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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, on June 4th, 2012.

shrimp_risotto

Okay, listen up, folks. If you like risotto, this one’s a winner. It’s going onto my “favorites” list, if that gives you a clue as to how delicious it is! It’s the lime juice and lemon juice that “make” this, in my opinion.

We had invited friends over for dinner a week or so ago, so I decided to fix this new recipe I’d acquired at a cooking class recently. I took photos of it at the time, intending to share it here, but then accidentally deleted all the photos. Duh! So I just had to make it sooner rather than later, that’s all.

Avocado Tip:

Did you know that if you rinse cut avocado pieces or slices in tap water it will sit, unaided, for several hours without turning brown? True. Very useful in this recipe.

This recipe does take a bit of prep, but once you have everything ready to go, it’s easy enough to start the risotto itself. You can do all that prep a few hours ahead. I made the marinade but didn’t put the shrimp in it until it was near to dinnertime. I’d prepped all the salsa mixture and I cut up the avocado too. One of the quick tricks Phillis Carey shared with us was about rinsing avocado in water. I guess I’d not heard that one before – if you rinse avocado in cold water, it will sit for a few hours without turning brown. Very simple, eh?

The risotto on its own, without the salsa part is fairly bland. But you add in the tomatoes, green onions, avocado pieces AND the lime juice (a must) it transforms this rice dish to spectacular. The Parmigiano doesn’t hurt, either. The raw shrimp slumber in a citrus marinade for about an hour, then are briefly grilled (you could do this on a stovetop grill too – or even do it in a frying pan if that’s easier). The risotto is like lots of other recipes – uses chicken broth, stirred a lot, then at the very end, when the Arborio rice is almost done (al dente is how you want it – with just a little bit of bite) you add in the colorful stuff – the tomatoes, avocado (and I added in some corn cut off the cob because I had some and remembered how good another of Phillis’ recipes was that included corn in a risotto). I added just a little more lime juice because I loved the tartness of it – be careful and don’t use too much.

Once it’s ready, have everything in place to portion out, garnish and serve before it gets cold. You’ll hear raves at the table, I promise. Even my DH commented to me the next morning how delicious this was. Phillis also said the recipe works equally well with salmon, halibut or sea bass instead of shrimp. I loved the shrimp, though.

purple_plum_torteOur friends brought a very simple baby arugula salad with a sweet lemon juice dressing that was a perfect foil to the risotto. And just because it was so good, I’m also showing you a photo of the dessert I made – it’s already on my blog – a very special dessert since plums are in season these days. This dessert, Purple Plum Torte,  is on my favorites list too – an all-time, highly-requested recipe from the New York Times. If you haven’t made this dessert yet after reading my blog about it, you’re missing a great addition to any menu. I served it with almond-flavored whipped cream.

What I liked: the piquant taste in the risotto (from the lemon and lime juices, I’d guess). I love everything in it and about it.

What I didn’t like: gracious . . . nothing at all. So worth making.

printer-friendly PDF

MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Risotto with Avocado Tomato Salsa and Citrus Grilled Shrimp

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking class, 5/2012
Serving Size: 4-5

SHRIMP:
1 pound large shrimp — cleaned, raw, tails left on (optional: salmon, halibut or sea bass)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon cilantro — minced
AVOCADO SALSA:
1 1/2 whole avocados
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice — or more to taste
3 small plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
2 whole green onions — finely chopped
RISOTTO:
5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine — [I use vermouth]
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — finely grated
1 whole avocado — sliced, then rinsed in cold water
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
4 sprigs cilantro — for garnish
1 cup fresh corn — [optional, my addition]
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, for garnish

1. SHRIMP: In a plastic zip-loc bag combine the shrimp and marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (no longer or the shrimp will begin to “cook” in the acid from the citrus). Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade and thread onto bamboo skewers (use flat ones if you have them, otherwise use two skewers to thread 4 shrimp each). Once you are cooking the risotto, grill the shrimp at the last minute, at medium heat (350) for a total of about 3-4 minutes per side. Don’t over cook them!
2. SALSA: Toss avocado with lime juice in a small bowl. Add tomatoes and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. RISOTTO: Place broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, keeping it hot while the rice cooks. In a large skillet (use wider rather than taller) heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Do not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat rice evenly with the oil and onions. Cook, stirring often, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed.
4. Continue adding hot broth, one cup at a time, stirring constantly between additions, and only add more broth when rice begins to dry. Continue adding broth and stirring until rice reaches an “al dente” state (still a litle bit of bite to each rice kernel). Gently fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, avocado, salsa and cilantro. Add corn (if using) and stir just to warm all the ingredients through. Add more lime juice if you like that flavor – taste it first.
5. SERVE: Spoon generous cups of risotto into bowls and top with a slice or two of avocado, cilantro sprigs, additional cheese. Nestle the shrimp (tails standing up) into each bowl.
Per Serving: 787 Calories; 40g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 68g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 150mg Cholesterol; 1208mg Sodium.

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