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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 Appetizers, on July 18th, 2012.

corn_green_chile_cheese_dip_casserole

This is an OMG dish. Sinful beyond measure. And delicious beyond measure as well. Corn, green chiles and oodles of cheese mixed up and baked. To serve hot with tortilla chips. Make this, okay?

A month of so ago my DH and I drove to the San Diego area to attend the “promotion” events for two of our grandchildren – one from grammar school and one from middle school. We stayed at a Hampton Inn in Poway, near where one of our daughters live. We had dinner in Escondido at a restaurant called Tango, highly recommended over at Trip Advisor (I rely heavily on that website for travel recommendations). But before we headed out to dinner, we stopped in the hotel lobby to enjoy the complimentary happy hour there. My hubby was quite content with the wine they offered and insisted I had to try the appetizer (only one) available. Sure, I said. I dipped a big tortilla chip into a huge heated chafing dish full of ooey-gooey corn dip. As it hit my taste buds I had an ah-ha moment. Oh my goodness. SO good. I took another and did my best to figure out what was in it. I could see corn, of course, and knew there was cheese in it, and green chiles. And then it had some unctuous creamy stuff oozing all around it. Did I say OMG already? Yes, I did. That was it with the tasting – two bites, and I was hooked. But we had to leave, so I didn’t get to taste any further. I walked over to the front desk and asked them about it. The staff said it was provided by a catering company and they have different appetizers each night, but about 3x a week they did serve this corn dip because it’s so popular. But no, they didn’t have a recipe for it, sorry. Oh well, I tried.

So, some time has gone by since that trip, but I hadn’t forgotten the dip. When the occasion arose to make a dip for a big gathering (July 4th), I figured this was the time. I researched all over the internet and found several recipes. I pulled from them all and also added my own twist to it. So my corn_green_chile_dip_mixingrecipe below is my own version – very similar to all the others, but not identical. We had 2 events on consecutive days, so I made a double batch. I used Colby cheese (a mixture of Monterey Jack and Cheddar) and I added a fresh poblano chile that I minced up in the food processor. I could have used just canned green chiles, but I had a poblano in the refrigerator that needed to be used, so I did. I used canned corn because it was easier (some recipes use fresh, some frozen and some canned). One recipe called for Mexicorn (the type that has some green and red bell peppers in it), so I went with that type. It gets mixed up in a big bowl with mayonnaise (that was the unctuous creamy stuff) and grated Parmesan (I used a combo of Pecorino and Parm) plus a generous pinch of red chili flakes, then it’s poured into a casserole dish and baked. That’s it. Done. I made it up a few hours ahead, chilled it, then removed it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking and baked it for 40 minutes. If it’s made at the moment and not chilled, 30 minutes will have it ready to serve. The first night I actually took it on a 30-minute drive, covered with foil and wrapped in a big towel and it was still plenty hot enough when we got there to serve it immediately.

dip_in_scoopIf you serve it right out of the oven be careful – it’s VERY hot. I’d let it sit for 10 minutes at least before serving, so I’ve added that to the recipe info. I served it with those Doritos “scoops” type of tortilla chip – they are just ideal for this dip because it’s a perfect little cup for just the right amount of dip. I put a spoon in the dip for people to use if they wanted. Most people just dipped in the scoop chip. This dish is NOT healthy at all. I’m sorry! But I guarantee you’ll enjoy it if you make it. And just eat two scoops full and you won’t have to feel guilty.

dip_finaleWhat I liked: every, single thing about it. So delicious. So worth making. This is going onto my favorites list, if that’s any indication of how much we liked it.

What I didn’t like: really nothing at all. A definite make again dish. Just don’t count calories, okay?

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

Spicy Corn, Green Chile and Cheese Dip

Recipe By: Adapted from several recipes found on the internet
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: Once baked, if you cover with foil and wrap the dish well in towels, it will keep hot for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have Colby cheese, use Monterey Jack only, or you could use just Cheddar also. If you don’t have a poblano pepper, just add another can of green chiles.

22 ounces canned corn — drained (Mexicorn variety if possible)
14 ounces chopped green chiles — canned, drained
1/2 poblano pepper — minced in food processor
2 1/2 cups Colby cheese — grated
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese — grated (or you may also use one or the other Parm or Pecorino)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes — or to taste, optional
Doritos Scoops chips for dipping

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray or butter an 8-cup baking dish. (If you double the recipe, use a 9×13 pan.)
2. Mix together everything but the chips in a large bowl. Transfer to prepared baking dish. You can make this ahead to this point, cover and chill. When ready to serve, bake, uncovered for 30 minutes (40 minutes if you refrigerate the dish ahead of time), or until golden brown and bubbly around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
3. Serve warm with the corn chips. You could also put this in a small crockpot and heat on low for several hours.
Per Serving: 346 Calories; 30g Fat (73.2% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 531mg Sodium.

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  1. Gloria

    said on July 19th, 2012:

    Wow Carolyn. This dip looks heavenly and sinful all at the same time. You’ve convinced me I need this dip in my life!

    I just noticed you have a write up of Homer’s Odyssey. I absolutely adored that book. Hubby and I are parents to three kitties. 🙂 I laughed, I cried. Loved it.

    Gloria – wasn’t that just the sweetest, most poignant book ever? I loved it too. Do try the dip – you’ll never turn back! . . . carolyn t

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