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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on August 25th, 2009.

If you have tomatoes accumulating at a rapid rate at your house, oh, do I have a recipe for you today. To say this pie is delicious is a gross understatement. It’s not my recipe – it’s Elise’s, over at Simply Recipes. She got it from an acquaintance. And what a winner it is. The words of wisdom here are: sometimes the simplest of recipes are the best. This pie is nothing fancy – it contains onions, lots of tomatoes, fresh basil, cheese, mayo and some hot sauce. All piled into a pie shell in layers. And just so you know:

This recipe contains fat in the pie crust.

This recipe contains cheese (uh, yea, calories and fat)

This recipe contains mayonnaise (3/4 cup for the whole pie).

Other than that, it’s good for you  – nice chunks of tomatoes. (BG).

I’m going to write up a separate post about the pie shell (otherwise this post would be pages and pages long). So here we’ll just talk about the pie itself. I started off with a mixture of tomatoes (red and yellow heirlooms plus a small pile of smaller tomatoes right out of our garden. The heirlooms were very moist – VERY juicy. And that can be the slight undoing of this recipe – you’ve just got to get out as much of the liquid as possible. It’s not that the pie won’t be good, but the bottom shell will be soggy (as mine was). But I have a “fix” for it – next time I’ll add an extra step. More on that later.

Obviously, first you have to make a pie shell. We couldn’t find any refrigerated pie shells in our local stores, so with barely enough time, I made a crust myself. It was a very buttery savory shell. Flaky beyond belief. It was blind baked (about 20 minutes at 350) first. Meanwhile, I started in on the filling.

tomato pie oions First went in the chopped raw red onions. Next time I’d chop them up finer AND I’d cook them a bit. The onions were still crunchy when we ate the tart after 40 minutes of baking.

tomato pie basil

Next went in the chopped tomatoes that I’d drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, AND I squeezed them to get out even more juice. I used about 3 1/2 cups for my large 9-inch pie plate.

Then I sprinkled in about 1/4 cup of fresh sliced basil leaves from our garden.

tomato pie toppingNext I mixed up an equal quantity (approximately) of shredded Gruyere cheese and mozzarella (not fresh), along with some bottled mayonnaise and a dash of hot sauce. Using my hands I pressed the cheesy clumps all over the top of the pie. I didn’t mash it down or try to make it a solid layer – there were a few holes. But they all disappeared during baking. Bake for 25-40 minutes or so until the top is golden brown.

tomato pie whole

There it is, in all its gloriousness just out of the oven. We took it to our kids’ house and had it with some grilled Italian sausages and a delicious field greens salad topped with more garden-grown sliced tomatoes. The pie sat out for about an hour (uncovered in the trunk of the car for the 30-minute ride) and it was still nice and warm in the middle when it was served soon thereafter. Definitely eat it warm or hot. Next time I make this I’ll add a thin layer of cream cheese over the pastry – to keep the juice from waterlogging the pie shell. And a word of caution: Gruyere is what I used here – it was beyond wonderful – but it’s a very salty cheese, so I might not add any additional salt. Mozzarella can also be very salty too.

The result? Oh gosh. Juicy. Creamy. Cheesy. Flaky. Tomatoey. All over perfection. I’m writing this as we just had a tiny wedge as leftovers. I heated it in the microwave and it was just SO SO good. Can’t wait to have an occasion to make it again – before all the tomatoes are gone for the season.
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Savory Tomato & Gruyere Pie

Recipe: Elise at Simply Recipes
Servings: 8 (maybe more like 6)
NOTES: NEXT TIME-I’ll spread a layer of light cream cheese (very softened) over the bottom and up the sides of the pie crust. It needs to be solid, otherwise the juice will leak through to the flaky pastry. If using Greyere, it’s a very salty cheese, so go very easy on the salt. Also, cook the onions just a little bit first.

1 whole pie shell — 9 inch
1/2 whole yellow or red onion — chopped finely
3 1/2 cups tomatoes — cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield 3 -4 cups
1/4 cup basil — sliced in thin strips
2 cups grated cheese — (combination of Gruyere and Mozzarella or sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce — (or more to taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves for garnish

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you’ll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.
2 Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. Squeeze gently in your hands, too, to get the last bit of juice out, without pulverizing the tomato flesh in the process.
3 Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.
4 In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The mixture should be the consistency of a gooey snow ball. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.
5 Place in oven and bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes
Per Serving (and higher if you only serve 6 servings): 388 Calories; 33g Fat (74.2% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

A year ago: Restaurant review of the Posh Peasant in San Clemente
Two years ago: Goat Cheese with Apricot Chutney

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