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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2021, I’ll still participate, but the two daughters are going to do more posting from here on out.

We participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) if you purchase any books recommended (below), or buy products occasionally mentioned on the blog with an amazon link. 

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BOOK READING:

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping. This book is about a young man, a young father also, who loses his beloved wife. He’s barely functioning, trying to get through a day, taking care of his young son. And visiting the cemetery (the one in Montmartre, Paris). There are several peripheral characters (his son, a neighbor and best friend of his departed wife, a good guy friend too, plus a young woman he befriends at the cemetery). As a parting request, his wife asks him to write 33 letters to her after she’s gone, and to put them in a special box hidden in the cemetery monument. And that begins the story.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. It became a monument, of sorts, a lovely garden too, and people became friends, heard their stories of the tsunami and watched as they approached the phone booth, entered, and began to talk solemnly to their loved ones. This book is just amazing. I found myself tearing up several times. Maybe not for everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating the poignancy of this special phone booth. And what it did to heal people through grief. I sure could identify.

As you’ve read here many times, I marvel at authors who come up with unusual premises for their books. This one Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly’s Royal Wedding. And yes, it IS somewhat about Grace Kelly’s wedding, but most of the novel is about a young woman perfume designer, Sophie, who accidentally rescues Grace Kelly from the relentless photographers who hound her every move. It begins when Grace visits Monaco for the Cannes Film Festival, and a few days later she meets Prince Rainier. Young Sophie becomes Grace’s friend, and actually, so does the relentless photographer. I can remember when Grace Kelly married the Prince – the fairy tale come true. It was quite the big news (I was in my late teens then). Definitely this story is a romance, but not the sappy type you may be used to. Loved the book.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. The book IS a novel, but the event is true. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. On the voyage the ship encounters a hurricane and several giraffes are lost, but two young ones survive. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission. A young boy (barely an adult) becomes the driver (his only goal is his desire to go to California), with the zoo’s delegate (a middle-aged man with a past), and it’s the story about these two misfits and their caring for the giraffes, feeding them (that’s a laugh – onions play a big part). No freeways existed back then, and the mental picture of the vehicle they used (basically a small truck) with the two giraffes confined within two tall boxes precariously strapped to the truck, and their driving and carrying-on getting under bridges and over rivers is just a hoot. I so wanted this story to be true – parts of it ARE true. Worth reading if you enjoy such animal stories. The giraffes survive, thankfully, and they both lived to a ripe old age at the zoo!

Also a kind of quirky book by Beth Miller, The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright. Picture a middle-aged woman, slogging through life with a not-very-attentive husband, grown children, and one day she decides to leave. Completely. Maybe she had a bucket list of sorts, and she knew none of those places would ever happen in her life if she stayed put. She sets off to find a long-lost girlfriend. The book is about her journey. Her travels. Friendships, and lost friendships. Everyone can probably empathize with Kay Bright as she examines her life. And yes, there are letters and chapters with her daughter, Stella. Cute book.

Katherine Center’s book, Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel is certainly vivid. There aren’t very many women firefighters out there in the world – this is about one. A novel, however. About her work life and the harrassment she endures (some of it’s with love, some not) and about her relationships. The pros and cons of transferring to a different fire station (just like any job move, not always smooth). Good read.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman. Such relationships were fraught with problems from the very strict Japanese families who resented the American presence in their country, to the American military higher-ups who made it impossible for the servicemen to marry Japanese nationals. Could hardly put it down. Yes, it’s a romance of sorts, but not in the typical sense of today’s novel-romance-writing. There aren’t always happy beginnings, middles or endings, but the in between made for very interesting reading.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s. Wow. What an eye-opener. Of their small but loyal family enclaves, the hard-scrabble lives they led, the near poverty level of farming. I’d never heard that any Indian migrants were a part of farming here in California. Obviously they made up a very small percentage of the immigrants who settled there.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war. Fascinating glimpse into the hardships not only for patients (the war-wounded) but for the underappreciated and hardworking staff at various hospitals (even a tent one in Normandy where she worked for many months after D-Day). She meets her to-be husband and even that is fraught with difficulty from many angles.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. My friend Ann recommended it. I was gripped with the story within the first paragraph, and it never stopped until I turned the last page. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. Some very ugly things happen at that school. Eventually they  escape, and they are “on the run.” With a few others with them. If you loved Huckleberry Finn, you’ll have a great appreciation for this story as they use a canoe to get themselves down river. Never having very much to eat and getting into trouble way too often, and authorities on their tail. Well, you just have to read the book to find out what happens.

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

 

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 February 14th, 2021.

moroccan_lamb_meatball_shakshuka

Cross the pond to Morocco. Delicious dinner dish. There are a bunch of tiny lamb meatballs simmering in a rich tomato stew. Then the succulent steamed eggs on top.

Certainly I’m mixing cuisines here. I’ve just begun following a blog called MarocMama. Amanda (an American, I believe) resides in Morocco, and lives in a typical communal family household with her Moroccan husband, their children and his extended family. She writes about travel and food, and her cross-cultural lifestyle. When I saw this recipe, my mind went immediately to shakshuka. Amanda called this a kefta (for the little lamb meatballs). But with the eggs on top, well, it was nothing short of shakshuka for me.

[Shakshuka] was brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews as part of the mass Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim lands, where it has become a characteristic feature of the local cuisine. Shakshouka is typical of North African and Arab cuisine and is traditionally served in a cast iron pan or, in Morocco, a tajine. It is a Maghrebi dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion and garlic, and commonly spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Egg shakshouka evolved from an Ottoman meat stew, also called shakshouka, into a vegetarian egg-based dish. Maghrebi Jews brought it to Israel, where it has become a characteristic feature of Israeli cuisine.. . from Wikipedia

And shakshuka is not usually a meat dish, either, so as I said up top, I’m mixing cuisines and cultural lines. Please no hate-mail! I’d purchased some ground lamb recently and knew I wanted to try this dish. I don’t own a tajine, but I knew that a wide skillet (iron one, even, although I used a nonstick high sided pan to make this) would work. I followed Amanda’s recipe mostly, but did make a few changes. Do use a pan that has a lid.

Recently I read on Food52 about a new-ish method of treating ground meat (that actually came from Cook’s Illustrated) with the addition of baking soda and water. Why? So glad you asked . . . sprinkling a mixture on ground meat helps the meat retain moisture, so it only gives off fat. And oh, does it ever work!

Typically, this dish served in Morocco would have a pile of some kind of soft or crusty bread on the side (chunks of a French baguette, or something similar to naan) so you could scoop up a meatball with the sauce, and drag it through a bit of the oozing egg. However, if that last part’s not your thing, you can cook the eggs until they’re hard and not drag the egg into it unless you wanted it.  You could even leave out the eggs – – but then it wouldn’t be shakshuka anymore, just so you know . . . but then, this recipe never started out to be shakshuka. I just renamed it. It began as kefta.

tiny_lamb_meatballsSo first off, I mixed up the lamb meatball ingredients, then I poured in a stirred-up concoction of 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1 T water. Then I squished the meatball mixture well, so the baking soda would be distributed. Then it needs to sit for 15 minutes, to soak in, to do it’s thing . . . which is to draw in the water in the meat.

You don’t brown the meat in this recipe. The little meatballs are dropped into the tomato-y sauce you make. While the meat is sitting for the 15-minute soak in baking soda/water, I started the sauce. First it was onion, then garlic, in some EVOO. Turmeric is added, some half-sharp paprika (or use regular paprika and a generous pinch of cayenne), salt, cumin. After the onions had softened a lot, I added in a large can of good San Marzano tomatoes. Next time I make this I won’t add all the juice from the can, as it made a bit too much “soup.” Amanda uses large fresh tomatoes, but I didn’t have any fresh tomatoes at all, so canned would have to do. They happened to be the whole type, so I needed to squish them in my hand to break the tomatoes up into edible chunks. Do simmer that mixture for awhile so the lovely cumin and turmeric spices can mingle with the tomatoes.

That mixture simmered while I made the meatballs. The recipe indicated forming them into tiny grape-sized meatballs. Wow, is that hard! I made about 38 meatballs (pictured) from the one pound of ground lamb.

moroccan_lamb_meatballs_shakshuka_full_panAmanda mentioned in the recipe that if you crowd the meatballs, they won’t absorb as much flavor from the lovely tomato stew, so to use the extra for another dish. As it turned out, I did have a small bunch of meatballs left over, so am going to make a soup with them in the next few days. I cooked those meatballs in a small frying pan, and there was not one speck of water-type moisture in the pan – only the fat. So easy to do.

Above you can see the full pan. I’m hoping you can see the meatballs a little better. I simmered the tomato mixture uncovered for awhile to try to reduce the amount of soupy liquid. And I only used two eggs, because I’m just a family of one. I’ll be having leftovers one of these evenings.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was delicious. Wonderful. So full of flavor – from the lamb, the turmeric, the cumin, and the good San Marzano tomatoes. Loved it. Even the soft, runny eggs. Such a break from tradition to have eggs in a lamb and tomato stew.

What’s NOT: nothing really. Took a bit of time to make the meatballs, but otherwise it was easy enough. You could probably do this in a little over 45 minutes if you start the tomato stew first.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Moroccan Lamb Meatball Shakshuka

Recipe By: Adapted from MarocMama blog
Serving Size: 4

MEATBALLS:
1 pound ground lamb — or beef, or combination of both
1 tablespoon garlic — minced
1/2 onion — finely diced
1/2 teaspoon salt — scant
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley — finely diced
1/2 teaspoon baking soda — mixed with 1 T water
TOMATO SAUCE:
2 tablespoons olive oil — (2 to 3)
1/2 onion — finely minced
28 ounces canned tomatoes — San Marzano, reserving some of the liquid for another use
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika — half-sharp, or use regular plus a pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon flat leaf parsley — minced
1 teaspoon garlic — crushed
3 large eggs — or one for each serving

1. In a bowl combine the ground meat with crushed garlic, onion, salt, and paprika and a small handful of chopped Italian parsley. Mix well with your hand to combine all of the ingredients. Pour in the mixture of baking soda and water, and massage into the meat. Set aside for 15 minutes for the soda to do it’s job of retaining moisture in the meat.
2. Roll into about 35-40 small balls slightly larger than a grape.
3. In a tajine (or use a large skillet with a lid) add 2-3 tbsp olive oil and minced onion. Place the tajine on the stovetop on medium heat, using a diffuser if you have an electric range.
4. Mix in turmeric, spicy paprika (sudaniya in Morocco), salt, ground cumin, chopped Italian parsley and crushed garlic. Pour in the tomatoes with only about half the liquid from the can and stir well.
6. Arrange the meatballs in the tomato stew so that they each have a little space to soak up the sauce. If you have more meatballs than space in the tajine reserve them for another dish. Each meatball needs enough room for some sauce to surround them. I used a heat diffuser so the mixture would simmer very slowly, and for the next section of cooking the eggs.
7. Cover the tajine and continue to cook on low. Check after 30 minutes. Once the meatballs are cooked through, crack 3 (or more) eggs and place on top of the meatballs and sauce. Cover the tajine again so that the eggs can cook through. Some people like the eggs to be steamed just until they are set but the yolk still is runny. You may also cook the eggs until the yolk is hard.
8. Serve and eat by scooping up bites of meatball and egg with crusty bread.
NOTE: You could also serve this with rice or couscous and scoop servings of the meatballs and the tomato stew with an egg on top onto each plate or bowl.
Per Serving: 511 Calories; 38g Fat (65.8% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 222mg Cholesterol; 1301mg Sodium; 9g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 135mg Calcium; 7mg Iron; 846mg Potassium; 317mg Phosphorus.

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