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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on August 11th, 2009.

layered salad peppers

When I saw the photo in Cooking Light for this salad, I figured I’d have to make it sometime. It was perfect for our outdoor dinner party the other night. I could make it ahead (at least 24 or up to 48 hours even), it provided a bit of carbohydrate for the meal, it was tangy with fresh lemon juice from the fruit of our Meyer lemon trees, and last but not least, it had lots of fresh veggies in it. With only two tablespoons of oil in the entire dish.

I set up my little photo studio as I made it. As if you didn’t already know how to layer things. But here goes. First I started with my tall glass trifle dish. I’ve served a green salad in it before, but it’s just perfect for this layered salad. The recipe said it served 8 – we were having 6 – so with some of the vegetables I used slightly less. It would depend on the bowl you used, too.

layered salad bulgar

First went in the dry bulgur wheat. Just poured it in there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad dressing

The dressing was mixed up – 3/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, the 2 T. of olive oil, some fresh garlic and salt. I poured it in and stirred it briefly to make sure all the bulgur was in contact with the dressing.

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad onions

The layer of onions was next. The recipe called for red onions, but I didn’t have any. However, I did have some Washington sweet onions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad tomatoes

Then I chopped up about $6.00 worth of heirloom tomatoes. It made two cups of chopped tomatoes. Almost hated to use them for this since I wasn’t sure the superior flavor would shine through. But it’s what I had on hand.

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad herbs

I cut some fresh mint from our garden, added some fresh Italian parsley and some fresh dill. Chopped it up finely, mixed it together with my hands, and sprinkled that on top of the tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad cukes

Next went a generous layer of cucumbers. I used the hothouse type and left the dark-green skin intact. That was spread around a bit to fill in the outer edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

layered salad peppers small

Lastly, a mixture of red and yellow bell peppers was added. The top was sprinkled with some kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper.

Then I sealed it tight with plastic wrap and refrigerated it for 24 hours.

Just tell your guests to dip down deep, so they get some of the bulgur at the bottom. Once the first person dips in, the salad loses some of its form, but that’s okay. You need to put the bulgur on the bottom, because it needs to absorb all that lemon dressing.

What I love about this kind of salad is the tang from the lemon juice. I have a favorite Syrian salad I make every summer that has crushed up toasted pita bread in it. (Joanne – thanks again for that great recipe – she shared it at an office potluck many years back – and now lives in Switzerland ) I just adore that salad. This is reminiscent of it, except it has the bulgur as the carb. If you have extra room at the top of your bowl, just before serving, chop up some lettuces and pile that in. The dressing will spread around once you dish this up so the lettuce would have some tang. Or, toss the salad with a bit of lemony dressing, then scoop it on top. I’ll make this again – particularly because I can make it the day before.
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Lebanese Layered Salad

Recipe: Cooking Light
Servings: 8

1 cup uncooked medium bulgar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic — minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups red onions — finely chopped
5 cups tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh parsley — chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill — chopped
2 cups hothouse cucumber — chopped
1 cup red pepper — chopped
salt and black pepper for garnish
1. Place bulgar in a large bowl.
2. Combine juice, oil, salt, and garlic in a small bowl, stir well. Drizzle juice mixture over bulgar. Layer onions, tomato, parsley, mint and dill.
3. Add cucumbers and bell peppers. Sprinkle with additional salt and black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight – at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before serving.
Per Serving: 149 Calories; 4g Fat (22.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 286mg Sodium.

A year ago: Zucchini (everything you always wanted to know)
Two years ago: Baked Fennel

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  1. Melynda

    said on August 12th, 2009:

    This looks wonderful! I want to make this for the next Sunday Cafe. Thanks.

    This was REALLY good. I was amazed it was with so little oil. It was still good 3 days later too. The last time I served it I added a bit of chopped Romaine. That was good too. . . . carolyn t

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