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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 Veggies/sides, on June 18th, 2011.

broth-braised-fingerlings

As usual, brown food lacks a bit of vitality in a photograph. Suffice to say these are delicious. Different, a bit. But brown. These happen to be fingerling potatoes (Trader Joe’s has this cute little bag of potatoes that are just enough for a dinner for 4). The potatoes are cut in half lengthwise, then simmered or steamed in a mixture of chicken broth, fresh garlic, a little squirt of olive oil, some thyme or rosemary and most importantly, some lemon zest. Once cooked through you can remove the potatoes and reduce-down the broth (actually my pan cooked dry and I had to add some water, so perhaps I simmered them on too-high heat). I sprinkled in some salt, but then decided it needed just a tiny bit of richness, so I added in a little pat of butter. Perfect.

The recipe came from Dorie Greenspan, in her most recent cookbook Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. There is nothing complicated about these potatoes – Dorie suggests the recipe works best with baby potatoes – they’re just simmered in a flavorful broth. I sprinkled on some freshly ground black pepper. You could add some minced parsley to give it some prettiness. Serve immediately if you can.

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Broth-Braised Fingerling Potatoes

Recipe By : Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves — split and germ removed
1 strip lemon zest
1 bay leaf — [or a pinch of powdered bay leaf]
2 sprigs fresh rosemary — or 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 fresh sage leaves)
salt freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds fingerling potatoes — or 12 new potatoes, cut in half (or large yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — [my addition, optional]

1. Add all the ingredients except the potatoes and butter in a saucepan with a cover, seasoning the broth well with salt and pepper.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, decrease heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the potatoes, cover, and simmer until they can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 15 minutes.
4. The time will vary with the type and size of the potatoes, so check a little before the 15 minute mark and then check frequently after it.
5. If you’d like to serve some of the cooking liquid with the potatoes, lift the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon; put them in a warm bowl and cover them; turn the heat up under the broth; cook the broth for a few minutes until it reduces slightly and the flavors are more concentrated. Add butter (if using it).
6. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 207 Calories; 10g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 202mg Sodium.

A year ago: Mimi’s Buttermilk Spice Muffins
Two years ago: Madeira Onions
Three years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal
Four years ago: Pesto Pea Salad (Spinach)

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