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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 17th, 2011.

ital_sausage_mushroom_leek_dressing

Here you can see just the veggies
and the sausage the dressing contains.

OMGosh! Oh, my gracious was this dressing ever the cat’s meow. The be all, end all of dressings I’ve ever, ever had. I will be making this next week for our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. So, okay, what’s so different about it? Well, I’ll tell you that I have an Italian sausage dressing I’ve been making for a several years, but this one? Well, it’s going into #1 position. Part of it’s the vegetables (a lot of them). Part of it’s the moistness of it (it’s a relatively wet dressing) and another part of it is the gravy (oh-so tasty). And the fresh herbs. And the mushrooms (not exactly a common veggie in dressing). Oh, heck. It’s all of it put together as a whole. If I were a vegetarian, I’d gladly have this as my entrée (well, without the sausage, I suppose).

Several weeks ago my friend Cherrie and I went to a Phillis Carey class that was all about an Italian Thanksgiving menu. Everything in it was fantastic. The only thing I might not make is the pumpkin pie (a different take – and I’m just too hooked on the traditional Libby’s style Costco pumpkin pie). Otherwise I think I’ll be making the entire meal from this class (green beans with shallots, the artichoke Romano bruschetta, the Mascarpone mashed potatoes, the pancetta-butter basted turkey, and the gravy I’m writing up here, with the dressing.

It was several years ago I discovered how much I liked Italian sausage in my turkey dressing. And there’s been no turning back. I think my mother usually used Pepperidge Farms dry, packaged mix with her simple additions. And I made it the same way for many years, until I went to a cooking class and had some real, honest-to-goodness completely home made dressing, including the bread cubes. I had some with cornmeal one year. It was okay. But somehow cornbread didn’t fit in with my vision of a Thanksgiving dressing. But now, THIS one. Gosh. Made with fresh, torn bread cubes that are briefly baked in the oven. With oodles of veggies – onion, celery, including some of the green tops, leeks, and mushrooms. And the fresh herbs (sage, rosemary). And the Italian sausage, of course. Certainly there is ample bread in this dressing, but it’s almost more about the vegetables – of which there are lots – and the gravy. The gravy, the gravy. Pictured at right – you can see the little bit of cream added in at the end. Makes it so luscious. Back to the dressing – the one thing that’s a bit unusual in this dressing is the addition of EGGS. Phillis told us they’re not an absolute, but she thinks the dressing stays together better with them. So I’ll be adding those. So delicious.

So, if you’ve had any second thoughts about making your old standby, may I just suggest you try this one, okay? Read further below for the gravy write-up and recipe.

printer-friendly PDF (dressing)
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 contains photo)

Italian Sausage Bread Dressing with Mushrooms, Leeks and Fresh Herbs

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor, Oct. 2011
Serving Size: 12

1 pound white bread — 3/4″ cubes (about 12 cups)
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage — sweet, not hot
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups leeks — sliced (white and pale green parts only), about 2-3
1 cup onions — chopped
2 cups celery — with leaves, chopped
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms — sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh sage — chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — chopped
1/3 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 large eggs — beaten (optional)
1 1/3 cups low sodium chicken broth — or turkey stock (approx.)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Divide bread cubes between 2 large baking sheets. Bake the bread until slightly dry, about 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely.
2. Saute sausage (remove casings) in a heavy, large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, leaving the sausage in chunks, using the back of a spoon to chop up the meat, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a large bowl. Pour off the drippings.
3. Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks, salt, onions, celery, mushrooms and thyme to the skillet and saute until leeks and mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in fresh sage and rosemary. Add mixture to sausage, then mix in bread and parsley. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper. (At this point you can prepare one day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 15x10x2 inch baking dish (or 2 smaller casseroles). Mix beaten eggs into the stuffing and add enough broth to make a fairly WET mixture – it should almost be soupy in consistency. Transfer mixture to the baking dish(es). Cover with buttered foil and bake until heated through, about 45 minutes. If you prefer crispy-topped dressing, uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about another 10 minutes. Serve this with gravy liberally ladled all over the dressing.
Per Serving: 373 Calories; 24g Fat (58.1% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 711mg Sodium.

Now then, the gravy. Not difficult, although there are two parts to it. You’ll make some really flavorful stock from what develops in the bottom of the turkey roasting pan. That part is essential! A part of it can be made while the turkey is roasting, and then once you’ve removed the turkey and it’s resting, all that good tasty broth is added to the pancetta flavored gravy mixture. It has to cook to just the right consistency and you’re done. The pancetta is part of what makes this – also the use of white wine in the gravy.

printer-friendly PDF (gravy)
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click to open in MC – 14 contains photo)

Turkey Gravy

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor, Oct. 2011
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you have gravy lovers at your Thanksgiving table, you might want to make a double batch of this.

1/2 cup pancetta — thinly sliced, diced (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup shallots — chopped
1/4 cup flour
3 cups turkey stock — (to be added to the turkey roasting pan) low-sodium, or chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary — chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage — chopped

1. As you prepare the turkey to roast, pour into the bottom of the roasting pan 3 cups of chicken or turkey stock (packaged is fine). As the turkey roasts, make sure the stock doesn’t evaporate – add more water as needed so the pan stays completely wet. After the turkey is finished, pour off the juices, including the fat, scraping any and all bits of things from the bottom of the pan, into a large measuring cup. Add water to make 3 cups of broth. Reserve at least 2 T. of the fat and try to remove the remainder of the fat (in a fat separator if you have one).
2. While the turkey is roasting you can start the gravy. Add just a bit of olive oil to a large saute pan and cook the pancetta until it’s beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add shallots and saute for a minute. Reduce heat to medium.
3. Add flour to the mixture and whisk until it turns a golden brown, about 4 minutes. (If making ahead, set aside at this point.)
4. With the gravy mixture hot, add the 3 cups of turkey juices, including the 2 T. of reserved turkey fat, and the wine. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Simmer until it reaches your desired consistency, about 5 minutes more. Add rosemary and sage, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 1g Fat (24.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 952mg Sodium.

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