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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 May 20th, 2007.


I’ve been under-the-weather this weekend. I think it’s a flu bug? Not sure, but food doesn’t thrill me. I’ve had juice, but am just going to go make myself a pot of tea. So thought I’d tell a little story about my tea and teapots. Growing up, probably like most of you, the only time I drank tea was when I was sick and my mother would brew Lipton’s with a teabag and some milk and honey. Then once I was able to eat a little something my mother would lovingly make me some milk toast – a piece of toast, buttered and sprinkled very lightly with sugar, placed in a wide shallow bowl and topped with about 1 cup of hot milk.

Until I became an adult – even a middle-aged adult, I’d never had anything except Lipton’s. Then in 1981 we met the English couple Jimmy & Pam – the couple I talked about a couple of weeks ago on this blog – Pamela, the professional chef, and Jimmy, the retired RAF Wing Commander. When we met them, that momentous evening at the local pub in Ilminster, they insisted we had to come and stay with them for a couple of days. Now when was it you met someone and they invited you to come stay in their home? We were overwhelmed. We actually had plans to drive down into Devon for a couple of days, but agreed we’d come back through Somerset and stay for two nights.

So, a couple of days later, we arrived at their home at about 4 pm. It was cold, drizzly Fall weather, so when we took our suitcases inside, Pamela said come into the kitchen, where we sat down with them to have a spot of tea. We had some wonderful thick sliced wheat bread with peanut butter and tea. It was the tea that sort-of exploded in my mouth – wow, I thought, this is absolutely delicious. It was nothing whatsoever like Lipton’s. And even though I’d been to England before, I’d always drunk coffee, even though it wasn’t the national drink!

When Pamela showed us the guest room upstairs, she pointed out the tea tray that was sitting on the window sill, including a little, unique pitcher of milk (sealed with plastic wrap) on the tray. They lived in a very old house with thick walls, and the milk stayed very cold. If we woke up in the night, she said, we could brew some tea. I must say, it probably had never occurred to me to brew myself some tea in the middle of the night. But the next morning when we awoke, we did make a pot of tea right there in our bedroom. Most Britons buy electric kettles, like this, or this, to brew hot water. Nowadays you can buy them here in the U.S., but for many years the only place I ever saw them was in the British Isles. They range in price from $11 for plastic, to upwards of $100 for stainless steel, cordless models. And no, I don’t have one.
I was enchanted with the little cream pitcher (pictured here), which I bought on a subsequent trip to England because I just think it’s so darned CUTE!

The next day they took us on a whirlwind drive around Somerset, including Lyme Regis, and a British military air museum in a nearby village. But that visit set the stage for many more with them. We always stay two nights. One night Pamela cooked dinner and the other night we took them out. But it was on the second trip to Britain that I was, again, in love with Pamela’s tea. So the first morning there she decided to give me a “tea lesson.” She made her own blend – she explained about the differences between standard black teas, and the smokey teas that lend a real depth of flavor. She would never, ever, use a tea bag. (There is also green tea, but I don’t like green tea, so I won’t give you any info about that.) My recollection is that she mixed 2/3 regular teas (two different kinds) and the other third a smokey tea. After we returned from that trip Pamela mailed us a package of different English teas, which I used to make my own blend.

But, she then proceeded to show me exactly how to make a PROPER pot of tea, and ever since that day, I’ve not wavered from this technique. Here’s what you need:
 
A teapot
A tea cozy (it’s a cover for the teapot)
Tea leaves (loose only)
A strainer, or tea ball to put inside the pot
A small pitcher of milk, warmed
Sugar (or sweetener), if desired

For me, part of the fun of making tea is the presentation, so I have my favorite tea tray (which I couldn’t find this morning) given to me by my friend Darlene 24 years ago. Because I often bring the tea tray upstairs to my office, when I do have tea, it needs to be easy to handle. While the water is boiling I put everything I need onto the tea tray – the strainer, a pretty tea spoon, the pitcher of warmed milk, and my sugar bowl. You’ll notice that on my tea tray this morning I put my bright red sugar bowl – I collect those little sugar bags from our travels. I never take more than one or two at a place, but I still have a large collection of sugars from different places in the world, and in languages I don’t begin to understand, either. Pamela gave me that idea, and I thought it was a very fun one, so adopted it.

Making a Proper Pot of Tea
1. Bring the pot of water to a boil.
2. Pour about 1 cup of very hot water into the teapot, swirl it around, then pour it out. This is an important step to warm the teapot before you pour the real hot water into the pot. You want to start with a hot pot. Alternately, you can use the hottest tap water and allow the teapot to sit while the water is boiling, then pour it out.
3. Drop the tea leaves into the pot and pour the hot water over it. Put the lid on, then place on the tray with the tea cozy on top. If you don’t have a tea cozy, cover the teapot with a kitchen towel to keep the heat in.
4. Allow the tea to stew for a maximum of 5 minutes.
5. Pour out into mugs, through a strainer, then add milk or sugar. In Britain, you don’t use both – you either use milk OR sugar. But sometimes I do anyway. It depends on the type of tea I’m drinking. My favorite sweetener is honey, but usually I add Splenda.

Because of Pamela’s influence in my life with all-things-tea, I’ve acquired a number of teapots over the years. The red one is certainly the most colorful, but it makes about 6 cups. The one on the tea tray is probably my favorite because it makes just the right amount for me to have 2 cups of tea. I also have a very fancy, small teapot that belonged
to my grandmother. I love it for its beauty, but it doesn’t keep the tea very hot, so it’s relegated to the cupboard, I’m afraid.

A very special one, though, is Pamela’s teapot, the one she gave me when she and Jimmy were downsizing their big, old house and moving to one of the Cotswolds towns. She asked me if there was anything I’d like to have, and I requested a teapot. She chose this one, and I brought it home with me as a carry-on. Very carefully. It also makes a big pot of tea, though, so I don’t use it very often. And although I have a collection of fancy china tea cups, I never use them for myself because tea just doesn’t stay hot in them. I prefer mugs, always.

I’m including one other pot here – it’s actually a coffeepot – I bought it at a lovely tea shop in the Cotswolds one year. It’s Staffordshire china, and a press pot. I did use it regularly for several years after I bought it, and was very cautious because it’s quite fragile. Mostly I
make espresso (a latte, actually) now, and Dave makes a pot of coffee for himself in our big Cuisinart grind and brew machine.

So, to finish the story, I’ve become a connoisseur of tea, even though I don’t make it often – but for some years when I was working I’d wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep (now I know it was the Claritin-D keeping me awake), I’d get up, make myself a pot of tea and quietly watch tv or turn on my computer and play mindless solitaire games. One year, I think it was 2000, Cherrie and I took a 10-day “Tea Tour” to England. She and I both like Earl Grey – and 12 of us, all ladies, journeyed to Britain. We had afternoon tea 5 times in 10 days. By the 5th time we’d all had enough of the afternoon tea, but it was sure fun.

So, go ahead, why don’t you make yourself some tea too.

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  1. Kate

    said on May 22nd, 2007:

    What a beautiful story.

    I love a good cup of tea and have gradually switched over from tea bags to loose leaf, keeping both on hand. Your explanation of making a good pot of tea is wonderful.

  2. yvette

    said on May 22nd, 2007:

    Carolyn,
    Can you please share with us
    your receipes for tea sandwiches
    and other tasty treats that we
    can enjoy with our “proper pot of
    tea”.
    Yvette

  3. Carolyn

    said on May 22nd, 2007:

    Kate – thanks. I loved writing up the story. Our friend in England is in her mid-80’s now and doesn’t DO computers, so I emailed her son-in-law, asking him to print out the two stories I’ve written and give them to her. She’s only read the first one so far, about the Cold Green Pea Soup, and she cried. She’ll cry over this one, too, I expect, especially when she sees her teapot in the group of teapot pictures. I’ll have to do another post one day about the different kinds of teas I drink. I have about 4 or 5 that I enjoy more than others, of which Earl Grey is right up there at the top.

    Yvette – yes, I will do a post sometime soon on tea sandwiches. I have one, that’s my very own concoction for curried chicken, but recently I attended a cooking class (yes, yet another one) that was all about afternoon tea (as if I haven’t gone to enough afternoon teas, or gone to enough classes on the subject), and I acquired two new sandwich recipes that were really, really good. I’ll post those as well. So stay tuned. Only problem is that I’ll have to MAKE them in order to photograph them, so it might be a little while . . .

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