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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 Desserts, on June 24th, 2008.

roasted balsamic strawberry ice cream

I’m a regular reader of the Brilynn from Jumbo Empanadas. And I’ve tried several of her recipes over the year I’ve been monitoring her blog. So when this recipe popped up the other day my taste buds went into zing mode.

Probably about 20 years ago my DH and I and our good friends Bud & Cherrie used to go to San Diego on an occasional Saturday and have a wonderful wine tasting lunch at the Wine Sellar and Brasserie.  You can go for just the wine tasting, but for a nominal fee, you can have their pre-set light lunch (very gourmet, I might add) to accompany it.

Anyway, at one of those tastings, the dessert was home made vanilla ice cream with strawberries, balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper. Yes, you read that right. Since then I’ve seen it served at other places, but at the time my taste buds just went into overdrive. It was about the cracked pepper, but the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar is simply a match made in heaven.

You can see why, then, the Jumbo Empanadas’ recipe title put me into strawberry-balsamic nirvana. Just had to try it. And since strawberries are definitely on the wane here, I needed to do it right NOW if I was going to do it this season! My kitchen freezer is nearly chock-a-block full, but I just had to find room somehow. Even if I had to defrost something else to make room. I’m embarrassed to tell you how big this freezer is and it’s absolutely full to the brim.

The idea of roasting the strawberries with the balsamic seems like such a novel idea, and makes this luscious juicy mash of fruit and juice. And you can get yourself a little spoon to slick up the very last little droplets around the pan. It’s that good.

And don’t forget to reserve a bit of the fruit to drizzle on the top of the ice cream when it’s served. That’s a really nice touch. The taste: oh my goodness. Rich. Sweet. Delicious. Over the top. Fabulous. Wanna have it again SOON!
printer-friendly PDF

Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream

Recipe By: Jumbo Empanadas & from Zoe Cakes 6/10/08
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: Chop up the strawberries that go into the ice cream at the very end, as they may freeze as whole pieces, and you want them to break up just a bit.

STRAWBERRIES:
2 pounds strawberries — about 2 baskets
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
CUSTARD:
3 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk [or fat-free half and half]
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with foil including up on all sides so that the wonderful juice that’s going to be created can’t escape. Wash and hull the strawberries and pat dry. Toss with the sugar and let stand for 30 minutes. Add the balsamic, toss again and then spread out onto your baking tray. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until strawberries are jammy and there’s lots of juice. Pour the berries into a bowl, cool and chill.
2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan bring the milk and cream to a boil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale. Continue to whisk while slowing pouring in the hot milk mixture until it is completely incorporated. Pour it all back into the pan and stir until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into a bowl, stir in the vanilla extract and then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled,
3. Once both the strawberries and the custard are completely cool, remove a couple scoops of strawberries with juice out of the bowl and set aside (to use as a topping on the ice cream when it’s finished). Strain the rest of the strawberries and combine the juice with the custard and pour into your ice cream machine and process according to your manufacturer’s instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished, add in the strained berries until they’re just incorporated, (if you add them in at the beginning, the machine has a hard time processing them). If you like your ice cream soft, you can eat it right away, topped with the reserved strawberries and juice, otherwise stick it in the freezer to firm up a little more.
Per Serving: 275 Calories; 14g Fat (45.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 30mg Sodium.

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  1. brilynn

    said on July 20th, 2008:

    I’m interested in adding black pepper to the mix now too!
    I just made a strawberry balsamic sorbet tonight, using egg whites and no cream… I’m still waiting for it to come out of the ice cream machine to see how it turns out!

  2. Carolyn

    said on July 21st, 2008:

    I’m interested to hear what you thought of it. You are so inventive, Brilynn. The first time I made this ice cream I made it using a blackberry balsamic vinegar with pear (made by Tulocay’s). It was out of this world. Second time I used a good quality but plain balsamic. There was a difference – it was less sweet, less depth of flavor. But the strawberries were not as good as the first time, either. I’m going to have to find a bottle of that vinegar again and try it next strawberry season!

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