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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 Brunch, Pork, on October 20th, 2008.

baked eggs with chorizo and cannellini beans with green salad

So, I was browsing through some of the blogs I read, and I happened on Chez Loulou’s post (I so enjoy Loulou’s blog – she lives in France, and has THE most interesting photos in and around the area she lives in – always very entertaining – I even tried to make a watercolor of one of her photos) about a breakfast or brunch dish that she’d made recently. It actually came from another blog Loulou reads (ah yes, I’m going to need to add yet another blog to my growing numbers that I read every few days), called Stonesoup. That blog originates from Australia, although the author is multi-national, I think. She’s lived all over the world, but currently resides in Sydney.

Perhaps it was the chorizo in this dish that intrigued me. Or maybe it was just because I’m always on the lookout for some easy entrée dishes that can stand in for dinner. Don’t you have evenings when you just aren’t inspired, or just don’t have the time? That’s me once in awhile (yes, really, there are times when I just don’t feel up to cooking anything much). So, that got me to thinking about meals – like this egg and bean dish – that is called a brunch dish – but could certainly be served for another meal like dinner.

I well remember that my mother sometimes on Sunday nights after we’d had a large midday dinner, would serve us creamed tuna on toast. She managed to make one small can of tuna spread between three people. She made a simple cream sauce, always added some lemon juice to it, then at the last minute she added the drained contents of one 6-ounce can of tuna, and we’d eat that spooned over one slice of white toast. It was a light meal, and perfect for the day in question. But then, there were Sundays when my mother would serve waffles for dinner. Why or how it ever became a tradition in our family I don’t know, but probably once a month we’d have regular waffles with sausage patties for dinner, with the finale being one last waffle piled with strawberries and whipped cream. As a kid, I thought that meal was heaven on a bun. My parents used to entertain other families for Sunday waffle suppers. My mother and dad are both gone, so I can’t ask them how that tradition ever got started. As a young adult I did have some waffle suppers, but my recollection (this would have been back in the 1960’s and 70’s, they weren’t met with much glee as I thought. I always told guests what we were having, so it wasn’t a surprise, but still I could tell people didn’t love it as much as I did. My DH doesn’t think waffles should be eaten at any meal except breakfast. In years past I tried the waffle supper thing on him, but he ate it reluctantly.

So, maybe it was that background of waffles on Sunday nights that made me look at this recipe with more interest. We don’t eat hearty breakfasts – if we do it seems to mess up our eating for the whole day. We’re not hungry for lunch, but then we’re starving by about 3-4 in the afternoon. Therefore, when I read this recipe I didn’t even think about breakfast at all. I thought – great idea for a light dinner. It took me 2 days to decide I wanted to make it.


Loulou’s and Stonesoup’s recipe is straight forward – you cook up some chorizo (I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy their very meaty and lean version), some onion and garlic, a bit of Mexican oregano, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and canned cannellini beans. Little indentations are made in this mixture and eggs are gently cracked into them, then you bake it in the oven until done to your liking. This dinner took about 40 minutes to make from start to finish. My DH didn’t know what to think when I presented this dish at his place mat – for dinner. I had asked him first if this dish sounded good to him. I won’t say that he was over the top about it from reading the ingredient list, but generally he’s very willing to eat anything I put in front of him. So I made it the next night.

Truly, I enjoyed it a lot and Dave did too. I liked the flavor combination. It was hearty (beans). Very tasty. Easy and quick. I learned a couple of things, however. I revised the recipe to serve 2, since I didn’t know whether we’d eat leftover fried eggs on this chorizo bean bed. So I halved the recipe and tried to adapt it. I used a very large frying pan that can go in a hot oven, but the bean mixture then was quite thin. You must make this in a dish or pan that has enough depth to make the indentations for the eggs. And 15 minutes in MY oven was way too long at 400, so I revised the temp to 375. The eggs were almost rubbery, but not so overdone that we couldn’t eat it. My DH actually liked them that way since he doesn’t like runny eggs. So I’ve revised the cooking time to 10-15 minutes also. You need to determine your own preference. Definitely don’t use convection, either, as you don’t want hot air fanning the eggs! I also want this dish to have a bit more fluid – so use your own judgment about how much of the liquid to cook off. Ours was almost too dry, probably from being in the flatter pan. But it still tasted great.


Then you need to know about the leftovers – there was definitely enough to serve 3 adults using my recipe below. Dave and I both had a small portion of seconds, and there was still some leftover. So, what to do with those, you ask? Easy – I made soup. To the about 1 ½ cups of leftover beans I added some more tomatoes (I still had half a can of tomatoes), a small can of corn, some broth, chile powder, some ancho chile powder, heated it up and sprinkled shredded Cheddar on top. It was scrumptious!
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Baked Eggs with Chorizo & White Cannellini Beans

Recipe: Chez Loulou’s blog and she got it from the Stonesoup blog
Servings: adapted to serve 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo
1 small red onion — chopped (or yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic — peeled & sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your hands
8 ounces canned tomatoes — peeled, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
4 whole eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Heat oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or frying pan. Cook chorizo over a medium heat until well browned. Remove chorizo from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add onion to the grease in the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until softened and not browned. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes before adding oregano, tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Season and bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened but still has a bit of liquid to it.
2. Stir in the beans and chorizo and using a spatula, smooth the top. (Make sure the pan or casserole you’re using allows some depth to the mixture so you can make the indentations needed – below – so the eggs won’t spread all over.) Bring back to a simmer and remove from the heat. Using a spoon, make 4 egg sized indentations (fairly deep) in the bean mixture and crack an egg into each hole. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until egg whites are just cooked but the yolks are still lovely and runny. Remember that this dish holds its heat so the egg will continue to cook after you remove the pan from the oven.
3. Divide between 2 warmed plates or bowls and serve immediately with some green salad on the side.
(I’m purposely not including the nutrition count because my software program thinks chorizo is about 100% fat – it adds over 600 calories per serving – the chorizo I buy at Whole Foods is extremely lean and meaty. The 1/2 pound produced about one teaspoon of fat.)

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