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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 Beef, easy, on August 12th, 2011.

weeknight_bolognese

Am sure I’ve mentioned before that I Tivo all of Ina Garten’s new episodes. And even though it’s summertime and the weather is warm and muggy, when I watched Ina make this easy-easy Bolognese sauce, I was hooked. I went online to download the recipe and noted a few comments from others who had made it (suggesting cooking a little longer than the 10+ minutes and reducing the salt). So I added a quarter of an onion to the sauce (sautéing it first), greatly reduced the salt in the sauce, and I also added a little dollop of beef soup base (my Penzey’s favorite flavor enhancer) to the sauce also.

Using orecchiette pasta was different – usually I opt for linguine – but I’m very glad I used the orecchiette because it did exactly what Ina said – it provided little “cups” to hold sauce. The only other unusual thing in this is 1/4 cup of heavy cream. What a great idea – and wow, did it ever add a delicious richness to the sauce. She also has you add 1/4 cup of the red wine toward the end – it does simmer off the alcohol in the 10 minute cooking then – but she said it added lots of good flavor. Some sliced basil was added in at the end also. Oregano and a pinch of red chile flakes are all the herbs that flavor the dish.

My DH loved it. I mean, he nearly licked the bowl. He raved about it. And raved about it. I thought it was delicious. And I mentioned above how EASY it is. If you don’t want to, or can’t add wine, use good, flavorful beef stock instead. I’m looking forward to the leftovers, for sure.

What I liked: how easy it was to make, beginning to end about 45 minutes; liked the added flavor from the heavy cream – it’s just 4 T. of it; really liked the orecchiette pasta too – would definitely do that again. It should freeze well, too. Next time I’ll make a double batch and freeze half.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Would and will make it again, sooner rather than later.

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MasterCook 5+ import file

Weeknight Bolognese from Ina Garten

Recipe By: Adapted from Ina Garten, 2011
Serving Size: 5
Serving Ideas: Ina recommended orrechiette because the little cups hold some of the sauce in each bite.
NOTES: If you can’t buy San Marzano type tomatoes (there is a brand called San Marzano, but they’re not really San Marzano tomatoes), use other brands, but add in about 1/2 tsp of sugar to the sauce. I also added about 1/2 tsp. of beef concentrate (from Penzey’s) just for extra flavor. I also let it simmer for about 30 minutes – longer at least than the recipe indicated.

2 tablespoons olive oil — plus extra to cook the pasta
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef — sirloin, if possible
4 teaspoons minced garlic — (about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine — divided
28 ounces crushed tomatoes — preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound pasta — such as orecchiette or small shells
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves — lightly packed, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese — freshly grated, plus extra for serving

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, then add ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
3. While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes (or up to 20 if you think it needs it), stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan and more basil on top.
Per Serving: 729 Calories; 33g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 68g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 91mg Cholesterol; 521mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Red Pepper and Walnut Spread, with pita bread
Four years ago: Chicken Bamako (very easy baked chicken breast and bacon dish)

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  1. jody snyder

    said on December 11th, 2014:

    Am trying this tonight. I love all things ina.

    You’ll be glad you did. I love her recipe. Don’t know why hers tastes better than many, but it’s also easy, or at least easier than some. . . carolyn t

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