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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 Appetizers, on August 16th, 2007.

crostini with blue cheese, mascarpone, watercress, apple and honey drizzle

Crostini is an Italian word – I think it means little toasts, or something similar. That’s exactly what these are. The recipe calls for a nut or fruited bread. Here in Southern California we can buy bread from La Brea Bakery (Nancy Silverton’s famous bakery, although it’s been sold to a big baking conglomerate). They have a raisin and pecan baguette that is perfect for this crostini. Otherwise find some kind of nut bread or fruit bread if at all possible. You slice and lightly toast the pieces, spread on a little bit of the cheese mixture containing mascarpone and blue cheese, some thinly sliced apples, then you top each one with some watercress leaves, THEN you lightly drizzle the top with honey. Oh. My. Goodness. Delicious. This recipe is going into my TOP FAV’s over on the right column.

Last Fall Cherrie and I attended a cooking class at Our House South County, in San Juan Capistrano. It was all about apples. The cooking school had about 10 varieties of apples from New England shipped to them and they developed recipes all around them. We did a tasting of 6 different apples with 6 different artisanal honey varieties. Gosh were those good. Many of the apples are varieties we can’t buy here in California. They’re never available in our local markets. So they have to be shipped.

Remember my adage about cooking classes – if I come home from a cooking class with even one special recipe that I’ll make, then I count that class as successful and worth the class fee. THIS is the recipe from that class, and I’ve made them several times.

With apples, you sort of have to cut them up just before you eat them or they will turn brown. If you want to get everything ready before you serve them, you could toss the apples with lemon juice, but I’m not crazy about the lemon juice taste on the crostini. So maybe just acidulated water (a bit of lemon juice in a cup of water) would be better. You can leave the skin on the apples – in fact the crostini look prettier with it on, especially if you’re using a red skinned apple. Everything else can be prepared ahead and then it’s just a matter of assembling them. I’ve been known to ask a guest to make them for me. But, you may want to make one and taste it so you know the proportion of cheese to watercress, apple and honey. The honey helps everything stick, so usually you layer the cheese, then the apples, then a bit of watercress, then honey on top.

This is one of those recipes that had I read it in a magazine or a cookbook, I probably would NEVER have made it. Why? Well, I’m not sure I can say. There isn’t anything I don’t like in this combination, but I don’t know that I would have bothered to layer everything up, toast the toasts, etc. Lots of detail work. And yes, that’s true, there is a bit of fussy work to be done to serve these. But the end result is extraordinary. And worth it. Absolutely everyone I’ve served this to has raved about it. So will you, if you try it. I guarantee it.
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Crostini with Blue Cheese, Apples & Watercress

Recipe from: Our House South County Cooking School (now closed)
Servings: 30
NOTES: This sounds kind of ho-hum. But the combination of the mild blue cheese spread with the fresh, crispy apple slices, the watercress for crunch, and the drizzle of honey makes it sublime. I buy La Brea Bakery’s pecan and raisin bread, slice it thin, toast it for about 8-10 minutes at 350. This is best with some kind of fruited bread.

BLUE CHEESE SPREAD:
1 cup mascarpone cheese — softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper — freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups blue cheese — crumbled
CROSTINI:
30 slices baguette bread — nut or raisin, toasted lightly
2 large apple — thinly sliced (use a crisp, sweet apple type like Gala, Honeycrisp)
4 teaspoons honey
3 cups watercress — leaves only
1. CHEESE: Mix mascarpone, cream, lemon juice, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne together in a medium bowl. Gently stir in blue cheese. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
2. CROSTINI: Allow cheese spread to warm to room temperature, then spread it onto the toasted bread slices. On half of the blue cheese spread, place thin apple slices, and on the other half lay a few pieces of watercress, pushing it on slightly so it will adhere. Drizzle the honey over the top and serve.
Serving Ideas : You can’t assemble this ahead, but it doesn’t take much time to assemble if you have everything ready in small dishes. A tray of these will keep at room temperature for about an hour. AND, leftovers the next morning are just fine.
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 5g Fat (38.1% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 280mg Sodium.

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  1. Raven

    said on May 12th, 2008:

    That spread recipe comes from Country Living, So you might have seen it in a magazine.

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