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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 Miscellaneous, on October 30th, 2008.

Until I decided to write up this recipe, I can’t say that I knew much about Auguste Escoffier, other than he was a famous French chef. And that he wrote a cookbook or two which are considered sacrosanct by lots of chefs and foodies in France and abroad. He lived from 1846 to 1935 and spent his life in the French food arena, beginning when he was apprenticed to his uncle’s restaurant in Nice at the ripe age of 12. He revolutionized (streamlined) the running of top-drawer kitchens, and implemented new techniques of canning when he was the Chef de Cuisine for the French Army during one of France’s wars. So there’s your little food history lesson of the day.

I’ll just comment briefly that as I was growing up (I think I’ve mentioned it here before) both grandmothers always served lots of pickles and relishes with meals. They likely did lots of canning since they grew their own vegetables, so they had lots of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers to use up every season. But then, pickles and relishes were just de rigueur. My mother served her fair share of them too, and I can’t say that I was all that enamored with them as a child. Actually, salsa is a similar kind of condiment, and I certainly eat plenty of THAT. Once I ventured into making fruit salsas (my mango or pineapple salsa being a particular family favorite), I must have reacquainted my palate to the kind of sweet and sour mingling that goes on with pickles and relishes. I also have that Mexican onion relish that is so good too. And remember my write-up about the piquante peppers from South Africa? They have a very similar taste, although this pepper condiment has many more layers of flavor with the addition of onions, garlic and spices. The South African peppers are just pickled somehow.

My fellow blogger, Luisa, the Wednesday Chef, wrote up this recipe, having read it in the Los Angeles Times (no longer available online). In her post she used many, many superlatives. I usually stand up and notice when bloggers use words like fabulous, fantastic, can’t keep my spoon out of them. That kind of language. Since I had some leftover meatloaf (obviously cold), this recipe seemed like a cinchy combination. I had everything on hand except the red bell peppers, and that was easily rectified.

This recipe is SIMPLE. Really. It took about 20 minutes to chop and cook, then it bubbled away on the stove for an hour or so. I had golden raisins instead of dark, but that was the only substitution I made in this recipe. I didn’t weigh the peppers – I used 4 peppers. The picture above is the combination of ingredients to make the peppers. Nothing all that unusual. And the second photo shows the spices used. They made a very attractive pile on my cutting board, so I decided to photograph them for you. The only thing a bit different here is the freshly grated nutmeg. I almost never use jarred pre-ground nutmeg. The flavor of the fresh is just so much better. Years and years ago I bought a nutmeg grinder (less than $10 then) that has served me well all these years.

The verdict? Fabulous. This relish would be wonderful with just any kind of meat (roasts, chops) and even chicken. Even some kinds of fish. So often leftover meat from a pork roast, for instance, loses that juiciness once it’s cooled down and chilled, so you need something to moisten every bite. I can see this as a great condiment in sandwiches too. I can’t wait to try this on a turkey or meatloaf sandwich. I don’t know that I’ll be eating it straight out of a bowl because it does have a vinegary sharpness. Muffled by the sugar, though. Overall: delicious. And did I tell you it was EASY?

This little note is being added nearly a month later . . . I still have these peppers in the refrigerator. They’re fine. Just fine. I served it recently as a side with grilled sausages for dinner. All that vinegar in them  must keep them preserved well.
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open recipe in MC)

Peppers for Cold Meats a la Escoffier

Recipe: Auguste Escoffier via the Wednesday Chef blog
Servings: 16 (makes about 4 cups)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion — minced
1 pound red bell peppers — washed, cored, seeds removed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices (allspice and nutmeg)
1 pound ripe tomatoes — drained (most of a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes works)
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 cup raisins [I used golden]
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar

1. Put the oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion very fine, add to the pan and fry over low heat until softened. Add the peppers, salt, ginger and mixed spices, and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, raisins and sugar. Add the vinegar; cook over very lot heat, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook with the lid off for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Per Serving (approximately 1/4 cup): 72 Calories; 4g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on October 30th, 2008:

    Good evening, I made this also. Delicious is all I can say!

    Hi Melynda – yes, I agree. Those peppers are delicious. I’m looking forward to having them for a few weeks on various and sundry things. . . . Carolyn T

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