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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 Desserts, easy, on June 26th, 2010.

Do you believe me when I tell you that something is cinchy easy? Hope so – this is one of them. It’s been years ago that Phillis Carey made something nearly the same as what I made here. So I’ve used mostly her recipe with the addition of vanilla ice cream. And when I made them the other night for our big dinner here at our house for 9 people, I didn’t use the Grand Marnier because the group was mostly tee-totallers. Here’s what you need to have on hand to serve 4:

1. vanilla ice cream
2. about a pint of fresh berries (your choice: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
3. whipping cream (plus powdered sugar and vanilla)
4. vanilla meringue cookies (from Trader Joe’s, or?)
5. and Grand Marnier, if you want to use it

In Phillis’ original recipe she soaked the berries in a little bit of sugar and the Grand Marnier for an hour or so. And she crumbled up the meringue cookies in a little baggie ahead of time (I didn’t do that part). In the serving bowls above I scooped in a few blueberries first (I had more blueberries than blackberries), then I added the scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then I crumbled in the cookies (about one per bowl), added the sweetened and vanilla-added whipped cream, more fruit, a bit more meringue cookies, and lastly one more dollop of whipped cream on the top. Then I sprinkled the top with the crumbs of the meringue cookies. And you serve it immediately. Before the ice cream completely melts. What makes this dessert is the crispy, crunchy meringues – great texture. I particularly liked the ice cold ice cream as an added texture too.

Trader Joe’s does sell chocolate meringue cookies too, and I’ve thought about making this same dessert with them and chocolate ice cream, and mostly raspberries (chocolate and raspberries have a natural affinity – think black forest). Maybe marinating the raspberries with Chambord. And the whipped cream maybe lightly laced with a bit of cocoa powder. And possibly drizzled with a tiny bit of Hershey’s syrup on top? I might even sprinkle it with some almonds too. Doesn’t that sound good?  May have to try that sooner rather than later.

Anyway, the recipe is so simple to make. You could make your own meringue cookies, but why? Trader Joe’s makes good ones. You could also substitute other delicious summer fruit instead of berries, but the berries are the best! And they look the prettiest too. Try this!
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Mixed Berry Meringue Parfaits

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe by Phyllis Carey, cookbook author
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: This is the kind of dessert you can almost always have on hand – if you have whipping cream, frozen berries in the freezer, and the meringue cookies on the shelf. It’s very easy to assemble, although you must do it at the last minute. If you’re serving a crowd, ask somebody else to help you do it. The berries may not need additional sugar – use your own discretion. You can also serve it without the ice cream, but I like the mixture of berries, cream and cold, with the crunchy from the cookies. I think the calorie count on this is way too high – probably because the program can’t determine the sizes very well – like scoops of ice cream.

16 ounces berries — mixed, Trader Joe’s frozen or fresh
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 whole meringue cookies — crumbled, Trader Joe’s
1 cup heavy cream — whipped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 scoops vanilla ice cream — (use small scoops)

1. If desired, a few hours before your dinner, toss the frozen or fresh berries with sugar and Grand Marnier. Allow the berries to thaw at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then refrigerate.
2. Crumble the meringue cookies and put in a plastic bag, so they won’t absorb any moisture, until you’re ready to serve.
3. Whip the cream, adding the additional 2 T. of sugar and vanilla.
4. In tall parfait glasses layer the berries, one scoop of vanilla ice cream, meringue cookie crumbs and whipped cream in 2-3 layers, depending on the height of the glasses. Sprinkle the remaining meringue cookie crumbs on top with any additional fruit.

Two years ago: Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken

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