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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 Appetizers, on May 21st, 2008.

About eight years or so ago I tasted homemade hummus for the first time. Served to me by a friend who is Armenian (she’s a Parisian – not Persian, but Paris-ian, but she’s Armenian, and she lets you know you’d better not forget it!). My taste buds hit nirvana. I’d had nothing but ready made previously, and didn’t realize how incredibly easy it was to make. Or how delicious it could possibly be. Not long after that I attended a cooking class and the instructor demonstrated this method. Oh my gosh. It was so gosh-darned delicious!

The appetizer is not all that difficult, but it does have a moderate amount of work involved. I wish I could tell you there wasn’t. But, you can do most of it ahead – even the day before if you’re pushed for time. Because it has so much work involved, I tend not to make this when I’m doing a company meal with several courses. But, I’ll tell you, nobody has ever come away from the platter without oohs and aahs. Guaranteed.

Here’s what’s involved. One, you make the hummus in the food processor with canned garbanzos, garlic and tahini (sesame seed paste). Two, you slice up the eggplant and sauté it in batches in olive oil. Three, you concoct a simple balsamic vinaigrette which gets tossed with the eggplant once it’s chopped up. Mound the hummus on a lovely platter, then mound the eggplant on top of that and garnish with a bunch of chopped cilantro (or Italian parsley) and toasted pine nuts. That’s it. I serve it with toasted pita chips. The eggplant takes on a very rich mahogany color and when you serve this on a big platter with the eggplant on top, it’s very colorful. You don’t use all of the dressing, so the nutritional information is misleading.

This recipe is one of my all-time favorites and will be so marked on my recipe page (click Recipes in my right sidebar). We had a friend over for dinner last night and she helped with the preparation of this dish (thanks again for your help, Kathleen!).
printer-friendly PDF

Layered Hummus and Eggplant Appetizer

Recipe By: Judy Bart Kancigor, http://cookingjewish.com
Serving Size: 10

HUMMUS LAYER:
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
15 ounces garbanzo beans, canned, save liquid
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water — or juice from garbanzos
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice — or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
EGGPLANT:
1 1/4 pounds eggplant, whole — purple type, no bruises
1/4 cup olive oil
DRESSING:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — or to taste
GARNISH:
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro — chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted

1. HUMMUS: Turn on processor and drop in garlic cloves, and process until minced. Add salt and allow to sit while you collect the ingredients down through ground cumin. Add those items to the processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water if mixture is too thick. This makes about 2 cups of hummus.
2. EGGPLANT: Slice the eggplant in 1/3 inch thick slices, or slightly thicker. Heat just enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet and fry over medium-high heat, in batches, on both sides until the eggplant is cooked, brown and slightly crisp, approximately 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop. Place in bowl.
3. DRESSING: Meanwhile, combine in a lidded jar the balsamic vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper and shake until combined. An hour before serving, pour about 2 T. of the dressing over the eggplant and stir. Set aside.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a hot skillet until barely brown. Set aside. Chop cilantro a few minutes before serving.
5. To serve: spread the hummus on a large, flat serving platter. Spoon the eggplant over the top, leaving hummus layer visible around the edges. Sprinkle with cilantro (or Italian parsley, if preferred) and toasted pine nuts. Serve with torn or cut pita for scooping.
Per Serving (not accurate because you don’t use all the dressing): 351 Calories; 30g Fat (75.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

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  1. Connie

    said on September 27th, 2013:

    I doubled this for a social gathering and it turned out great. I did not have any tahini, but I added a couple cups of fresh basil, an extra can of garbanzo beans (drained) and a cup of walnuts, minced. I found that the humus was too runny to support the eggplant so I had to beef it up. Perhaps using less garbanzo juice would have been better.
    In addition to the eggplant, I also added a half cup of onions (remember, I doubled it) and some fresh tomatoes, all sautéed.
    This was a great way to use all the japanese eggplant, basil and tomato form my garden.

    I improvise like that all the time – am glad it was successful for you. . . carolyn t

  2. Carol Distabile

    said on December 2nd, 2015:

    While on safari hummus was served as an appetizer. I tried to locate this recipe under vegetable dips but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I should try the hummus and eggplant instead.

    I haven’t updated my recipe index for several weeks. I did post it – go to this link:
    http://tastingspoons.com/archives/12766

    Carolyn

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