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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 Pork, Soups, on March 29th, 2011.


The first time I had posole – when I was visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico for the very first time, I was blown away with the intense flavors. I attended a cooking class in Santa Fe and learned some of the nuances, and about the important New Mexico chiles and/or powder that must be in it. Whenever I see posole on a menu I usually order it. But really, it’s not hard to make, and I think this recipe is as good, if not better, than any I’ve ever had at a restaurant. It freezes well, too, although the toppings must be made within an hour or so of serving.

I made this a couple of weeks ago when we were visiting our Northern California family, and the grandkids could pick and choose which toppings they wanted on their soup. Our 17-year old grandson doesn’t like vegetables, he says. Pushes them around his plate to avoid eating them, and he picked all around the veggies in this soup. Our granddaughter, though, is game for tasting almost anything (thank you, Taylor! – she reads my blog) and she liked this soup and ate it all.

The soup is pork based – this one uses country style ribs. They are slow cooked for a couple of hours, then the mixture (including the broth) gets refrigerated overnight. Now, you don’t have to do that step, but it makes for a healthier soup since you can remove the fat from the meat and the broth before proceeding. The dried New Mexico chiles are an essential ingredient – I hope you can buy them at your local market like I can. Anyway, the chiles are soaked in water for half an hour, then made into a thin puree in the blender (with some added onion, garlic, salt and waterpork_cooked).

The actual soup preparation is easy. I actually add some vegetables to my posole. It’s likely not traditional, but this soup isn’t billed as an authentic posole anyway. You can add what types of veggies you like – I used carrots, more onion, and because I had one, I charred a pasilla chile and added that chopped up as well. The hominy, though, is a necessity. Mostly this stew is all about the hominy. You can find hominy in the canned vegetable aisle. You could substitute other beans, but it definitely wouldn’t be a New Mexican style posole that way. If you don’t like hominy, use canned pinto beans instead. Pictured here you can see the big bag of shredded, chilled pork, all ready to be poured into the soup.

The garnishes, though, are what make this dish. Truly they do. You simply must have some corn tortillas chips. You can use packaged chips – or visit your local Mexican restaurant and buy a small bag of their homemade chips if you don’t want to make your own. Do add the finely shredded Romaine lettuce, some diced avocado, radishes (very finely sliced or diced), some freshly chopped cilantro and if you really want to cap it off, serve with a couple of lime wedges on the side of each bowl.

posole_stewThis would make a very fun company meal – especially if you make oodles of toppings to put out. Cheese isn’t traditional, but maybe some of the Mexican crumbly white cheese (queso fresco) would be good too. The finished soup flavor is spicy, but not overwhelmingly hot. The dried chiles add a really delicious depth to the soup, and a gorgeous red/orange color. This soup is really flavorful!

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Pork and Hominy Stew with Red Chiles and Avocado

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe by Susan Vollmer, A Store for Cooks, Feb. 2011
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: DO make the pork the day before – so you can refrigerate the broth mixture and remove all the fat before you proceed with the soup portion.

1 head garlic — (save 2 cloves and set aside)
12 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
4 pounds country style pork ribs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 ounces dried New Mexico red chiles
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 whole onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon salt
60 ounces hominy (canned)
2 large carrots — peeled, chopped
3/4 whole onion — chopped
1 whole poblano chile — also called pasilla
1 whole avocado — diced
2 cups Romaine lettuce — shredded
1/2 cup radishes — minced
1 cup cilantro — minced
2 whole limes — cut in wedges
8 whole corn tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil, for frying the tortillas

1. Peel garlic cloves and reserve two for the chile sauce. Slice remaining garlic. In a large heavy pot bring water and broth to a boil. Add sliced garlic and pork. Skim the surface of any scum, then add dried oregano. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours, until pork is tender. Ideally, make this part one day ahead so you can chill the cooking liquid and remove congealed fat the next day.
2. Meanwhile, place dried red chiles in a flat bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 30 minutes. Remove stems and seeds, then place chiles in blender with the onion, soaking liquid, the reserved garlic and 2 tsp. of salt.
3. Transfer pork to a cutting board and reserve broth mixture. Shred pork and discard all the bones. Rinse and drain the canned hominy.
4. Roast the pasilla (poblano) chile: if using gas, hold it over the flame until the skin has blistered and turns black. Or, broil on all sides until the skin blisters. Remove chile and place in plastic bag. Set aside for about 15 minutes to cool. Remove from bag and remove black, blistered skin, cut into pieces (removing stem and seeds).
5. Strain pork liquid and return to pot. Bring to a simmer and add carrots and onion. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the pasilla chile, reserved shredded pork and canned hominy. Simmer for about 10-30 minutes and serve.
6. Fry the tortillas, cut into strips, in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
6. GARNISHES: Place all the garnishes out for your diners to select whichever ones they wish to eat. Place about 1 1/2 cups of the posole/hominy stew in a wide bowl and hand each one to your guests.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 7g Fat (21.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1701mg Sodium.

A year ago: Plum Compote (oooh, that was delicious – try it during plum season)
Three years ago: Iceberg Wedge with Blue Cheese

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  1. Melynda@Moms Sunday Cafe

    said on March 29th, 2011:

    This sounds delicious. A great dish to make when the family comes to dinner. thanks.

    Let me know what you think of it! . . . carolyn t

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