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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 easy, Salads, on July 26th, 2010.

Did you ever taste something – way back in your youth – and you never knew how to make it? And you’ve still not found out? Even though you’re a foodie? And you cook a lot? And you read a lot of cookbooks? And you know how to do internet searches? And you’ve still not found the recipe? That’s what this post is all about.

The neighbor who made marinated tomatoes and let me taste just a tiny bite, served them to me when I was in my 20’s. She would not share the recipe. She said it was her family’s secret recipe. Darn. My palate wasn’t as fine-tuned as it is now – sometimes I can dissect what’s in a dish if I really think about it. I close my eyes and allow the taste to roll around in my mouth. But sometimes flavors are very elusive. Like salty flavors – it could be salt itself, or it could be Vietnamese fish sauce in small quantities. I don’t suppose I could tell the difference, actually.

In any event, I’ve never been able to find a recipe that satisfies me – enough that I’d think it was the recipe. But this one comes close. I thought I’d try it as-is first, without making many changes to it, then if it worked, I’d try it again adding shallots. I do remember there were shallots in the marinade. At the time I don’t think I knew what shallots were, but I could tell they weren’t garlic, and they weren’t onions, either. Years later I had an ah-ha moment when I discovered shallots in a gourmet market and they were frightfully expensive. (And, no, I didn’t buy any.)

The marinade also contained oil and vinegar, I think. Maybe some lemon juice. And pepper and salt. But that’s all I could determine. At the time I’d never even heard of marinating tomatoes. Why, I thought? And yet when I tasted them they had a lovely piquant taste. Puckery almost. Yet the tomato flavor shone through. Especially with the summer tomatoes in full swing. I can even describe to you what kind of a dish this neighbor served them in. I was that tuned into wanting to have more of them. She’d put them in a 10×14 Pyrex dish, with each tomato perfectly flat in a single layer. Each slice was from a tomato about the same size. She didn’t even use the smaller ends. And there actually wasn’t any parsley on it. Well, TMI, I know . . .

So over the course of my life I’ve always honed in on any recipe that called itself a marinated tomato. Or if I saw a salad recipe using sliced tomatoes with anything on it. I’ve tried recipes up the gazoo over the years. Of course, I’ve had ample summers since my 20’s to test different methods too. Even though this may not be the recipe, it’s a great recipe. An easy recipe, that’s for sure. Colorful too. Makes an attractive plate to serve to guests. On a hot, summer night.

Now, this marinade is a lot about Italian parsley, as you can see from the photo at the top. A lot of parsley. Maybe too much. But the dressing is interesting. Well, I need to explain about the recipe – it appeared in our local newspaper, eons ago. There is/was a column each week along the lines of  “You Asked for It,” where readers submitted recipes to queries from other readers. Old time recipes they’d lost in a move. Recipes from grandmother’s time for pickles, perhaps. Or a restaurant recipe given out once upon a time. Anyway, this one must have made the rounds here in Orange County because two people had heard of it – the person who asked (for a recipe for “Mrs.. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes”) and the person who answered. Who in the heck Mrs.. Nylander was, I have no clue. I looked up on the internet for the recipe and Mrs. Nylander and found nothing. Although I did see that there was a Mrs. Nylander who served at an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, or something like that. Maybe she was from tomato country and it was her contribution to help sell tomatoes! Maybe one of you, my readers, know about this person? If so, please let me know. I’d be curious to find out.

I did make one change to the recipe – the original calls for tarragon wine vinegar (usually that’s a white vinegar, I think). And the recipe calls for “prepared mustard.” Well, I don’t even own hotdog mustard, so it would have to be Dijon. But I DID have some tarragon mustard (good stuff, imported from France, and it’s not like I use it very often!!!). So, I did change the recipe to include the tarragon mustard and upped the red wine vinegar. Regular wine vinegar. Do use good tasting tomatoes (I used heirloom and some vine-ripened ones). Since I did this post, I’ve made these tomatoes several times. The most recent time I used parsley and fresh mint (that’s the picture you see just above this – I used small vine-ripened hydroponic tomatoes. Great combination. So, you see, you can vary the herbs you put in it.

So how was it? Fantastic. I loved, loved this dish. And it was incredibly easy. Looked so pretty. I don’t think I’d marinate them for all that long, though – maybe an hour. But I think my search is over – I need look no further for marinated tomatoes! Whoopee!

printer-friendly PDF

Mrs. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes

Recipe By: Adapted from an ancient newspaper clipping, The Orange County Register
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you want the best flavor, use heirloom tomatoes. To remove the skin, you can dip tomatoes into just simmering water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove, and the skin should come off easily. Alternately, if you have a swivel, serrated edged peeler, it will peel raw tomatoes quite well. If you don’t have tarragon mustard, add some fresh tarragon to the dressing mixture and use Dijon mustard instead. The original recipe called for red tarragon vinegar and regular red wine vinegar (equal quantities).

8 whole tomatoes — firm, peeled
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
2 whole cloves garlic — crushed, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons tarragon mustard — or Dijon plus fresh tarragon minced

1. Cut tomato into 1/2 inch slices and place them in a rimmed, shallow serving plate. Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over the tomatoes (evenly as possible).
2. In a measuring cup combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. Stir well to combine, then pour evenly all over the tomatoes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. Allow tomatoes to sit out at room temp for at least 20 minutes before serving. Do save the dressing (drain it through a mesh sieve to remove the wilted parsley and tomato seeds) as it tastes great on any kind of greens or other vegetables.
Per Serving: 124 Calories; 11g Fat (77.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 356mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Brunch Grantinee Eggs

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  1. Bob Smith

    said on July 26th, 2010:

    I will definitely have to try this. I too have such an experience with marinated tomatoes in my youth. A family friend married Suzi a French lady, before returning to the US after WWII. Suzi would make the tomatoes and they were heaven. I try to replicate it often in the summer. The taste is never exactly right, but what does after all these years. Sometimes the dish had chopped hardboiled eggs…but not always.

    Have you asked Suzi how she makes them? Or is it the same thing – no, it’s a family secret? I like the idea of the hard boiled eggs. I’ll try to remember that! Well, I’m tickled with this new recipe and will be making them again during the tomato season. . . carolyn t

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