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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.

Just finished 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.

Recently finished reading 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.

Also just read 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.

Also read 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 easy, Pork, on June 24th, 2014.

southern_fried_pork_chops

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know I don’t usually FRY things. Sauté yes, but really fry in oil, no. My bottle of canola oil gets used mostly for salad dressings. But I just decided to do something different. In the background on the plate above there are the dry-pan roasted green beans that I’ve made 10 times in the last 6 months they’re so good. And easy.

I searched around the ‘net for “pork chop recipes”, and southern fried pork chops were the top 8 or so. Really?  So I clicked over to several (one on epicurious, and two others from blogs, but were almost identical. I kind of made my own way once I got the gist of the main recipe. A flour-based breading mixture is made (flour, cornstarch, herbs, salt, pepper) and set aside. Another is made with an egg and some milk or buttermilk. The pork chops are dipped first into the flour, then egg, then back in the flour, and ever-so gently placed into the 1/4 inch of medium-hot oil.

One thing I learned (and don’t know if it’s true) is that when you fry foods like this, it’s best to raise the heat of the oil in a gentle manner – i.e., use low heat and then raise it over the course of 10 minutes or so. If you turn the flame up to high right from the get-go, you’ll end up with oil that’s too hot. Some of that makes sense, but some of it sounds crazy. Heated oil is heated oil. Isn’t it? Any of you chemistry types out there know?

Anyway, the pork chops were dutifully dipped in the proper pans and lowered into the oil, and they were done in no time flat. One of the bloggers mentioned using a heat test before you start cooking – dropping a pinch of the flour mixture into the oil – if it bubbles, then it’s hot enough. And during the cooking you do only want the oil to bubble around the meat and not burn the coating.

The cornstarch in the flour mixture gives the breading/coating a lighter texture. Not exactly like a tempura batter, but not far from it. It was nice. I liked it. I used seasonings in my flour mixture (other than the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika that was in most of these recipes). I reached for Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning and added a couple of teaspoons. I don’t really know that I could taste it once it was fried, however. So you could use whatever suits you – like an Italian blend perhaps – or don’t add any at all. In the South I think they’d go for the plain stuff (salt, pepper and garlic powder).

The pork chops bubble around the edges as they’re frying. Be sure the chops aren’t touching – I used a pan that probably could have held more – because several recipes stressed that the chops need lots of space around them. They browned in no time flat, so I turned the heat down just a little bit and turned them over and cooked the 1/2 inch thick chops about 4 minutes per side – my guess. I didn’t time it. It was all by color.

What’s GOOD: how easy it was – only time consuming thing was mixing up the coating mixture. I got everything else finished before I even started the pork chops so I wouldn’t be distracted. They were really good. Not in the “outstanding” category, but it was an easy, quick dinner that was satisfying.
What’s NOT: well, some folks don’t like frying – like deep frying – although these weren’t deep in oil – I used only about 1/4 inch (half way up the chops).

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Southern Fried Pork Chops

Recipe By: Adapted from a website called Taste of Southern
Serving Size: 4

32 ounces pork chops — center cut, bone in (four 1/2 inch chops)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk — or buttermilk (or water)
1 tablespoon mixed herbs — I used Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Cooking oil for frying the chops (canola or vegetable)

1. BREADING: In a small mixing bowl, add the flour, cornstarch, herbs, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and paprika. Stir all ingredients well. Set aside.
2. EGG: Break one egg into a small low sided dish. Add milk and use a fork to mix it well. Mix well enough that there are no little globs of egg white.
3. MEAT: One at a time, dip a pork chop in the flour and coat both sides. Dip the chop into the egg mixture, coat both sides well. Lift and let any excess drip off. Place the chop back into the flour mixture and coat both sides and edges.
4. FRYING: Place about 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Test the oil by sprinkling in a little pinch of the bread mixture – if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Lower the chops into the hot cooking oil, one at a time. Do not crowd them (they don’t want to be touching). Cook for 4-6 minutes.
5. Watch the bottoms of the chop and when they start to brown, flip the pork chops over. Let the chops fry for about 4-6 minutes or until done but not over cooked. Test a chop by cutting into the center to make sure it’s not rare. A little bit of pink is fine. Remove the cooked chops from the skillet, place on a paper towel lined plate and let drain. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 507 Calories; 24g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 165mg Cholesterol; 378mg Sodium.

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