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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 Soups, on August 7th, 2008.

chilled zucchini soup with a dollop of sour cream

Last week was my week to entertain two of my friends for Scrabble, and we had agreed from the beginning that we’d each eat lunch at home first. No pressure on the hostess except for some cookies and tea. After all, we’re getting together to play Scrabble, not to eat. But I was still sipping on a small glass of my new favorite cucumber soup (my third batch in a month) when the ladies arrived. I had plenty, so I gave both Gloria and Irene a small glass too. Gloria mentioned that it was similar to her favorite chilled zucchini soup. I promptly asked for the recipe, and the next day I had it in my hands. It is similar to the cucumber soup I make, but yet it’s different too. It’s a combo of zucchini and green onions, but this one is thickened with cornstarch, and has some curry powder to give it a little zip. And, you add a shot or two of some sweet white wine (Sauterne, if you have it) to it. So, it is different from the other one. I couldn’t wait to make it.

The recipe is very straight forward – you sauté the onions in butter, add garlic, the sliced zucchini, some chicken broth, seasonings, then whiz it up in the blender. Then you add cold milk mixed with the cornstarch, bring it up to a boil, cool, add the Sauterne, and chill. I had some good Wolfgang Puck’s chicken broth, so added that instead of using canned granules, but then I also added a little spoon of chicken bouillon concentrate. I buy it from Penzey’s, and think it’s better than any others I’ve ever used. Really good chicken flavor.

I added a goodly jolt of curry powder to it – I’d purchased a new one, and it was much hotter than I’d anticipated. So I stirred in some sour cream to the finished soup, to bring down the heat a little bit. Otherwise, I made no alterations to the soup. My DH adored it – he had two bowls of it, and he really enjoyed the heat (curry) in it. Just be gentle unless you know how hot your curry powder really is. Next time I might serve it with a little sprinkling of fresh chopped mint on top. Zucchini and mint go together well. Thyme and zucchini go together well, too, if that sounds more interesting.
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Chilled Zucchini Soup

Recipe: From my friend, Gloria D.
Servings: 8

1/3 cup butter
1 cup green onions — diced, using all the tops too
1 clove garlic — minced
3 cups zucchini — sliced, about three
1 cup chicken broth — or water
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder — or more to taste
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sauterne wine — or other white wine

1. In a large saucepan melt butter. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes. Add garlic during the last minute. Add zucchini slices and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until zucchini is fairly soft. Add broth, bouillon cubes and all seasonings. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Place batches of the soup in a blender and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds.
2. Return soup to saucepan. Stir cornstarch into the milk and dissolve thoroughly, then add to soup. Cook until it comes to a boil, remove from heat, add wine, cool to room temperature, then chill.
Per Serving: 173 Calories; 12g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

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  1. margaret miland

    said on August 11th, 2013:

    Tried this recipe with my summer squash and zucchini(one of each plant in my garden). I love yellow curry and used 2 teaspoons. It is smooth, spicy, delicious and a great way to use the crop.

    I’m so glad you liked it! That reminds me I haven’t made it yet this summer. . . .carolyn t

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