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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 Fish, Grilling, Salads, on April 13th, 2009.


You know how it is about the weather influencing what you decide to cook for dinner? If it’s a rainy day I like to stay in and bake something. Cloudy, cold days often mean soup. A warm balmy night often triggers salads of some kind. Well, my bell weather was working the day before when the temps were in the 70’s and 80’s, but the next day it was cold. But I’d already decided what I wanted to make, so what can a girl do except follow through? So even though it was cool weather, I made salad for dinner.

The recipe came from a Bobby Flay episode I watched on the Food Network several years ago. It reminded me of a favorite recipe – one that won a reader’s recipe contest in Cooking Light for a Crunchy Shrimp on Couscous Salad with a yummy dressing. That’s what I was thinking about as I flipped through my to-try recipes. Mint is in season, I think, and this salad was perfect – hot, grilled marinated shrimp served on a bed of tabbouleh salad.

Since lemon and lemon juice are frequently seen in my recipes, it’s probably no surprise that I’d like tabbouleh, right? I remember exactly when I first had it – it was about 1970, served to me by a friend of my mother’s, Ruth Spilmer. Ruth was a very good cook, and one day she invited a few friends over for a lovely lunch. Remember, back in those days when most women didn’t work, that’s what we did to entertain . . . we invited lady friends over for a nice luncheon – crystal, china, the whole deal. No alcohol though. The other thing I remember about Ruth was her shoes. She always wore spiky high heels. She wore them morning, noon and night. At home, she wore the kinds with feathers around the toes. She said that for so many years she’d worn high heels that her tendons couldn’t stretch to wear flatter shoes, so she just had to wear heels from the moment she stepped out of bed. I can’t imagine! Isn’t it funny sometimes, the things you remember?

So back to this luncheon – what else Ruth served, I don’t remember, but the tabbouleh was a stand-out. I’d never had Bulgar wheat – didn’t really even understand what it was (a parboiled wheat berry that’s been sliced, chunked). But all it takes to make it chewy and edible is a soak in boiling water for an hour or two. And the addition of some key ingredients, namely lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and green onions makes it salad. Ruth always added diced cucumber and diced fresh tomatoes too. I’ve made her recipe off and on for years. So, this Bobby Flay recipe has been changed – only to make the tabbouleh salad like my friend Ruth did. We had it for leftovers a few nights later, and I just added bit more cucumber, tomato and that time I added radishes. And more arugula. So then I had to add a tad bit more lemon juice and olive oil too, but not much.
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Mint Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Tabbouleh Salad

Recipe: Adapted from Bobby Flay, Food Network
Servings: 4
NOTES: I think you could reduce the shrimp marinade to about half – if you just tossed it a couple of times during the 10-minute soak. You throw out the marinade anyway. I prepared the shrimp on my stovetop grill – heated up to a pretty hot temp – and they were done in a flash. Have the tabbouleh salad all ready before you start grilling as you want to whisk it to the table while they’re still hot.

1/2 cup Bulgar wheat — medium or coarsely cracked
1 1/2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup baby arugula leaves
2 large green onions — thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh mint — finely chopped, plus fresh mint leaves for garnish
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice — or lime juice
1 clove garlic — chopped to a paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cucumber — diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley — chopped
1/3 cup fresh tomatoes — diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint — chopped
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp — (20-24 count)
Salt, to taste

1. Place Bulgar in a bowl and pour the boiling water over. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until bulgur is tender and most of the water is absorbed, about 1 to 2 hours.
2. Drain off any excess liquid from the Bulgar and allow it to sit in a colander for 15-20 minutes to drain off further water. Place Bulgar in a bowl and stir in the arugula, green onions, cucumber, parsley, tomatoes and mint.
3. Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic and oil and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the bulgur and taste again for seasoning.
4. Transfer tabbouleh to a platter and top with the grilled shrimp. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
5. SHRIMP: Combine juice, mint, oil and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Place shrimp in a bowl, pour marinade over and stir to coat evenly in the marinade. Marinate for 10 minutes. Heat grill to high. Season shrimp with salt and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side or until slightly charred and just cooked through.
Per Serving (assumes you consume the marinade, so this is all wrong): 442 Calories; 29g Fat (59.1% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 173mg Cholesterol; 183mg Sodium.

A year ago: Salmon Filets with Orange & Leek Cream Sauce

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