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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 July 2nd, 2012.

lamb_kebabs_harissa_plate

Something totally different – Moroccan marinated lamb with a fantastic yogurt sauce that contains harissa (a spicy pepper condiment), cumin and coriander. And garlic. I swear I could eat it with a spoon, but it’s ever so much better with a little bit of lamb, or chicken or fish with it. Or pita bread.

harissa_sauce_320Many cultures have some kind of hot sauce associated with it – like salsa, or sambal oelek, that really hot chile pepper mixture from Indonesia. The Vietnamese have their hot sauce too – we fondly call it rooster sauce because it has a picture of a rooster on the bottle. A big jar lives in the door of my refrigerator. In this case it’s harissa, a briskly hot condiment from Morocco. There you can see it right out of the jar – thick and spicy. You don’t want to use much – the amount I spooned up for the picture would be way too much for a standard sauce. Harissa originally came from Tunisia, but has been adopted by many cuisines of the region, Morocco among them. They’re much the same – red chiles, cumin, coriander, garlic and a little bit of oil to smooth it out. You can make your own easily enough too. That jar will likely last me the rest of my life because you don’t use much of it in any one dish, and I don’t make Moroccan, Tunisian or Libyan food with any frequency!

lamb_kebabs_skewersNow then, back to the meal – the lamb. It was marinated overnight in a variety of things like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, coriander, cumin. Most of the lamb soaked up the marinade – how can that be? But it did. We actually served the lamb two ways – butterflied and grilled, and also cut into cubes and threaded onto flat-bladed skewers as kebabs.

harissa_yogurt_sauceThe Harissa Yogurt sauce was ever so simple to make – jarred roasted red bell peppers were whizzed up in the food processor along with garlic, oil, cumin, coriander, Greek (thick) yogurt and seasoned with some salt and the harissa. That’s it. Chill until ready to serve. The sauce will keep for a week or so and could be used on other proteins too.

onion_kebabs_grilledTo round out the meal I highly recommend you also make the side skewers too – red onion wedges and whole dried apricots. I wouldn’t have believed that grilled dried apricots would make such an impression on me – they were wonderful. During grilling the edges get charred, and that caramelized them, of course. Delicious. And the onions – crunchy just a bit and a great accompaniment. They need to be grilled first since they take about 10 minutes longer than the lamb – once done just move them over to a cooler part of the grill while you grill the lamb. Serve with rice or couscous.

Because I had a lot of sauce left over (I made a double batch – far more than needed) I used it about a week later this way, pictured below. This was the broiled lemon salmon recipe that kind of goes with the asparagus pesto – I served it with some freshly made wild sockeye salmon and our dinner guests had a choice of either or both sauces..

What I liked: well, first and foremost I loved the sauce. Did I mention I think I could eat it with a spoon? Yes, well, it’s good! Loved the skewers of onion and apricots too. All worth doing.

What I didn’t like: nothing, really. Delicious meal beginning to end.

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Moroccan Lamb Kebabs with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, 2012 (also from Food Network)
Serving Size: 8

LAMB:
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, minced — minced
2 tablespoons mint — chopped
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper — thawed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 pounds boneless leg of lamb — cut in 2″ cubes
SKEWERS:
16 metal skewers (12″ long)
32 dried apricots — whole, not halves
4 large red onions — each cut in 8 wedges, with some of root end attached
HARISSA YOGURT SAUCE:
1/4 cup roasted red peppers — jarred, drained
1 clove garlic — minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — plain

1. Combine in a large heavy-duty plastic bag: olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt, emon zest, pepper, coriander and cumin. Squish it a little then REMOVE 1/2 CUP to use as a basting sauce.
2. Add lamb to plastic bag and toss. Marinate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, refrigerated.
3. Yogurt Sauce: place red bell peppers, garlic, hot chili paste, olive oil, cumin, coriander and salt in food processor and puree. Stir this mixture into the yogurt. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. Will keep for 2-3 days.
4. Preheat grill. Remove lamb from marinade and drain on paper towels. Thread lamb cubes onto 8 skewers, dividing them equally. On the other skewers thread the apricots and onion chunks alternately. Brush all the skewers with some of the reserved marinade. Sprinkle the onion-apricot skewers with salt and pepper.
5. Grill onion-apricot skewers until onions begin to soften and begin to brown, turning and basting with marinade. Move skewers to cooler part of barbecue if necessary to keep apricots from burning, about 10 minutes. Grill lamb skewers to desired doneness, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare. Serve meat with Yogurt Sauce.

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