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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 Beverages, Brunch, Desserts, on May 25th, 2013.

horchata_lua_2

Horchata is a refreshing rice-based drink from Latin America. It’s very easy to make, and if you’re so inclined, you can add some Kahlua to it as we did. Not traditional, but oh-so good.

Recently our four-couple gourmet group got together for a brunch. What fun we had, even though it wasn’t a nice day – one of those cloudy, overcast days that we, here in Southern California, don’t understand much, except in June, when we usually  have that kind of weather for the entire month, hence we call it “June Gloom.” But it was on Cinco de Mayo (the 5th). Early May!

One of the gals brought my Tuscan Sangria with Tuaca. We had 4 different salsas with chips (2 of them you’ll see here in a few days), then our main food included a egg/chile/cheese baked dish, caramelized carnitas tacos served with hot flour tortillas, guacamole and slivers of radishes. We also had a no-bake vegetarian enchilada dish that was surprisingly good. I’ll post that too. This, our dessert, was a horchata milk shake. I’d seen the recipe in Food and Wine, and since I like horchata, this one, with ice cream, sounded more like a dessert than a beverage to serve with a meal. So that’s what I did. And most of us ended up adding some Kahlua to the drink – making it a boozy drink, but not much. Just enough to taste it.

Horchata (hor-chaatah) is an agua fresca (meaning fresh water). All agua frescas are non-alcoholic and are common refreshing drinks served all over Latin America. In many Mexican restaurants here in California anyway, they serve some type of agua frescas – either horchata or tamarindo (tamarind) or hibiscus (also a favorite of mine – have never made it, I just buy it when I see it). We visit a Saturday morning farmer’s market some miles from us, and one of the food trucks there almost always has the hibiscus agua fresca, or the tamarind one. They’re all sweet, including horchata.

Anyway, horchata is easy enough to do, but since I’d never made it before, it was all new to me, other than I knew it was rice based. First I measured out rice, added water and whole cinnamon sticks (horchata typically is a cinnamon flavored drink). That sat overnight (out on the kitchen counter, not refrigerated). You remove the cinnamon sticks (see ERRATA below), then pour the entire mixture into the blender. The rice was not cooked at all, but after it sat in liquid all night, it was softened somewhat. Nothing is heated up during the making of horchata. I turned on the blender and let it go a bit, then added in some toasted sliced almonds, sugar and cinnamon. And here’s the most difficult thing you’ll do – pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Do NOT try to push the mixture through – you want the sieve to catch whatever rice it can, although it is ground up, you understand! I poured in about a cup and just let it sit until it had drained through. I rinsed the sieve and did it again, and again. It will take a few minutes for that, but truly that’s the most time consuming thing you’ll do making horchata.

Kahlua Tip:

If you do add Kahlua to this drink, don’t use much – you still want to taste the cinnamon, banana and almond flavors.

At that point in the making I poured it into a pitcher and refrigerated it (several hours before our get-together). When I was ready to serve it I put it back in the blender, added sweetened condensed milk, the banana, vanilla ice cream and ice. I tasted it and put in a tiny bit more horchata_lua_1of the sweetened condensed milk. Truth to tell, in our drive to the hosts’ home, my pitcher, with lid, slid and some of the horchata ended up on the carpet in my car’s trunk. Ooph! I wasn’t sure how much quantity I really had left, so needed to guesstimate how much to add in. Pour into glasses, add a straw and sprinkle the top with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

OPTIONAL: I served the horchata milk shakes in silver tumblers – they’re actually mint julep cups. Some people were drinking coffee with whipped cream on top and Kahlua was on the table. One person added a little jot of Kahlua to their horchata and he made very noisy mmmmmm’s, so someone else added Kahlua, and in short order nearly everyone had added Kahlua. Knowing that horchata is really a non-alcoholic drink, I wasn’t so sure it would be a good thing! Oh, was I wrong. It was fabulous. My only caveat: don’t add too much Kahlua or it does overpower the delicacy of the cinnamon, almond and banana flavors.

ERRATA: I have to confess, I forgot to take out the cinnamon sticks after the rice had soaked overnight. I glanced at the recipe and didn’t see the instructions. I just missed it. So our horchata was a bit grainy from the ground-up cinnamon – but you know what? Everyone seemed to love it that way. They said they liked it grainy and would definitely do it that way if they made it. Well, okay then!

What’s GOOD: every little sip of it was fantastic. I’d definitely make this again, with or without the Kahlua. I didn’t mind the grainy texture from the cinnamon sticks, but that’s up to you. Traditionally, remove the cinnamon sticks! You could lighten up the recipe some by using sugar-free ice cream, or light ice cream. There’s also low-fat sweetened condensed milk in grocery stores too. This one’s a keeper.
What’s NOT: nothing. Absolutely nothing wrong with this at all!

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Horchata Milk Shake

Recipe By: Food & Wine, May 2013
Serving Size: 4 (maybe 5)

1 cup long-grain white rice — rinsed well
3 cups water
4 medium cinnamon sticks — cracked
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon — plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 banana — (2 ounces)
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup ice
OPTIONAL: Kahlua to taste, about 2 tsp per serving

1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, 3 minutes. In a small bowl, stir 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes. Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. Rinse out the blender.
4. Return the horchata to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend. Pour the shake into glasses, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top and serve.
5. OPTIONAL: Add Kahlua to each glass (about 2 tsp). Don’t overdo the Kahlua as it will overpower the delicate cinnamony flavor of the horchata.
Per Serving (this is off some because you don’t consume all the rice – some yes, all? no): 482 Calories; 15g Fat (26.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 91mg Sodium.

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