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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 Pork, on March 24th, 2008.


When I first started watching the TV Food Network, in its infancy, I really enjoyed David Rosegarten. He had a half-hour show every day around noontime, and regularly I tuned in while I had my salad or half a sandwich. He no longer has his own gig, although I guess he’s still a guest on some of the other Food Network shows. He’s moved on to bigger and better things, I suppose. He had a monthly food (mailed) news magazine, but now it’s an e-zine (The Rosegarten Report – available for a fee online). But you can subscribe (free) to his e-newsletter called Tastings, which arrives in your inbox every week. He scours the hills and dales of the world for the best food things, whether it’s caviar, olive oil, or in this case, ham. His endeavors tend toward the very high end, and I’ve reluctantly deleted most of the e-newsletters because of the costs.

But the story behind this ham was different. It hit a strong note with me. I’ve been, just like David Rosengarten, very unhappy with the state of the ham industry in the last 20+ years. Once the processors began injecting hams with water, I knew we, as consumers, were on a downhill spiral toward something that really isn’t ham anymore. I kept looking, but everywhere it was injected with water (with salt, surely, or sometime sugar too). Hams tended to be excessively salty – to me, at least. And yes, I’ve bought Honey Baked Ham multiple times. It’s okay if you like a really sweet ham. Somehow I think the sweet – the sugar and spices – just masks whatever taste there is underneath. And with my DH being a Type 1 diabetic (60+ years and counting), pouring sweet sauces or glazes on a ham make it very undesirable for him.

So, when I got David Rosengarten’s epistle recently, about ham, my ears (so to speak) perked up. I read avidly through the article about ham. Got to the bottom line and found that one ham, a half ham at that, was $100.00 plus shipping. Once again, I was ready to delete the message. $100 for a half ham? You’ve got to be kidding? But somehow my fingers just couldn’t press the delete button. I decided to think about it.

David Rosengarten was disappointed in the ham industry too. He kept seeking out hams everywhere he could find them. He read up about the pig farmers around our nation. He called and spoke to some of them. He bought hams everywhere from small farmers, hoping to find that elusive taste he remembers from his childhood. Nothing. But he kept working at it, and finally decided 3 years ago to go into business with a pig/hog farmer in Idaho called Snake River Farms, willing to raise the animals with his specific standards. I don’t now remember all the details, but it’s back to the basics, grass feed, no additives whatsoever, no hormones, butchered differently, smoked differently, but fresh, always fresh. Here’s what David Rosengarten’s e-zine had to say about this Kurobuta pig:

  • About Kurobuta Ham: The breed actually arose in England, where it’s called “Berkshire” pork. But the English, in the 19th century, sent off a shipment of Berkshire hogs as a gift to Japanese diplomats—and the Japanese really flipped out. They gave the breed the name “Kurobuta,” meaning “black pig” (its coat is basically black), and developed an international reputation for Kurobuta pork, much as they did for Kobe beef. And Why Are These Porkers Superior? As you might expect, Kurobuta pigs yield meat that is indeed fattier than American supermarket pork. But—here’s the really cool thing—Kurobuta, though richly endowed with intramuscular fat, is not among the fattiest of breeds, which means that you never get a fatty, greasy taste when eating the pork. Instead, the real distinction of Kurobuta pork is a shorter, rounder muscle fiber—which, incredibly, leads to a much higher retention of moisture in the meat.

A week or so went by and I conferred with my DH about splurging on a special ham. He liked the story I conveyed about David Rosengarten’s Kurobuta hams too. So, I did splurge and buy one of these babies. It arrived on Thursday and into the refrigerator it went, where it sat until Easter Sunday.

Included in the box was a brochure with some of David Rosengarten’s favorite holiday recipes (to serve with a ham), and details about how to prepare this ham, this very special ham. My daughter, Dana, made the mustard sauce on Saturday – a very easy preparation, although it does have to be cooked. It thickens some once it cools off, but it’s best served warm. There’s nothing unusual in it at all – dry mustard, sugar, vinegar, cream and egg yolks. It was just delicious. David Rosengarten’s recipe came from his grandmother-in-law, Mrs. Hitchcock, so I continued with the name. Need to give proper credit here, where it’s due. The sauce is succulent with the ham. Exceptional.

The ham, well, what can I say. It was absolutely wonderful. Worth $100? Yes, it was. Certainly more expensive than a whole chicken for Easter Dinner. We paid upwards of this amount for our kosher turkey just before Christmas, so spending $100 for the ham doesn’t seem quite so exorbitant. But yes, it was expensive. Too bad all the pig producers don’t learn a lesson from this, but their greed for more poundage and speed to market, means we’ll never have pigs like this unless someone like David Rosegarten produces them. Will I order it again? A resounding YES. The family is clamoring for leftovers.
printer-friendly PDF for mustard sauce

David Rosengarten’s Kurobuta Ham with Mustard Sauce

Cook’s Notes: This combo – ham and mustard sauce – is pretty straightforward. The ham is nothing but easy. It’s heated in a 275 degree oven for several hours. That’s one of the “secrets” to the pork – you don’t want to heat it in a hot oven. Slowly, you bring it up to 135 degree internal temp and that’s it. No added seasoning. No glaze. How much simpler could it be?

1 half or whole Kurobuta ham

Grandma Hitchcock’s Mustard Sauce
Recipe By: David Rosegarten’s grandmother-in-law
Serving Size: 12 [this is just a guess, no servings were shown on the recipe, although it makes 2 cups]
DRY INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup dry mustard — Colman’s preferably
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
WET INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
4 whole egg yolks — beaten (if using small eggs, use 5)

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Whisk in the vinegar, cream and egg yolks (beaten), blending well to combine. Place over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 17g Fat (74.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 331mg Sodium.

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  1. Diana Campos

    said on November 28th, 2013:

    I told my sister about this ham and she purchased it for our early Thanksgiving dinner. She bought it at Jimmy p’s butcher shop. My mom who makes a traditional Farmer John’s bone in ham every year wasn’t pleased that my sister purchased an expensive ham without a bone. My mom grudgingly made it using her traditional marmalade glaze even though I told her it was not necessary. I made the mustard sauce. We had 19 people over for dinner. The ham was the favorite–better than my turkey. Everyone talked about how tender, delicious and not overly salty the ham tasted. Some of the guest asked for the mustard sauce recipe. My Mom was upset that there was so little leftover and stated we will have to splurge on this again soon. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    You are so welcome! Obviously I’m a big fan of Berkshire pork and have decided that it’s so worth it to splurge and buy it. I’m very judicious about giving away the leftovers – they make THE best ham sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. So happy you had a good story to tell and that everyone loved the mustard sauce. . . . carolyn t

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