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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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Without just stating my age, let’s just say that I’ve entertained family and friends for holidays, for a whole lot of years. So I’ve had lots of experience making big meals and small meals that seem to go well with holiday entertaining.

After trying to write up this list by holiday type, I gave up and have just listed special foods from my blog that lend themselves well to entertaining. Usually I don’t serve pumpkin for Christmas, and I don’t serve beef at Thanksgiving, but I’ll bet you can figure it out . . . most of these are kind of “special” meal preparations. Some may be more labor intensive, but they’re not all tedious or hard. More likely they’re festive, and maybe use more pricey meat options.

Appetizers:

Sausage Pinwheels
Baked Brie and Apples
Ginger Picks
Bombay Cheese Ball
Goat Cheese Pesto Appetizer
Walnut Fennel Dip
Muhumara – Red Bell Pepper Walnut Spread
Beef:

Beef Tenderloin in Puff Pastry
Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Steak Diane Flambé
Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese
Sizzling Ribeyes with Red Pepper Sauce
Filet Mignon with Wine Hollandaise
Filet Mignon with Mushroom Port Sauce
Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Cambazola Toasts
Herb Garlic Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Mushrooms
Filet Mignon with Bacon and Port Sauce
Grilled Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Sage
Chicken and Turkey:

Bombay Chicken (a big, lovely casserole)
Kosher Turkey and Turkey Gravy
Spatchcocked Turkey
Country Captain Chicken (another big, lovely casserole)
Fish:

Grilled Salmon on Watercress Salad
Halibut Osso Buco
Salmon with Maple Syrup and Thyme
Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique
Lamb:

Leg of Lamb with Sausage, Pecorino and Pine Nuts
Pork:

Kurobuta Ham with Mustard Sauce
Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Mustard
Grilled Rack of Pork with Rosemary, Garlic and Sage
Breads and Breakfast Breads:

Buttermilk Scones (my favorite)
Bishop’s Bread (a loaf type Christmas favorite with chocolate and Maraschino cherries)
Chocolate Scones
Irish Soda Bread with Orange Zest
Welsh Cakes (kind of like scones, but cooked differently)
Pumpkin Raisin Bread (a yeast-raised bread for toast or turkey sandwiches)
Sour Cream Coffeecake with Chocolate
Custard-Filled Cornbread
Refrigerator Raisin Bran Muffins
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Brunch or Big Holiday Breakfast:

Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata – an OMGosh fantastic breakfast dish
Pineapple Upside Down French Toast
Spiced Fruit
Breakfast Eggy Muffin
Breakfast Egg Muffins (yes, these are different)
Ham and Egg Cups with Pesto, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Bananas Foster Croissant French Toast
Twisted Bacon Spirals (baked)
Southwest Eggs Benedict
Brunch Gratinée Eggs
Cookies: (except for the chocolate chip ones, these are all Christmas kinds of cookies)

Cranberry Noels
Blue Chip Chocolate Cookies
Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies
Harlequin Pinwheels
New York Special Slices (like Nanaimo Bars)
Rock Road
Chocolate Kiss Treasures
Brandied Apricot Bars
One Bowl Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Wellesley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee
White Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickery Squares
Almond Spice Wafers (like Moravian Sugar Cookies)
Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Midnight Crackles
Silver Moon Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies
Baked Cinnamon Toasts (OMGosh, so good)
Thin Ginger Cookies
Chocolate Chunk Brownies (thick, rich, decadent)
Desserts:

Classic Brownies
Banana Caramel Chocolate Chip Cake
Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Chocolate Steamed Pudding
Gourmet Cheesecake
Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Pear and Chocolate Tart
Chocolate Grand Marnier Decadence Cake
Triple Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Sauce
Pumpkin Praline Custard (low calorie, believe it or not, and easy)
Pumpkin Spice Gingerbread Trifle
Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting
Mocha Pecan Roll
Cranberry and Porter Trifle
Chocolate Sponge Roll (used to be my standard Christmas dessert)
Apple Crumb Pie
Cranberry Pudding Cake
86 Proof Chocolate Cake
Ginger Apple Cake Torte
Cajun Apple Cake with Brandy Drizzle
Purple Plum Torte
Teddie’s Apple Cake
Salads:

Apple Cherry Walnut Green Salad
Spinach and Berries Salad
Minted Watermelon and Feta
Celery, Date, Walnut and Pecorino Salad
Cranberry, Pecan and Apple Salad with Lime Dressing
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus
Winter Greens Salad with Bacon, Orange, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
Vegetarian:

Cheese Fondue (our family favorite)
Vegetable Coconut Curry (lots of work, but worth making)
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Southwest Corn Cakes
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Rice with Pecans, Garlic and Spinach
Mushroom Risotto (pressure-cooker, easy)
Garbanzo Bean, Feta and Cilantro Salad
Butternut Squash Risotto (leave out the pancetta for vegetarian)
Saffron Risotto Cakes
Cabbage with Corn, White Beans, Raisins and Thyme
Vegetables and Sides:

Baked Onions with Thyme
Brussels Sprouts with Brandy, Orange and Dried Cranberries
Zucchini Gratin
Hashed Brown Casserole
Marinated Brussels Sprouts (a cold salad)
Green Beans with Shallots and Balsamic Vinegar
Asparagus with Chile Butter
Green Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil (I must make this 20x a year)
Gulliver’s Creamed Corn
Mashed Potatoes with Mascarpone Cheese
Peas with Pancetta
Monterey Scalloped Potatoes
BLT Smashed Potatoes
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Crumbled Asparagus
Swiss Chard with Cranberries
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Garbanzo Bean Salad with Feta and Cilantro
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pine Nuts
Corn, Sugar Snap Peas and Bacon Sauté
Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce (oh-so easy)
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus