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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 Brunch, on September 1st, 2011.

corn_bacon_cheddar_strata

Oh my goodness. I can’t wait to tell you about this brunch dish. It was SO good. Rockin’ with lots of flavor – from the bacon and the corn (fresh off the cob). Well, and the sharp cheddar too. I have a whole bunch of recipes to share with all of you, but you’re just going to have to wait until I can write up the recipes for each and every one of them, process all the photos, and write the stories.

I’ve had this recipe in my to-try file for awhile – it’s one from Diane Phillips (whose nickname is the “Diva of Do-Ahead”). Her claim to fame is, as her nickname implies, make-ahead dishes for every kind of celebration meal. Our recent multiple-family-birthday brunch was the perfect occasion. Corn is in season still. Bacon makes everything good. And I had a hunk of good Tillamook sharp cheddar. And eggs, and milk and sourdough bread, and butter, and green onions, dry mustard and hot sauce. Because of schedules, we needed to eat a fairly early brunch (10:30) so I really needed to make something ahead. Bingo! strata_cut

Sourdough bread was sliced about 1/2 inch thick, corn and green onions were sautéed lightly, bacon was cooked, crisped and crumbled, eggs and milk were combined with the salt, dry mustard and hot sauce, and the hunk of cheese was grated. I did change one little thing in the recipe – I spooned all the corn in the middle rather than half of it on top. I found all the corn mixed in with the milk/egg mixture a bit hard to handle. So there at left you can see the cut casserole . . . there are two layers of bread, two layers of cheese and the milk/egg mixture poured twice. An the corn in the middle. I covered it in plastic wrap and it chilled overnight. An hour out at room temperature was all it needed, before going into a 350 oven for 45 minutes. We let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

I noticed that the top bread pieces were a bit crispy – I thought, “oh, no,” but I needn’t have worried – everybody loved the crispy toasty bread parts, me included. Be sure to use a large 9×13 pan as it will fill it nearly to the top. Not the custardy part – just the bread and cheese part. You can also make these in individual  (large) ramekins if you want, everything is made the same, but just bake for 15-20 minutes instead of the 30-40 minutes for the big pan. Actually I baked it for 45 minutes to get the top just golden brown. The interior of the strata isn’t solid in custard – know that – it just barely holds everything together. I think all the egg and milk mixture was pretty-much soaked up in the lower layer of bread.

What I liked: well, everybody except the 10 year old loved it, but he’s a finicky eater anyway. The 4-year old loved it, the 13-year old loved it and all the adults loved it. The textures were so good – the cheddar was perfect. The fresh, sweet corn was, well, fresh and sweet. I bought applewood bacon, which was delish. Loved it all.

What I didn’t like: maybe I’d cut down a bit on the amount of corn – no one could quite contain the volume of corn on their plates and it wasn’t set up in custard, so it spread out. Tasted fine, but I think I could reduce the amount by about 1/3. Otherwise, I’d make it as the recipe suggests!

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Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Diane Phillip’s book, Happy Holidays (she’s the Diva of Do-Ahead).
Serving Size: 10
Serving Ideas: I served this with a big green salad, fresh fruit, and some grilled pineapple.
NOTES: This can also be made in individual ramekins – prepare as noted, but bake for about 15-20 minutes only, or until golden brown on top.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups fresh corn kernels — cut from the cob
4 whole green onions — chopped, including some of the green
8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
About 6 shakes of Tabasco, or 1/2 to 1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 pound white bread — loaf, cut in 1/2 inch slices
4 tablespoons butter — to spread on the bread
12 ounces bacon — cooked and chopped
3 cups cheddar cheese — white, sharp, shredded

1. Coat the inside of a 9×13 ceramic dish with butter or cooking spray.
2. In a large saute pan, heat the 2 T. butter and saute corn and green onions for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
3. In another large bowl (one that pours would be good!) whisk up the eggs, then add the milk, salt and dry mustard. Add hot sauce and combine. Stir in the corn and set aside.
4. Arrange a layer of sliced bread in the pan, wedging in smaller pieces to completely cover the bottom. Melt the remaining butter and brush on the bread. Sprinkle with half the bacon and half the cheese. Pour half of the egg/milk/corn mixture on top. (You can spoon all the corn into this middle layer if desired, but don’t pour on all the egg mixture.)
5. Arrange the remaining bread on top, brush with the remaining melted butter and pour the remaining egg mixture on top, pouring it all over the top of the bread. Press the bread down so all the surfaces of the bread have soaked into the egg/milk mixture. Sprinkle on the remaining bacon and cheese. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours. At this point you may refrigerate it for up to 4 days.
6. When ready to bake, remove casserole from refrigerator and allow to sit out for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Bake casserole uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until it is puffed and golden.
7. To freeze: if you prefer, you can go ahead and bake the casserole, but just for 23 minutes, cool to room temp, cover well, freeze for up to a month. When ready to serve, defrost in the refrigerator, covered, then bake for 15-20 minutes at 350, until warmed through. May be served warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 650 Calories; 43g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 260mg Cholesterol; 1341mg Sodium.

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  1. Mary at Deep South Dish

    said on September 1st, 2011:

    Gracious that sounds fantastic Carolyn!!! Thank you so much for coming back by to comment on the Mississippi Comeback Sauce. I can’t wait to see your analysis of the difference between it and ketchup/mayo/pepper sauce – not that there is anything wrong with the other of course. I’ve added your site to my reader but let me know when you post!

    I will let you know when I post it, Mary. We’re leaving on a trip later this month, and it won’t post (probably) until after we return from that trip. So, it’ll be awhile. Thanks for letting me write it up . . carolyn t

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