart from other margarita recipes is the marinating time. What? Marinating? Yes, you marinate the juices along with some of the lemon and lime peel to give it a much more intense flavor. Indeed it does. I marinate for 24 hours, always, but the recipe says 4 hours or up to 24. The second thing about these is the use of Reposado tequila. This isn’t the cheap-cheap stuff you use here, but the aged agave Reposado variety. Maybe a little harder to find, and a bit more expensive (but not a lot). However, the liquor is more mellow, if you can say that anything that’s 70+ proof alcohol is mellow. I’ve made these 4 or 5 times in the ensuing years and have heard good reviews every time. Don’t be lazy and use just lemon juice – the drink needs both lemon and lime juices. Perfect for a warm afternoon or a dinner outside!
printer-friendly PDF

Margaritas

Recipe: Chris Kimball, America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook, 2001
Servings: 5
Notes: Depending on how sour or sweet your lemons are, you may need to tinker with the sugar quantity. Taste it. Know that the drink is potent, but taste for sweetness. I used mostly Meyer lemons in mine, and they’re sweeter than regular lemons, so the 1/4 cup of superfine sugar was sufficient.

4 teaspoons grated lemon rind — or 3-5 shaved pieces of peel
4 teaspoons grated lime rind — or 3-5 shaved pieces of peel
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar — superfine, if available
1 pinch salt
2 cups crushed ice
1 cup tequila — 100% agave, Reposado
1 cup Triple Sec (not Cointreau; Bols brand triple sec is the best)

1. Shave pieces of lemon and lime to use for the marinating (easier to remove). Or, use a rasp grater. In a large liquid measuring cup combine lemon and lime zests, juices and sugar. Stir to combine, cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Remove peels, or strain the juice mixture to remove zests and pour into a 6-cup pitcher. Add tequila and triple sec and the pinch of salt. Stir to combine and refrigerate to chill the liquor.
3. You may also add the mixture and ice to a blender to give you a even more mellow drink (my preference).
4. Pour into 5 glasses. If you want salt-edged glasses, squeeze some lemon juice into a flat plate or saucer (just larger than the glass you’ll serve it in), then lightly touch the rims into margarita salt, pour margaritas in the glasses and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 325 Calories; trace Fat (0.2% calories from fat); trace Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chocolate Chunk & Dried Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

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  1. Marie

    said on April 8th, 2009:

    Carolyn, I think all of your food pictures look fantastic. Even the drink ones. I have not had a margarita in years. I really used to like them. I wonder is it possible to make one without alcohol?

    Hmmm. I suppose you could substitute some orange juice concentrate for the triple sec. Tequila? Well, probably nothing to sub there. If you whizzed that concoction up with ice, it would be pretty tasty. But probably nothing like the piquant taste of the tequila. . . carolyn T

  2. Carolyn Jung

    said on April 8th, 2009:

    Marinating a margarita! Who would have thunk? But it makes absolute sense. I’m going to have to try this in the summer, when the tequila is pouring. 😉

    I know, it sounds crazy, but it works. Of course, using the better quality reposado tequila doesn’t hurt, either! Hope you enjoy them. . . carolyn t

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