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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 Salads, on September 23rd, 2012.


I’m always surprised when I run into someone who’s never had panzanella before. I’ve been making it every summer for years and years. Probably for 20 or so. But maybe some people, when they read it, say huh? Thinking that it doesn’t appeal, or something? I really don’t know. But they’re missing out. Truly!

Over the years I’ve figured out what I love about panzanella: (1) the bread; (2) the tomatoes; (3) the combo of flavors; and (4) the texture of everything. In a way it’s like an unstructured gazpacho, sort of. The most important ingredients are the bread and tomatoes, though. The bread because it soaks up the juices from the tomatoes and whatever dressing you toss with it. The tomatoes, because this dish showcases true summer tomato succulence – the best thing about tomatoes – when they’re big, fat, juicy and flavorful.

A couple of years ago I posted a recipe for a Grilled Panzanella Salad. And it’s a good one – a bit more of a standard or traditional panzanella. This one today, though, veers off to the untraditional because I added a bunch of things that don’t normally go in one – like green beans, corn, arugula, fresh mozzarella, capers and tarragon. And I just LOVED this salad. It’s the best panzanella I’ve ever had. Period. I had my DH grill the bread for it, and he also grilled the corn and the bell peppers. I harvested tarragon, basil and tarragon from the garden to toss in it too.

I had  some beautiful, huge tomatoes which is why I decided to make this salad. What better way to taste the deliciousness of summer tomatoes. I chopped up some hothouse cucumber, scooped in a little bit of capers, a few Kalamata olives (pitted and halved). I added in the grilled corn (cut off the cob after the grilling) and the chunked-up bell peppers. Scoops of fresh arugula was added in along with the mozzarella balls. Then I added the grilled and cubed sourdough bread. I add the tomatoes last because I like the juices from the tomatoes to soak into the bread. Lastly, a wine vinegar based vinaigrette is drizzled over it0. Toss and serve! To raves.

What I liked: every solitary thing about it. Deliciousness with every bite!

What I didn’t like: Absolutely nothing!

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Summer Grilled Panzanella Salad

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: I prefer this salad made with relatively fresh bread – if it’s allowed to completely stale it gets hard. I let a sourdough loaf sit out at room temp overnight, then slice it, grill it and cut it up into cubes. The inside of the cubes still have some softness. Once the salad is completed, I like the bread to still have some dry bits (that happens only if you eat it instantly). If you prefer a wetter salad, just increase the dressing by about half. The fresh tomatoes provide a LOT of fluid which soaks into the bread anyway. The dressing just adds a bit of piquant. Don’t make this – under any circumstances – unless tomatoes are IN season.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic — mashed & minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
14 ounces sourdough bread
Olive oil spray
1 cup hothouse cucumber — chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons Kalamata olives — halved lenghtwise
3 whole bell peppers — red, orange and yellow
2 whole corn on the cob
1/4 cup fresh basil — chopped (use more if you like it as much as I do)
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon — minced (optional)
3 cups arugula — chopped some
1 cup fresh mozzarella — little balls or small chunks
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes — peeled, large chop
1 cup green beans — cooked and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine vinaigrette ingredients and set aside for up to 2 hours.
2. Cut sourdough bread into 1-inch thick slices. Trim crusts off the bread. Spray with olive oil spray.
3. Prepare grill and quickly grill bread on both sides so it has grill marks, but it’s still a bit soft inside, 2-3 minutes over a hot fire. Set aside and when cool enough to touch, cut into bite-sized cubes.
4. VEGETABLES: cut bell peppers into big flat pieces, discarding core. Spray veggies with olive oil spray. Grill peppers and corn so both have grill marks, but don’t over cook them. Set aside and leave at room temp. Remove corn from the cob. Chop peppers into 1-inch chunks.
5. SALAD: In a large bowl combine all the ingredients – everything except the bread and dressing. Pile the grilled bread on top. Stir vinaigrette vigorously before starting to toss the salad. Pour the vinaigrette as evenly as possible over the bread and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 477 Calories; 23g Fat (41.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 569mg Sodium.

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