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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 Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on July 16th, 2007.


The summer of 1989, I was reading the Los Angeles Times food section, and this recipe jumped out and said “fix me, fix me.” It’s a Paul Prudhomme recipe – he had written the short article about it, and said this was a family favorite, especially for outdoor, barbecue dinners. That’s exactly what I use it for, and have done so multiple times over those ensuing years. I’ve made a few changes to it. The original called for bok choy. I use Napa Cabbage instead. And I use my own combination of beans – usually whatever I happen to have on the pantry shelf. Additionally, bacon was added on top, when served. I eliminated that because it was just fine without it. If stored for a day, the bacon gets limp and wet – not very appetizing.

It’s really quite easy to make, although it does take some assembly time, and some prepping of the vegies. But the bulk of it is canned beans – a variety of them, and you whisk up the dressing and pour over. The dressing is mostly vinegar – cider vinegar – and you’d think that with vinegar as the main ingredient, you’d have a hard time eating it. Not so. Once it sits for a while, something chemical happens when you pour acid and oil over carbs. It mellows the beans and completely eliminates the acidity of the vinegar. It just leaves a little tang and permeates the entire salad. It must be left to marinate for at least several hours, though, so don’t be tempted to eat it right away. Otherwise that chemical action doesn’t have time to occur. Although this probably is used mostly as a side kind of salad, it also can make the meal itself. It’s satisfying enough. It has some protein with all the beans, and it’s filling. It’s the dressing that makes it special. It keeps for a few days, but then the Napa cabbage begins to wilt significantly, so eat it up within 2-3 days after preparation.

And I want you to pay attention to the fat content this time – it’s almost nil. Note that there are only 2 T. of oil in the entire salad to serve 12. I highly recommend this.
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The BEST Bean Salad

Recipe: Adapted from a Paul Prudhomme recipe
Servings: 12
NOTES: This recipe is SO low in fat it hardly even registers fat grams. At first you might think there’s a misprint with the amount of vinegar, but it is correct. The beans absorb the vinegar, which lightens the bean’s heaviness. According to Paul Prudhomme, combining oils and acids make the heaviest starches disappear on your palate. If you prefer, you can add raw chopped zucchini, green bell pepper instead of the red, or a combination, and if desired, cooked, crumbled bacon bits could be added as well if you don’t mind the extra fat. Any combination of beans will work. The original recipe called for bok choy, but the first time I made the recipe the market didn’t have it so I bought Napa cabbage instead and have decided I like it better.
Serving Ideas: Could be a meal on its own. Wonderful with grilled meat.

SALAD:
16 ounces black beans — canned, drained
16 ounces white beans — canned, drained
16 ounces blackeyed peas — canned, drained
2 cups tomato — chopped
1 cup cucumber — seedless, chopped
3/4 cup Napa cabbage — sliced
3/4 cup red bell pepper — chopped
3/4 cup red onion — diced
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
DRESSING:
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
15 whole basil leaves — minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar — or brown sugar substitute
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano — crushed

1. In a large non-metal bowl, toss together the drained beans (I use low-salt beans when possible), tomatoes, cucumbers, Napa cabbage, bell peppers, onions and garlic powder.
2. In a blender combine the vinegar, oil, basil, brown sugar, black pepper and oregano and blend until combined. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture, stir, cover and chill for several hours. Will keep for several days. Makes about 2 quarts.
Per Serving: 426 Calories; 4g Fat (7.6% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 75g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 18mg Sodium.

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  1. Carolyn

    said on April 29th, 2008:

    Someone emailed me awhile back to tell me that the nutrition info on this recipe was incorrect. I thought the calories were low before, but now they’re even lower, at about half. Here is the corrected version:
    Per Serving: 210 Calories; 3g Fat (11.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 205mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 1 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

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