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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 Pork, on May 22nd, 2007.


Deciding what to serve guests? For me, making decisions about a company meal usually starts out with the decision about the entrée. So, is it beef, fish, chicken, pork or lamb? I’ll flip through my big personal cookbook (three large 3-ring binders containing all 500+ of my recipes, divided up by categories), and start making a list of the options. I may pull out those recipes (each is in a plastic sleeve) before I decide. Here’s what I do:

• make a list of a couple of the meat dishes that sound good to me. Then I’ll think about what should go with it;

• vegetables (depends on the season, maybe two vegies and no carb), add to the list;

• another side/carb (does this dinner need a carb, would my guests prefer not to have a carb, is it too many calories already? think about the color on the plate since we like to have some variety); add to the list;

• a salad (green type? or another? special additions like pecans or walnuts, a new dressing? an old favorite?), add to the list;

• dessert (look over the menu so far, think about my timetable, what I can manage with all the other dishes, does it need to be lower calorie? a splurge? chocolate or no?); add to the list;

• and lastly appetizers (do I need to make something homemade? can I make do with chips and salsa? if we’re not having carbs with the dinner, maybe hummus would be fine with crackers and vegies?).

So, for this particular dinner I wanted a pork roast using a recipe I’ve had for some years, after taking a class with Tarla Fallgatter, a local cooking instructor. But, I wanted a simple, but JUICY pork roast. The last few times I’ve baked a pork roast I’ve been disappointed and had concluded it was the pork, not the cook (moi, how could it be moi?). I was convinced it’s this new, leaner pork, the other white meat, that was just too lean, with not enough fat in the grain to provide any juiciness. So I consulted my local independent butcher. He told me that the pork I bought at Costco was probably the same pork I bought from him, or at least they were from the same or similar pork producers in Iowa as Costco uses (okay, no help there.) But, he did tell me that if I wanted a bit more marbling of fat, I should buy a roast from the rib end (more toward the country ribs part). He just happened to have one (oh good). BUT, he told me, the most important thing I should remember was to not overcook the meat (uh oh, maybe I am the culprit after all?). I asked him (always good to get a second opinion) at what temperature I should remove the pork. He didn’t know (hmm, not good, a butcher doesn’t know this?). Okay, back to my recipe, which said 145°.

So, once I’d decided on having pork, chosen the recipe (below) I rounded out the meal with the zucchini gratin (my posting on Saturday), a nice green salad, chips and salsa, and I made some strawberry mascarpone ice cream from over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It was a very nice meal with a couple of bottles of red wine. We were all very mellow by 10:00 pm.

As for the pork, I was careful to use my meat thermometer. But, I found out
that the part of the sensor that reveals the oven temperature isn’t working, so think I’ll have to buy a new one – I dropped it a month or so ago and bent the connector that goes into the little digital box – most likely that’s the problem. I’m glad it wasn’t the interior meat temp that wasn’t working! I removed the roast at exactly 145°, let it sit for about 10 minutes while I prepped the rest of the meal. The pork was perfectly cooked. And JUICY! I have no qualms about spending the money to buy a new meat thermometer. It convinced me once again what an invaluable instrument it is in the kitchen!

The apricot compote is a bit different than some. The addition of a whole vanilla bean – well not the bean itself, but the contents – makes it unusual. Whole vanilla beans have such a fragrance – a perfume, if you will – that could easily overpower. You carefully slit the bean open, to butterfly it (it’s a little like microsurgery – attacking this tiny, narrow little thing – do use a small knife with a very thin and sharp point) and scrape the miniature grains out of the bean. You’ll get about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon total. And you can see the grains in the finished sauce – you may want to tell your guests so they don’t think it’s sand!

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Roast Pork Loin with Apricot Compote

Recipe By: A cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Servings:  10

NOTES: It may be preferable to use two pork tenderloins for this recipe. If so, bake them for about 20 minutes total. You can, if necessary, use vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean, but the flavor will be significantly reduced. It really is worth the time and trouble to buy the whole bean.

COMPOTE:
1 1/2 cups white wine — sweeter variety, if available
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean — split & scraped
2 tablespoons sugar
12 ounces dried apricot halves — chopped
ROAST PORK:
4 1/2 pounds pork loin — chine bone removed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons oil

1. Compote: In a medium pan combine wine, cider, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla bean scrapings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add apricots. Simmer for 20 minutes or until a syrup consistency is achieved. If the syrup has not reduced sufficiently, remove apricots and boil the syrup until it reaches the desired consistency. Remove from heat and set aside or keep warm to serve. Can be made one day ahead.
2. Pork: Preheat oven to 350°. Season meat with salt & pepper. In a large pan heat oil over medium high heat and brown pork on all sides. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and bake for about 30 minutes, turn meat over, then bake an additional 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°. Remove pork from oven, cover loosely with foil for 10-15 minutes, then cut into portions, and spoon hot compote over meat.
Start to Finish Time: 1 hour
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 9g Fat (26.6% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 379mg Sodium.

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  1. Peabody

    said on May 21st, 2007:

    Yum, I love the use of the apricot compote.

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