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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 Appetizers, on June 17th, 2009.

mahogany onions

This is the first of two onion recipes I’m going to share. Tomorrow you’ll learn more about how/why I have these wonderful sweet onions in the first place, but will post this one first. You’d likely think the above bruschetta was topped with an olive tapenade. Nope. Or maybe a fig jam? Nope. Could even be dark mushrooms? No on all counts. It’s onions.

We went out to dinner last night with good friends, and our custom with Bob & Liz is to gather at one or the other of our homes for some pre-prandial appetizers and wine, then off we go to a restaurant. We’ve been trying to go to NEW restaurants every time we go out, so it keeps us on our toes to find new ones to try. We’ve been very successful so far, even in this economy!

I’d made this appetizer a few days ago with the first of my big onion bonanza and we polished it off last night with our wine and food before dinner. Liz wants the recipe. I’ll be making these again soon.

So here’s the story about them. The recipe is based on one from a new cookbook called The New American Olive Oil, by Fran Gage. I followed her recipe mostly, but then I took a right turn and made it different. After trying it once according to the recipe, I made it my own with the garnish. First you slice about 2 pounds of onions (I used sweet onions) and sauté them with about 4 T. of extra-virgin olive oil and a tiny smattering of salt. It cooks. And cooks. And cooks. At a very low heat for about an hour. You stir occasionally, and more often near the end so the onions don’t stick. During the hour of cooking they lose all their water and they cook down and down and down. The recipe suggests cooking them until they are the color of a polished mahogany table. Am sure you can get the picture. When mine were looking like the skin of an Idaho potato I knew I still had room to go. But stirring is required from then on. Still on fairly low heat. And finally, it DID get to be the color of mahogany.

The huge – HUGE – pan of onions had dwindled to about a half a CUP of dark brown goop. After cooling, you add in some GOOD balsamic vinegar (I happened to use pomegranate balsamic vinegar because it sits out on my countertop). Then you taste it for seasoning. Toasted bread is in order (baguette slices, spread lightly with olive oil and baked at 400 for about 4-5 minutes), then you gently spread some of this heaven-on-a-bun on top of the toast pieces. Here’s where I took the right turn. I thought it needed a taste-foil, so I added some boursin cheese crumbles (my recipe below indicates some crumbled goat cheese, either one) and a smattering of finely minced parsley. Then a jot of freshly ground black pepper and it’s ready to serve.

I like this served slightly warm, but it’s up to you. Certainly no colder than room temp, so if you make this ahead, let it sit out a bit, or heat briefly in the microwave before spreading. Just be prepared for a very small SMALL quantity. Two pounds of onions made about 1/2 cup of finished onions. Just so you know . . .
printer-friendly PDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 includes photo)

Mahogany Sweet Onion Bruschetta

Recipe: Adapted from a recipe by Fran Gage, The New American
Olive Oil (a cookbook), 2009
Servings: 4
NOTES: Preferably use a baguette for this, and there will be enough onion for about 12-18 slices, probably. You’ll be shocked, really, at how little onions are left for the end product. So don’t plan on 2 pounds of onions serving a crowd. It won’t. The cheese was my addition.

ONIONS:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds sweet onions — peeled, halved, thinly sliced
About 1-2 teaspoons good quality balsamic vinegar, added after they’re cooled [I used pomegranate balsamic, either one is fine]
TOASTED BREAD:
4 slices bread — grilled or toasted in 400 oven until golden
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ounce goat cheese — or Boursin, crumbled [my addition]
4 tablespoons Italian parsley — finely minced

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet (large enough to hold all the onions) over high heat until the oil begins to tremble and fully coats the bottom of the pan. Add the onions, stir to coat the onions, then turn the heat to very low. Sprinkle the onions with a little tiny bit of sea salt. Don’t use much salt because the onions are going to cook down to less than a cup. Cook the onions – uncovered – stirring occasionally (making sure they don’t start to burn), until they are the color of a polished mahogany table. As it gets to the end, you’ll need to stir it much more frequently to prevent the onions from scorching. This will take about an hour. The onions will shrink to next to nothing!
2. Transfer the onions to a bowl and let them cool. Add the vinegar, drop by drop, and taste until the flavor is complex. Sprinkle with more fleur de sel if desired.
3. Brush the bread with 2 T. of oil and put a small mound of onions on each slice. Top with a few crumbles of goat cheese and parsley. Add a few grindings of fresh pepper and serve immediately. I prefer eating this when the onions are warm, so just reheat briefly in the microwave before putting them onto the bread.
Per Serving (I really don’t think this can be correct): 357 Calories; 24g Fat (59.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

A year ago: Sauce for Meat Leftovers

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  1. Marie

    said on June 20th, 2009:

    Oh gosh, I can almost taste them now! I bet those were the most delicious appetizer! They look wonderful!

    These onions were really fabulous. I’m looking forward to making them again, but will make more. 1/2 cup of them as the end result were simply NOT enough! . . . carolyn t

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