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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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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