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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 Veggies/sides, on November 22nd, 2011.

lebanese_lentils_rice_onions

A great side dish – with warm, comforting flavors from ground cumin and cayenne. Do serve it with a nice piece of grilled meat – even Tandoori chicken, which is what I used.

This dish I made a couple of months ago – before we went on our trip in late September. I served it alongside some Tandoori chicken. This stuff was really good – if you look closely at the photo above, you can see just one little piece of the caramelized onion – just about in the center, dark brown. Those onions are  what “make” this dish. You don’t want to prepare the dish without the onions – you’ll be clamoring for more onions – in fact when I make this again, I’ll probably make more onion, just because it’s that delicious.

browned_onions

There you can see the onions all by themselves. Really brown and scrumptious. Use a good, sturdy pan when you make them as they’ll burn easily otherwise.

The recipe came from Aarti Sequiera, of the Food Network. I followed her recipe exactly. Do give yourself ample time – this takes longer to prepare than you might think (she estimated 1 1/2 hours). Make a big batch, freeze the leftovers with the caramelized onions separated in a different plastic baggie inside the main one with the rice and lentils. Add the pine nuts as a garnish. And remember that lentils are really good for you. Use brown basmati rice if you have it. She served this as a meatless entrée, along with an eggplant salad, which I’ll also post soon.

What I liked: the overall flavor – a great backdrop for some delicious spicy grilled meat – chicken? fish? Even beef or pork. I was so glad I had leftovers as they made a side dish for another meal several days later. Next time I’d double it and freeze the leftovers in a couple of different packages.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Delish.

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Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)

Recipe By: Aarti Sequiera, Food Network, 2011
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: Be sure to look over the lentils to make sure there aren’t any stones or debris in them. My advice: make more onions than the recipe calls for – you’ll love them. And maybe even double the recipe and freeze the leftovers in smaller packages, with the caramelized onions in a separate small baggie inside. Don’t freeze the pine nuts inside the leftovers, unless you freeze them in yet another baggie.

1 cup lentils — not lentils du Puy, sorted for debris and rinsed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns — cracked in mortar and pestle
3 medium red onions — thinly sliced
Kosher salt
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cinnamon stick — (1-inch)
2 tablespoons pine nuts — optional
1 squeeze fresh lemon juice
Greek yogurt — for serving, optional

1. Throw the lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, grab a large skillet. Pop it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then drop in the cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan once in a while until the cumin seeds darken a touch, about 1 minute.
3. Add the onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook until they turn dark caramel brown, stirring often. This will take about 15 minutes. Splash the onions with a little water if they stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll know they’re done both by their deep chestnut color and by the slight crispiness developing on some of the onions.
4. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Sprinkle in the ground cumin, cayenne and then add the cinnamon stick; saute about 1 minute.
5. Add the rice and cook, stirring often (but gently so you don’t break the rice!) until some rice grains start to brown. Quickly, add the cooked lentils, 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low so that the pan is at a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes. The water should be completely evaporated and rice should be tender. (If there’s still too much water in the bottom, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)
6. Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts, if using, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often, about 5 minutes.
8. Taste the rice for seasoning. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, if using, and a little squeeze of lemon juice. I also like to serve this with some dollops of Greek yogurt.
Per Serving: 411 Calories; 21g Fat (43.4% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 13g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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  1. Joanne

    said on November 22nd, 2011:

    Carolyn, we have this as a main course and serve it with fattoush…a favorite meal of my kids! Larry grew up with this as his Friday night meal…the Syrian Orthodox did not eat meat on Fridays and this was a staple. His family’s version is a bit different, we cook the lentils for 20 minutes before adding the rice and then mix it with the caramelized onions (lots) at the end. No other spices but salt. My recipe comes from the church’s cookbook. we will have to try Aarti’s recipe and compare.

    Hi Joanne – I was thinking about you this morning, wondering how you and the family are doing. Thanks for the info about the mujadara – I just loved it, and thought the caramelized onions just put it over the top. Are you celebrating Thanksgiving this week? Do I remember you baking a turkey a few years back for some French friends who knew nothing about what an American Thanksgiving is all about? Hope things are going well for you. . . carolyn t

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