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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 Beef, Pork, on July 29th, 2007.


We may be one of the few cultures to make baked meatloaf. Lots of other cuisines include a ground meat stuffed something (pastry, cabbage, etc.) or small orbs of some kind of chopped meat, but we Americans appear to have invented meatloaf (really, we did), meaning we started with finely chopped raw meat. Mostly I learned, earlier cooks used cooked meat to make any kind of chopped meat dish. I wanted to know more about the history of the dish, and found this:

  • The raw, ground meat commonly used to make today’s American meat loaf has a humble heritage. In the 19th century, we know the Industrial Revolution made it possible for ground meat to be manufactured and sold to the public at a very low cost. At first, many Americans were slow to purchase raw ground meat products and generally regarded them with suspicion. Cooks continued to mince their meat (often already cooked, as was the practice for centuries) by hand. Companies selling meat grinders to home consumers at the turn of the century endeavored to change this practice by providing recipe

Regarded as the ultimate comfort food, there are certainly lots of types of meatloaf. Some with fillers and additions (bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, carrots, onions, eggs, red bell pepper) and many variations of toppings (savory tomato, catsup type, even teriyaki style). But the most common is with a tomato-based sauce on top. I’m no different than the crowd, so this may not be one of the recipes you’re going to try since you may already have a favorite sauce. But for me it’s simply the sweet and sour sauce that is a must here. The recipe came from one of my old 1960’s era military officer’s wives cookbooks, and since I first made it, this has been the standard by which any and all meatloaves are measured. In our family, this is THE recipe, and mashed potatoes on the side are an absolute must. No rice. No pasta. It must be mashed potatoes.

And generally I increase the sauce because everybody loves to put more sauce on the potatoes. So early on I began doubling it. No problem. It’s easy enough to make. I’ve made this with partly ground turkey, and it’s also very good. I think my daughter Sara makes it with all turkey and her family loves it that way. When I make it now I use 50/50 beef and ground turkey. That gives the meatloaf a little firmer texture, which is what we (and most people, I surmise) miss about eating ground turkey. It just doesn’t have the “tooth” to it that beef does. I’ve made this using Splenda (it’s fine) and with Brown Sugar Twin (also fine). So we can still have this but with less carbs.

Back when our children were teenagers we asked each of the kids to choose a weeknight and be responsible for preparing dinner for the family. (We’re a blended family, so between DH and I we have 3 children, two daughters and a son, all in their late 30’s now and for most of their teenage years we all lived together.) We had to plan ahead so the ingredients were on hand, and mostly the kids were pretty good about it. They got to fix one of their favorite meals, and we were all appreciative (at least I think we were). I will tell you that this item was a real “regular” on the menu. Everyone in our family loves this meatloaf and they all learned how to make it because they had to do it.
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Meatloaf with Sweet & Sour Sauce

Recipe from a Military Wives’ Cookbook from the 1960’s
Servings: 6
Notes: Over the years I began to double the sauce recipe because we loved to spoon the sauce over the mashed potatoes, and we never seemed to have enough sauce. The original recipe said you could use either tomato paste or sauce, but we prefer the sauce. If using paste, increase the water in the sauce as it will be too thick. You want the sauce to stick some to the meatloaf, although most of it drips down into the pan.

MEATLOAF:
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or mixed with ground turkey
1 whole egg — beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 ounces tomato sauce
1 medium onion — minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Italian herbs
SAUCE:
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1. Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl combine beef, egg, crumbs, tomato sauce, onion and spices. Mix just enough to combine the ingredients; no more. Mound into a loaf shape and place in baking dish somewhat larger than the meatloaf with at least 1-inch sides. It’s better to use a higher sided dish than a lower, flatter dish.
2. In same bowl combine the sauce ingredients: tomato sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, mustard and Worcestershire. Mix to blend in the brown sugar, then gently pour over the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then slice and serve with more sauce on each slice.
Per Serving: 378 Calories; 25g Fat (60.3% calories from fat); 23g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 564mg Sodium.

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  1. jeanne bee

    said on July 29th, 2007:

    This brought back memories! My mother was a navy wife and this was a fairly frequent dinner!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on July 31st, 2007:

    How fun, Jeanne. Most likely there were thousands of military wives who found that recipe too.

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