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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 Fish, Grilling, Miscellaneous sides, on July 19th, 2007.


Romesco Sauce is not your normal run-of-the-mill sauce. It contains some different ingredients. It keeps for weeks and weeks. I always seem to have leftovers of the sauce, so use it on grilled vegetables, even some plain grilled chicken too.

This is from one of Nicole Aloni‘s cookbooks, and was demonstrated at a cooking class she taught several years ago. I loved the combination of textures in this dish. I’d never had bread croutons threaded onto a grilled skewer of anything until this dish was served to me. But I liked it. You don’t want to use bread that will become hard and inedible, so think about that as you’re choosing the bread. In other words, an already firm chunk of sourdough with a very firm crust isn’t going to get any less chewy if you grill it. So, you need to use a softer crumb – like an Italian loaf or a soft type of baguette. I rarely buy grocery store French bread for just this reason – they’re more like white nothingness than a “real” baguette, but for the grilled crouton, it may just be perfect. And, you wouldn’t want to serve bread or another carb with this, either. By the way, Nicole now has a blog, so if you click here, you can take a look.

The Romesco sauce has a Catalan (Spain) origin. I thought it was Italian, but no. I finally found a bit of info about it:

  • This Catalan tomato sauce is traditionally served with fish and shellfish but it is also ideal to serve as a dipping sauce. Authentic recipes are made with dried romesco chiles, which have a sweet and hot flavor. Unfortunately they are difficult to obtain outside Spain.
  • What’s unique about Romesco is its use of almonds as a thickener, and flavor enhancer. It adds a lot, although you’ll have a hard time picking out the almond flavor once it’s incorporated into the intense red pepper-base. It’s not difficult to make and it keeps for awhile. I love it on hearty vegetables as leftovers too.

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Grilled Shrimp and Bread Skewers with Romesco Sauce

Recipe: Nicole Aloni, author and caterer
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: You want to eat some of the sauce with every bite, so you can drizzle more sauce on top of each skewer. Using a regular bamboo skewer, you’ll want to serve each person two skewers. And, except for grilling the skewers, everything can be done up to 2 days ahead.

Serving Ideas: You can make a main dish of this by grilling some zucchini, asparagus and red onion before you grill the shrimp. Leftover sauce can be used on top of a white grilled fish or green beans. The sauce will keep for several weeks.

2 1/2 pounds shrimp — peeled, deveined, raw
1 whole French bread — baguette (see instructions)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
4 large garlic cloves
4 whole red bell peppers
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice to garnish

1. PEPPERS: You can use bottled bell peppers (four 7-oz.jars), or roast your own: Core and seed the peppers, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 325° oven for about an hour. Remove the skins and save all the juice and oil as part of the peppers.
2. BREAD: Cut 3 thin slices of bread and set aside. Cut remaining bread into 1 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and move briskly around pan to toast. Remove and add 2 T. olive oil, then add the sliced bread and toast until golden brown, then remove and set aside.
4. Add the almonds to a food processor and pulse to grind. Add the 3 bread slices, garlic, bell peppers, vinegar and cayenne pepper; puree until smooth. With the machine running add the larger quantity of oil and process until incorporated and slightly thickened. Add salt to taste. Sauce can be prepared ahead (2-3 days ahead is best) and refrigerated.
5. SHRIMP: Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high. Onto water-soaked bamboo skewers alternate shrimp and bread cubes. Lay these on a large sheet pan and drizzle each layer with olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side, until shrimp are bright pink and firm.
6. SERVING: Pool the Romesco sauce on each plate and set 2 or 3 skewers across the sauce. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to each skewer.
Per Serving: 528 Calories; 26g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 216mg Cholesterol; 558mg Sodium.

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