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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 Lamb, on November 7th, 2008.

mint pesto crusted rack of lamb pomegranate reduction
Oh, sorry for the fuzzy picture here. I only took one photo . . .

If you’re even the least faint of heart with a long recipe, you might want to glance right on by this one. But it’s delicious. Your guests will say wonderful things, but there is a bit of prep to this one. The kind of recipe you definitely would not do for a quick weeknight dinner! This is certainly a special occasion kind of dinner entrée. Nothing about it is hard; trust me. But, time, yes, it does take a bit. You’ll be rewarded, though, with a recipe that is eye appealing and delicious.

Carissa Giacalone, the Food Network Star finalist, prepared this at the class last week. She made a full meal, from appetizer through dessert. This was the entree. She explained that she just hates mint jelly and mint sauce, so she came up with a method of giving lamb the mint it needs but without making it part of a sweet relish or side dish. I liked her idea, although I do like mint sauce (not jelly) when it’s made with fresh mint. So, there’s this mint and basil dry pesto that gets pressed onto the lamb after it’s been browned, then it’s topped with some Panko crumbs that provide some crunch. And once the lamb is baked and sliced, you pour some red wine and port reduction sauce around the plate. The reduction takes awhile – maybe about 30 minutes altogether, but is well worth the effort.
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Mint Pesto Crusted Rack of Lamb with Pomegranate Reduction

Recipe: Carissa Giacalone, from a cooking class
Servings: 4

LAMB MARINADE:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary — minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint — minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme — removed from the stem, minced
2 pounds rack of lamb — 8-9 ribs, frenched & trimmed
LAMB PREP:
2 tablespoons olive oil — for browning the meat
1/2 cup red wine — to deglaze the pan
1/2 cup Panko
MINT PESTO CRUST:
1 1/2 cups fresh mint — lightly packed
3/4 cup fresh basil — lightly packed
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 whole garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt — plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese — freshly grated
POMEGRANATE REDUCTION:
2 cups red wine
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup Port wine — Ruby style
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cold butter — cut into pieces
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1. MARINADE: Mix the oil, garlic, mint, thyme and half the rosemary to a bowl. Add the lamb and coat well. Wrap in plastic wrap and marinate overnight.
2. POMEGRANATE REDUCTION: Place the 2 cups of wine and cup of port in a medium saucepan and boil until it’s reduced to one cup. Whisk in the pomegranate molasses and sugar. Taste for sweetness, adjusting if necessary. Whisk in cold butter just before serving and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Bring lamb to room temperature (about 45 minutes) before cooking. Remove lamb from marinade and scrape off as many of the herbs as possible.
4. MINT PESTO: In a food processor combine the mint, basil, nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper until the herbs are finely chopped, but NOT soft and mushy (they won’t stick to the lamb if they’re like soft mush). If pesto is very dry, add another tablespoon of oil to the mixture (to help it hold together).
5. Preheat oven to 450 F.
6. Heat a large skillet (don’t use nonstick) over medium-high heat until the pan is almost smoking. Add 2 T. of olive oil. Season the lamb with a little salt and pepper and sear, fat side down, until it’s golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan (but reserve the pan).
7. Spread the mint pesto over the fat side of the lamb. Press to help it adhere, then sprinkle top with the Panko crumbs, pressing lightly to adhere.
8. Roast the lamb in the middle of the oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 120-125 degrees F (rare/medium rare). You want to serve it at 125 for rare, and 130 for medium-rare after it’s rested. Remove from oven and rest for 10 minutes tented lightly with foil.
9. In the lamb skillet blot out the excess oil and deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup red wine. Boil and reduce to about 2 tablespoons. Add that reduction to the pomegranate sauce by gently whisking it into the sauce.
10. Carefully cut the lamb between the ribs into individual or double chops, taking care not to loosen the mint pesto crust from the meat. Drizzle pomegranate reduction in a zigzag pattern on the plates, fanning out decoratively. Serve immediately garnished with mint sprigs.

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  1. happylurker

    said on November 12th, 2008:

    i just wanted to comment on something that has been niggling in my brain for some time, on the chance you’d want to know.

    while i thoroughly enjoy your stories, images, recipes, and travel journal, i have always had a difficult time reading your content. while your style is lovely, specifically the bolded font makes the type blurry to me, as well as the smaller text size amplifying this effect. due to both factors, simply increasing the browser size doesn’t help.

    please note that i am a younger reader with reasonably good eyes, and i don’t seem to have this issue when visiting any other blogs or sites.

    it is obvious you work very hard on your posts, but this factor has at times limited the duration of my visits on what is a lovely site.

    thanks for your energy, and for allowing me the chance to share. keep living the beautiful life. : )

    I hope you’re enjoying the blog better these days. My blog guru has at least repaired my font issues and is working on a new design. . . Carolyn T

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