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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 Pasta, Salads, on July 4th, 2007.


I’d forgotten about this salad and how much I love it until last weekend when I went to Joan’s daughter’s home to greet their newly adopted infant, and Joan had made it as part of a lovely luncheon. Joan is rather “famous” for this salad – it’s one other people request too, not just me. We used to have season tickets to our local summer symphony series, and we’ve had many a picnic dinner on the lawn at the amphitheater, and every time Joan and Tom would attend I requested she make this. And she graciously gave the recipe to several people. So, thanks very much, Joan. I needed a salad for an outdoor dinner, and this just fit the bill.

Nothing about it is hard. It probably takes about 40 minutes to make it, including boiling the pasta. Be sure to not overcook the pasta. You don’t have to use penne, but that’s the way Joan makes it, and that’s the type I prefer too. You can add more sun-dried tomatoes if you wish – her recipe calls for 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. I used 1/4. And our basil plant is proliferating, so I pruned it back for this salad. The basil is crucial in my opinion. It also will keep a few days, although it’s best the day it’s made.
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Joan’s Pasta Salad

Serving Size : 10
Serving Ideas: If this is served as a main course, it would probably serve about 6 people.

SALAD:
1 pound penne rigate — cooked al dente
1 cup cherry tomatoes — halved
1/4 to 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes — chopped
4 ounces Feta cheese — crumbled
1 cup Parmesan cheese — Fresh, grated
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/2 cup green onion — chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
DRESSING:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt — or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Make dressing and set aside. Gather salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour dressing over. May be served immediately or chilled, but bring it back to room temp.
Per Serving: 382 Calories; 20g Fat (46.5% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 529mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on July 7th, 2007:

    Carolyn,
    I copied this into my Master Cook program from our friend Joan. It looks yummy. Do you use sun dried tomatoes in oil and dried ones that you rehydrate?
    Your MC Pal …..Linda
    P.S. Thanks for everything!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on July 7th, 2007:

    Yes, I use sun dried in oil. You just blot some of the oil off before cutting them up. I have used dried ones, but it’s better with oil.

  3. yvette

    said on April 1st, 2012:

    I have been wanting to make this pasta salad for some time because it
    is listed under “Carolyn’s Favorites”. It belongs there ! I have never been crazy about pasta salads until this one !
    The dressing was an extra bonus on the pasta salad.

    Thanks, Yvette. My friend Joan will be happy to hear it! . . . carolyn T

  4. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 25th, 2012:

    This salad is awesome!!! It deserves 10 stars! Thank you very much for sharing your friend’s recipe. My husband and I made this salad for dinner last night and today we’re still in awe of it. 🙂 BTW, is there something you can do with garlic so there’s not such a strong lingering aftertaste? That’s the only negative.

    Hi Jeannie – yes, there is something you can do: (1) Mix the dressing up the day before and let it sit; (2) Use a lot less garlic; (3) Cook the garlic just a little bit in a bit of oil (I’ve never done that, but it would be possible); or (4) Use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Try those things and see how it goes. I love it because of the maximum garlic flavor in it, but I know not everyone does. . . carolyn t

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