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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 Veggies/sides, on June 18th, 2009.

noonday onions

DISCLAIMER: I don’t sell Noonday onions – they were a gift to me in 2009 from a good friend whose family lives in East Texas. If you want to buy some, my only suggestion is to go to this link: East Texas Grower’s Association. It’s their website including contact information with oodles of names and phone numbers. Perhaps one of them will be able to help. My friend’s relatives go to the farmer’s market in Noonday to buy them each year.

My friend Joan (of the Joan’s Pasta Salad on my blog, and the Baked Fennel with Parmesan) emailed me to ask if I’d like to have some Noonday Onions. Whah? Noon-what onions? Had never heard of them. If you’re a Texan, then nothing will do but Noonday (sweet) onions. And according to our friends, nothing holds a candle to Texas sweet onions (not Vidalia, nor any).

Joan’s in-laws, Tom & Dorothy, ship a big bag of Noonday Onions to each of their grown children every year around about June 1st. That’s high season for Noondays, you see. Now, Noonday is a SMALL town. Population 515 per the census in 2000, so I read online. Just in case you don’t know where Noonday is, like I didn’t, I had to look it up. Figured you’d want to be educated about it too. It’s halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, LA.

Joan’s in-laws live in Longview, an hour or so NE of Noonday. Joan’s husband Tom grew up in Longview. Over the years of knowing them, we’d heard stories about the famous barbecue in Longview. Never heard anything about the sweet onions. But about barbecue. From Bodacious. So one summer when Tom & Joan were flying home from a week’s visit to Longview (the family has an annual reunion every 4th of July week, with everyone attending including children and grandchildren), Joan phoned me and asked if I’d like them to bring a brisket from their favorite ‘cue place – on the plane – carefully wrapped in a cold pack. Who could say no to that, I ask you? We were having a big summer dinner at our house that very evening, and Tom & Joan landed in So. California just in time to change clothes and bring the barbecue brisket to share with all of our guests. What a huge treat that was. We had another barbecue dinner a couple weeks later and I actually phoned the “famous” Bodacious Barbecue in Longview and had another two briskets shipped by air so I could serve it again. I’ll vouch for Texas ‘cue, hands down. Good stuff. Texans take their ‘cue seriously, and Bodacious has been delivering (aka making) serious ‘cue for decades.

But, I got sidetracked there. Back to onions. I do know a bit more about East Texas than I did before. And I know that Noonday is a town that produces serious sweet onions. Just like Vidalia, and wine cuvees, you have to grow the sweet onions within 10 miles of Noonday’s city hall in order to qualify as Noonday onions. The reason Noondays are so good is because the soil composition is identical to the soil where Vidalias are grown in Georgia. If you’re interested, there’s a list of Noonday onion growers. If you don’t have your own private courier service like I did, there are phone numbers to call. Now is the season.

On to recipes. I was tickled to find out that Joan has been making my Baked Onions with (Red Wine and) Thyme for years. And that she uses Noonday onions to make them. She and Tom enjoy them so much that some years ago Joan sent my recipe to all of her sisters-in-law as a way to use the huge bag of sweet onions.

So I’m happy to provide the family with another good onion recipe for sweet onions. One that I hadn’t made in many years. A recipe given to me by a good friend, Ann H. from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Ann made these one time, years ago when they lived here in California, with sweet onions, when they kind of first came onto the onion-scene. Probably in the late 1980’s. These are rich (they do have 1/4 cup of cream added at the end), but the star of this dish is the Madeira.

Here’s a travel story . . . I’ve actually been to Madeira. Years ago. It’s a long way from anywhere – off the northwest coast of Africa, but it’s part of Portugal. A friend and I took a trip there, and since I was planning the trip mostly, I thought hey, we’re all the way over here, I’ve always wanted to GO to Madeira. Here’s my chance. Well, let me tell you – those of you who have been there will identify with me here – flying into Madeira is sheer terror. They cut short a runway out of the side of the mountain (Madeira is nothing BUT mountains, short but steep), and approaching by air you think you’re going to crash. You know you’re going to crash in the water or into the mountainside. And suddenly there’s a runway under the plane. A short runway. Yikes.

There isn’t a whole lot to DO on Madeira, really. Roads are treacherously curvy, with no big towns particularly. But the island produces Madeira for the world. My friend and I went on a couple of Madeira tours (wine type), so we learned all about the process and the different types – there are several, but mostly we only know the rather sweet fortified wine. But I did learn to tell the difference, and usually when I buy Madeira I buy good stuff, Bual. 15-year old Bual if I can afford it. It’s worth it. A bottle lasts years and years for me since I don’t drink it often. This dish has a few dashes of Madeira. Don’t buy anything but real Madeira from Madeira, okay? You can’t substitute sherry, really. You probably could substitute port, but only if you use a medium-sweet port, not the extra sweet. I buy good port too because I also learned the difference in that wine also. But that’s a story for another day.

madeira onion ingred
Ingredients: sweet onions, butter, Madeira, heavy cream and some parsley

madeira onionIt’s time for the recipe. Get yourself some sweet onions (just don’t tell any Texans that you used Vidalia or Walla Walla Sweets, okay?) and try this luscious onion dish. Not having had these for some years, my hubby said – oh my, these are to die for. Does that give you a clue as to their good-ness?
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Madeira Onions

Recipe: From my friend Ann H, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Servings: 6
NOTES: When my friend Ann made these, she left the onion slices nestled together, holding their shape. She cooked them in-position all the way through. She was very careful with them, even through the caramelizing process, to not dislodge the solid rings. Then she served them on a plate just that way. Made a beautiful presentation.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large sweet onions — peeled, sliced
1/2 cup Madeira
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream — or half and half
1/4 cup fresh parsley — finely minced

1. In a large skillet (with a lid) heat the butter until it’s starting to sizzle. Add onions. Cover, reduce heat and cook over low heat for about 25 minutes, until onions are cooked through.
2. Uncover pan and stir in the Madeira and salt and pepper. Cook under medium-low heat until the wine has evaporated, then continue to cook until the onions have begun to caramelize.
3. Add the cream and parsley and stir to combine. Heat through and serve hot.
Serving Ideas : These go well with a simple grilled meat. Don’t serve this with anything that competes with the subtle onion flavor – you want it to shine through.
Per Serving: 151 Calories; 11g Fat (75.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 9mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal
Two years ago: Mister Charlie (a delish ground beef casserole)

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  1. Donna Babcock

    said on June 10th, 2010:

    I grew up in the town of good old Mount Pleasant, Texas and moved away to Abilene, Texas this past year when I married. I use to always go and get the Noon Day onions and cannot find them here and am not satisfied with any, what they say are sweet onions, around here. HELP Where can I order some? I miss them and good old East Texas!

    I don’t know of a source, Donna. Sorry. All I can suggest is doing a web search and see if you can find someone willing to sell them. Maybe they have them in the local grocery store in Noonday? I really don’t know! . . . carolyn t

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