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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 July 27th, 2007.

grilled salmon on watercress salad

If I owned a restaurant, this would probably be my signature dish. I’ve made this so often that I might be able to make it in my sleep. And it is my one-and-only recipe for which I can buy the ingredients in the late afternoon and have dinner on the table by 6:30 or 7:00 – for guests. This is a one dish meal – well, clarify that . . . it’s a grill in one meal. Except for dessert and appetizers, if you’re serving them, you can make this in no time at all. It may be the only recipe in my entire personal cookbook that qualifies. So, take note, if you’d like a company meal with little effort.

My friend Stacey is a good cook, but doesn’t really like spending hours in prep, nor does she have time anymore with two little ones getting into mischief. But after I made this at their house in the Bay Area one weekend several years ago, she said they invited lots of friends over and she got a lot of entertaining done – serving this for every one. So, Stacey, this one’s dedicated to you! You’re my hero!

salmon watercress saladI’ve told you before about Chris Schlesinger. His book, The Thrill of the Grill, is one of my favorite cookbooks. This recipe came from there. This is the fellow I spoke to, telling him my favorite recipe from his book was the Asian Slaw and he gave me this face. If you haven’t read that story, click here. When he signed my cookbook, I hadn’t prepared this salmon dish yet. I just wish Chris was reading my blog and he’d know that this is my favorite recipe to date. And I’ve amplified on his recipe too. I’ve thought about writing to him tell tell him all about what I’ve done to his recipe. But oh well. He’s a famous chef and all. I think I won’t.

For awhile, some years ago, I cut down the amount of the dressing on this salad, to reduce the total fat grams, but have since decided that the full amount is needed; it’s an important component of the dish so it covers the salad sufficiently and you have enough left over to pour a little over the salmon itself. And if you grill vegetables to go with, like I do, then you need a bit more for them too. Salmon has plenty of fat in its tissues, but it’s good fat, so don’t be thrown by the fat content on this one. I’ve done the math and the salad dressing is fairly inconsequential.

watercress saladI do need to talk a bit about watercress. It’s a little hard to find – at least it is here in California. Whole Foods sells some funny kind of young watercress still growing in vermiculite covered in a little root ball. It has different roundish leaves. And has almost no flavor. This is NOT what you want for this. You need the real thing, the kind of watercress that’s actually grown in water. It has fattish stems (which you don’t use in the salad) and wonderful crinkly leaves. The taste is peppery, not to everyone’s taste, I suppose. I love it, though. So seek out good, fresh watercress.

Costco sells this huge slab of boneless salmon. It is farm-raised; not my favorite thing anymore, but I will buy it on occasion. I prefer wild caught now, and if you can find it, by all means do so! You wipe it off, spray it with olive oil spray, then place it on two large pieces of greased heavy-duty aluminum foil, crimp up the edges around the salmon (you don’t seal it or cover it). Add a bit of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, you fire up your grill and start working on the vegetables, whichever ones you decide to use. I like putting something red with this dish – the color is just glorious on a large platter. So, you need red bell peppers for sure, even yellow or orange ones too. Asparagus works also. And zucchini too. In a pinch I’ve also thrown a large quantity of halved cherry tomatoes on the platter at the end (not grilled, of course). And DH’s favorite is small red onions, halved. All the vegies need to be well oiled, then grilled. Then you put on the salmon and it’s done when you begin to see some white foam seep up through the middle of the salmon. At the last minute toss the watercress salad with some of the dressing, spread it down the middle of the large platter, then slide the salmon off the foil and on top of the salad and add the grilled vegies (that you’ve kept hot) around the edges. Serve immediately to raves. Guaranteed.
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Grilled Salmon with Watercress Salad

Recipe: adapted from “The Thrill of the Grill” cookbook
Servings: 6
COOK’S NOTES: This is also excellent made with halibut or swordfish. The salmon is the best, however.
Serving Ideas: Good for a hot, summer night. I’ve served this with asparagus, simply dressed with seasoned rice wine vinegar sprinkled over the spears, or green beans. Sometimes I also decorate the platter with halved cherry tomatoes, to give it some color. If you do the peppers, grill them before you put on the salmon, then push them off to the side when you put the salmon on. This is really a fairly simple dish. Everything can be done ahead except grilling the fish.

2 1/2 lb salmon fillet — max 1″ thick
SALAD & DRESSING:
2 bunches watercress
1/2 medium red onion — thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root — minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper — to taste
2 tbsp sesame seeds — toast in teflon pan
VEGGIES (optional):
3 whole red onions — peeled, halved or quartered
2 pounds asparagus
4 whole red bell pepper — quartered

1. Heat a non-stick pan and toast the sesame seeds, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. They tend to burn quickly, so stir often when they start to brown.
Salad: wash well the bunches of watercress and pull the small stems off and discard the large stems. Dry in a towel. Place watercress and red onion in a plastic bag and keep until ready to serve.
2. Vinaigrette: combine the oil, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, vinegars, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. It is best if this is allowed to sit for a few hours, refrigerated, before dressing the salad.
3. If using vegetables, prepare them, oil them, then grill to your taste, being careful not to burn. Move to the side before they’re completely done and add the salmon.
4. Fish: Spray the top of the salmon with olive oil spray. Using either heavy-duty foil, or two layers of regular foil, spray the foil with olive oil spray, then place fillet on foil and curl up edges to make a sort of a “pan.” Place on grill for 12-20 minutes, or until the inner juices of the salmon have begun to bubble up in the meat (whitish fluid).
5. Immediately before serving, in a large bowl combine the watercress and onion and add most of the vinaigrette to taste – really, taste it to make sure it’s right. Sometimes I add green and/or red leaf lettuce to the salad mixture as well. Pour the salad out onto a large platter and place the hot, grilled fish on top. Pour the remaining vinaigrette over the top of the salmon and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and serve. It says this is excellent served cold although we’ve never done it that way.
Per Serving: 441 Calories; 22g Fat (44.4% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 98mg Cholesterol; 481mg Sodium.

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  1. victoria gilbert

    said on January 18th, 2011:

    I visited your site for the first time today and I am quite impressed I will be using your recipes for my future menus for my catering business. I think that you do and excellent job with the ideas for eye appeal/presentation.

    Sincerely, Victoria Gilbert
    Meals with Victoria

    Thanks very much. I’m honored that you think the recipes are cater-worthy. The salmon dish is one of my very favorites, so hope you enjoy it as well. . . carolyn t

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