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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on October 30th, 2009.


roasted_sw_pot_black_bean_saladReading as many recipes as I do in the course of a few months, unless I make notes, or recognize the print style, I can’t recall where I read or heard about a recipe. Such with this one. I think it was on somebody’s blog that I read about it. And the writer sent us off to the New York Times’ website to retrieve it, which I did, as it was in that week’s food section. I think. It wasn’t all that long ago – like a month. It’s  a Mark Bittman recipe – he of restaurant and TV fame. And cookbook fame too – he’s done one or more books about sw_pot_black_bean_widethe “Best” of specific recipes (kind of like Cook’s Illustrated in a way). I don’t own any of his tomes. But, I will tell you this recipe is awfully darned good. When I did a search for this recipe I noticed a lot of other food bloggers are on this recipe’s bandwagon too. I’m  delighted to join the parade.

jalapeno dressing It’s a salad, or a side vegetable combo. The list of ingredients is simple: sweet potatoes (I used the dark orange type we call yams), onions, both roasted with olive oil, S&P, then tossed with some canned black beans (rinsed & drained), some minced bell peppers, a passel of cilantro chopped, and then the very simple dressing (pictured at left) of olive oil, some minced green chile (hot type like jalapeno), garlic and lime juice. Very simple. And very extra delicious, I assure you. The recipe said to toss the salad with the dressing just before serving, but I think soaking it in the dressing for awhile just brightened all the flavors. There was still a bit of dressing in the bottom of the bowl which I just left there for the leftovers. My first foray into Mark Bittman’s world produced a great recipe. I’d make this again anytime.
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Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

Recipe By: Mark Bittman, in New York Times article 9/30/2009
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes — peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large red onion — peeled, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked black beans — drained (canned are fine)
1 red bell pepper — or yellow, seeded and finely diced (or mix with both)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon jalapeno chile pepper (1 to 2)
1 clove garlic — peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice — (from 2 limes)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Do NOT overcook the mixture as the potatoes will dry out. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.
2. Put chiles in a blender or mini food processor along with garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.
3. Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day.
Per Serving: 339 Calories; 19g Fat (48.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium.

A year ago: Peppers for Cold Meats (a kind of relish – I liked it so much I’ve posted about it twice and have made it 3 times in the last 6 months)

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  1. Ninette

    said on October 31st, 2009:

    This looks delish! I love your extreme close-up photos. Almost makes me want to pick up a fork and dig right in!

    Well, I’m glad, Ninette. That’s what I have in mind every time I take one of those close-up photos! . . . carolyn t

  2. Diana

    said on November 1st, 2013:

    I served this for a large group and everyone loved it. I keep getting request to make it again. My friend is not crazy about beans and asked me to make it for her birthday using quinoa instead of the beans. That was great too! I did have to double the dressing.

    I’m so glad you and your group enjoyed it. There is something about the taste combination of the sweet potatoes and the black beans that is unexpected (but particularly delicious). Quinoa sounds like a great substitution. . . carolyn t

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