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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 Soups, on June 16th, 2007.


Remember a couple of weeks ago I posted about my dinner visit to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena? And I showed a picture of the soup Cherrie and I had that night that we thought was so terrific – Tomatillo, Poblano and Asiago soup? And I researched on the internet and found a recipe from Stephan Pyles restaurant in Dallas.

Here’s what Cindy’s soup looked like:

Here’s my soup: Well, I’m here to tell you, this is very close if not one and the same. It looks the same. It tastes just about the same. And I’m a very happy camper, because now I can make this soup in a big quantity and freeze it like I do with most of my soups.


So what’s different at all? Well, the waitress at Cindy’s told us they sauteed the tomatillos for one thing. And they use masa to thicken the soup. I hunted all over in my pantry, but didn’t have any. I didn’t have any fine grind corn flour either (other than cornstarch, and I was certain that wasn’t what we wanted here). I did have polenta and cornmeal, but they’re both too coarse. So I used the regular flour called for in the recipe. And she thought there wasn’t any cream in it, but this soup (with milk and a little cream) looks JUST like theirs, so I’d say they did. Make sure you don’t get a single poblano chile seed in the soup – it won’t puree very well.
If I changed anything next time I make it, I will use less cheese. Asiago has a slightly bitter taste on the palate, and I think less would be an improvement. I only had a little over 1/2 pound, and the recipe called for 10 ounces. I think it has ample at that, and could easily be reduced, so I’ve changed the quantity in the recipe below. Asiago melts into the soup well – it’s doesn’t become stringy and difficult as some cheeses can do when added to hot soups. I did quick/flash fry the tomatillos first. A little olive oil, a hot burner and they browned in a hurry. Tomatillos have a lot of water in them, so once that was rendered out, they reduced to small pieces. I also sauteed the onion with the tomatillo, then the poblanos before adding any of the liquid. I’ve changed the recipe to that effect. I also didn’t strain the soup. I think the little bit of texture tastes just fine. I blended it well, though, so it wouldn’t have to be strained.

I can tell you I love simple soups, and this is one. You’re not likely to have all the ingredients on hand, however, but this one is certainly worth a trip to the market to buy the poblanos, the tomatillos, Asiago cheese, spinach and cilantro. Oh, yes, I’ll be making this again. Most definitely. Soon.
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Roasted Poblano-Asiago Cheese Soup

Recipe adapted from one by: Chef Matthew Dunn,
Stephan Pyles (restaurant), Dallas Servings: 6  – Makes about 7 cups

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter — at room temperature
2 whole poblano chiles — roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 whole onion — chopped
3/4 pound tomatillos — husked, rinsed, chopped
3 cloves garlic — chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cup spinach — cleaned
4 ounces Asiago cheese — grated, or more to taste
1/2 bunch cilantro — chopped
Salt — to taste
Fresh ground pepper — to taste

1. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and butter with a fork until the flour is totally incorporated.
2. Place the poblanos, onion, tomatillos, garlic, chicken stock, cream and milk in a pan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the flour and butter mixture and continue to whisk until lumps of flour disappear. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. While stirring, add spinach, Asiago cheese and cilantro and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to a blender in batches and blend until completely smooth.
3. Strain through a medium strainer back into the heavy pan, season with salt and pepper and keep warm. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with tortilla strips and Pico de Gallo, if desired. Or sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro.

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  1. Kelly

    said on January 18th, 2011:

    I’m in love with this soup from Stephen Pyles. I’m so glad to find the recipe on your site, I can’t wait to make it!
    Thanks!

    I’m so glad! It’s not available anywhere else (the recipe disappeared from his website right after I found it) so far as I know. Let me know what you think about it. . . carolyn t

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