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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 Cookbooks, on July 18th, 2007.

These are all cookbooks. And I have another 5-8 more books sitting around in different places in my kitchen too. Once upon a time I was able to decoratively arrange my cookbooks – some standing up, a few short piles in strategic places lying flat. That was a long time ago. I haven’t counted all my cookbooks, but they surely number over 100. And I have no more room in the cabinet. None whatsoever. Some years ago I did perform a necessary purge. I simply had to get rid of some of them. It was agonizingly difficult. Even though there are many of these that I never refer to anymore, one just never knows. Maybe tomorrow would be the day I need that very book I just gave away.

But then, I’m that way about all books. Not wanting to get rid of them. With my non-cook book collections, my desire is to keep them all. Tattered paperback or brand new hardbacks. No matter. I like them all surrounding me. My biographies collection resides in our downstairs guest room. I always know where to find them. Non-fiction fills another book case in my office upstairs. And the fiction, the largest by far, fills all of the other bookshelves in the office. I like to gaze at those spines now and then and recollect how much I enjoyed reading the pages in between. I like looking at the multiple books I own by a few authors, like Anita Brookner, Ludlum, Rutherford. I do loan them out now and then. Sometimes I get them back. Not always, even though I tell the borrower I want them back. I don’t keep a log, so don’t remember who I gave them to. But that’s okay, as long as somebody is reading them. A friend once asked me why I kept my novels. She, a librarian, doesn’t keep any. I marveled at her ability to give them away, or just borrow them from the library. She asked me, do you ever read them a second time? Well, no I don’t. Why keep them, then? Why indeed. But I do.

But cookbooks. I DO refer to them. I have a 12-volume cookbook encyclopedia – the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery. It was given to me back in the 1960’s by my former father-in-law. He had an in with the publisher. I still refer to those books time and time again. I don’t much use the recipes, but I look up information. It’s full of advice about how long you can keep things, calorie counts, methods of cooking and really basic information about the origin of foods, spices, ingredients. And of course, it contains lots of recipes. The books, although published in 1966, are worth a bit if you have the whole set (I do). A whopping $74.99. But I can’t part with them. Even at that price.

I have cookbooks that reflect a bygone era – like Vincent & Mary Price’s large volume about cooking, A Treasury of Great Recipes. Published back in the late 1960’s the mostly French recipes are heavy with butter and cream and sauces. I could sell it for $20 on ebay. But no, I’ll hold onto it, thank you. Why? I really don’t know. Likely I’ll never make a single one of the recipes in it. I don’t know that I ever have. But I choose to keep it. I like it’s large shape. Heavy, padded cover, even. And it contains lots of photographs of Vincent Price’s home and kitchen. Not that I was a fan of his acting. I wasn’t. But, I just like glancing at the book now and then.

Then, as with most cooks of my generation, I have a copy of the Joy of Cooking. It was by far the most popular cookbook of the 1960’s. I still have my copy, food spattered and all. I rarely refer to it anymore, but I don’t want to give it away, either. A couple of years ago I read the biography of Irma S. Rombauer, Stand Facing the Stove. In it you learn about her life, of course, but many interesting stories about how the publisher of Joy took such unfair advantage of Irma in the publishing of the cookbook. But it was revealing too, because Irma Rombauer really didn’t have much of an interest in cooking, certainly no love for it, but she saw a need and thought she could, with a great deal of work, create a cookbook that would be useful and sale-able. She was a single mother (her husband committed suicide) who had never worked, and needed to provide a living for her family. Unfortunately, she saw very little of the earnings from the printing and reprinting of her book and the multitude of other books Bobbs-Merrill printed using the names of Irma and her daughter. The publisher took grave and unfair advantage of her naivete. Versions written after 1976 were compiled by the publisher and the Rombauer family was not consulted.

In 2006, however, the Rombauer family rewrote the original Joy in its new 75th Anniversary Edition. I have a hankering to get that version, although I don’t know that I’ll be willing to forgo my old spattered copy. Numerous famous chefs were consulted and wrote some parts of this new book, bringing it fully up to date.

One of the things some food bloggers do is present a list of favorite cookbooks. I have several, but I must tell you that when I’m searching for something new to cook, I may consult 10-20 of my cookbooks before I decide. Or I may combine two or three recipes from different books. So what I will give you is a list of the books that I seem to refer to more often than others. Maybe I’ll create a sidebar box for this list too.

The Silver Palate Cookbook (the original one, 1982), Lukins & Rosso. The original book that I have is out of print, but click on the title and you’ll get to the 25th anniversary edition.

Thrill of the Grill, Chris Schlesinger. Available at a bargain price at Amazon, through their used book resellers.

Barefoot Contessa at Home, Ina Garten. You may still be able to buy this at Costco. It’s been out for several years, but she’s very popular and they’ve done umpteen reprintings.

Weir Cooking in the City, Joanne Weir. She’s one of my favorite cooking class instructors, but rarely comes to Southern California. She has a cooking show on PBS that I Tivo whenever it’s on. She’s much more out-there and fun in person than she is on the show. She says the producers make her tone down her crazy, vivacious personality. One day, Cherrie and I are going to take one of her week-long classes in Tuscany. She has her own website.

A Cook’s Tour of Sonoma, Michelle Anna Jordan. A smallish paperback book from a former caterer in Sonoma. I have several recipes from this book that are favorites. There is a new edition – if you click on the book title link, you’ll get to it.

Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, Paula Wolfert. More a wintertime kind of reference, but everything I’ve cooked from this book has been wonderful. She’s a well known writer and author who lives in Europe, although she’s American.

Barbecue! Bible (new), Steve Raichlen. I bought this at Costco recently for $11.99, and have referred to it many times, so I think this will become a favorite.

Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan. I think I’ve written about Dorie before. She’s quite a globetrotter, but a baker extraordinaire. She has her own blog, and I love reading her stories. If I want to bake something, this is my go-to book now.

Another day I’m going to write up my favorite food writing books (enjoyed more for the reading than for the recipes). I have a bunch of those too. But if you know me, you know that already! I’m one of Amazon’s best friend!
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