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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 Veggies/sides, on August 23rd, 2007.

roasted-asparagus
I was trying to put away a stack of miscellaneous recipes yesterday. I’m an inveterate recipe collector. I even have a sort-of-a furniture piece where I now store all of my clippings and miscellaneous food related paper. It’s a sort of file cabinet, but looks more like furniture. Sort of. Since I’ve been doing this recipe-collecting for about 45 years, there are a LOT of recipes and papers in there. I rarely purge. I have, but not much. I’m always certain that as soon as I do so, I’ll decide I really wanted that recipe.

These are rattan-type baskets inside a kind of 3-shelf stand in a wrought-iron frame. Doesn’t look like a file cabinet, exactly, and isn’t too unsightly. It sits in a hallway about 15 feet from my kitchen. When I file, I have to take a chair there and sit and sort. Because it’s not very convenient, I tend to pile up recipes and other filing (restaurant reviews, and a little bit of other food trivia stuff) until I have a bunch to go through. There are frames inside each basket which allow you to hang Pentaflex folders, so then I have pocket file folders for lots of food categories. You can see one pocket folder sticking up there. In case you’re interested, you can buy this piece at FurnitureFind. That’s not where I bought it, but since I couldn’t remember where it came from, I did a search and they do have it for $218.

So, I got distracted there. I was going through my stack of recipes to file. I was really trying to find a cauliflower and bacon soup I’d made awhile back (we had some from the freezer the other day and it was just wonderful, but I can’t find the original recipe . . . I’d like to make it again). But while sorting I ran across this recipe for asparagus. Brought back a pleasant mouth-watering memory.

I really should be posting this in about March when asparagus hits the markets in abundance. We can buy it year around, but surely it’s at its peak in the late spring. Some years ago I bought a Dacor oven. I L-O-V-E my Dacor oven. It has convection and regular baking options. I’d had a convection oven before, but never seemed to figure out, exactly, the best ways to use it, or when NOT to use it. So I was delighted to know that I could attend a cooking class at the Dacor headquarters, which are here in Southern California. In fact they’re only about 15 miles from our house. My friend Cherrie, who also owns a Dacor full range, and I have been to 2 or 3 Dacor classes. They’ve been great fun. Some are for Dacor owners; others you can attend for a fee.

Twice now she and I have been to the convection class. We keep needing refresher courses. I probably should have some kind of cheat-sheet I use to help me decide whether to use convection or not. Even with classes, I don’t always know. But this recipe was by far the standout recipe for convection use. And it was served both times, and I’ve made this innumerable times myself. It’s super easy. And scrumptiously delicious. I could make an entire MEAL of this asparagus. Don’t overwhelm the piquant flavors with a complicated or highly spiced entree. Allow the citrus flavors to bloom and predominate. The first time I made this, for a company dinner, I bought 3 pounds of asparagus, assuming we’d have lots of leftovers. At least that was my plan. Ha. Gone. All gone.
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Roasted Asparagus with Chile Citrus Butter

Recipe: Dacor
Servings: 6

2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice — freshly squeezed
1/2 cup lemon juice — freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
salt and pepper — to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375° on pure convection, if available. Cut off the ends of the asparagus. Rinse to remove any dirt or debris. Dry them on a dry towel to remove all moisture and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before proceeding.
2. Layer the asparagus in a flat pan and season with salt and pepper, then drizzle on some olive oil, and toss with your fingers to cover all of the asparagus.
3. Bake for 15 minutes if they are of medium thickness. Use fewer or more minutes depending on asparagus size. If you don’t have a convection oven, just increase cooking time by a little bit.
4. Meanwhile heat a small saucepan containing the lemon and orange juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-6 minutes until the juice is reduced by half. Whisk in the butter, cayenne, salt and pepper. When asparagus is cooked, toss with this dressing and garnish with lemon and orange zest.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 11g Fat (69.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 61mg Sodium.

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  1. Elizabeth eeclegg@yahoo.com

    said on August 23rd, 2007:

    Love your soup library photo, wish I had one! I’ll have to start, thanks for sharing your tips.

    I have made the Grandgirl’s Apple Cake recipe you have in your recipes, its so good, great one to have on hand during apple season.

    The Califlower Bacon soup you mentioned sounds really good, I really like califlower soup but have never made one with bacon, of course it would be good! Do you think this might be the recipe you tried? http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/236879. If not, I hope you post it when you find it. Thank you!
    Elizabeth.

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