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Am just starting News of the World: A Novel by William Morris. 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 requires me to read it. It’s about an old man, during the early, old wild west times, who goes from town to town and people pay him money to read the newspaper to them. (Imagine, there WAS such a job.) By chance he’s asked to take a very young girl to Texas to reunite with her family. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby, raised by them, and she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!).

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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 28th, 2014.

scalloped potato, spinach and corn casserole

Just plain yummy side dish casserole. The Gruyere cheese is what makes it, so don’t skimp by using something else. Use the imported cheese, the real stuff. You can substitute other cheeses, but I think the Gruyere is perfect.

Need a casserole to go with just about any kind of protein? It would be great with steak, pork chops, chicken, even a sturdy, full-flavored fish. Or, you could even eat this as a vegetarian entrée. It’s just SO delicious. As I mentioned above, the Gruyere cheese (it’s a very unique Swiss cheese) is, to me, what makes this dish over the top. It’s not low in calorie, however, since it contains heavy cream and full-fat milk. The potatoes bring enough starch to the dish that it all sticks together beautifully.

spinach_layerThe potatoes, sliced just perfectly at 1/4 inch thick (it helps if you have a slicer to do this) are simmered in the cream and milk until they’re nearly done. Meanwhile you make the corn and spinach mixture which gets layered in between 2 layers of the potatoes. See photo below at left with just one layer of potatoes and the layer of spinach and corn.

potato_corn_spinach_before_baking

Another layer of potatoes goes on top, see photo at right, then you add lots of cheese on top, bake for 25 minutes covered with foil, then 10-15 more without the foil and you’re ready to go. You can also make this the day before, bring to room temp and bake in a low oven to reheat. This recipe is a keeper. From the cooking class recently with Diane Phillips.

My cousin Gary just about made this whole thing for me – we took this to a Christmas Eve dinner at my son’s home. Every last bite – and I mean ever bite, was slicked clean. Had many, many compliments on the dish.

What’s GOOD: every morsel – the cheese, the potatoes, the spinach. Everything.
What’s NOT: it does take a bit of time to put it together – make a big batch so you can have left overs.

printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Potato, Corn and Spinach Gratin

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot — finely chopped
2 cups white corn — fresh or frozen, defrosted
1 pound spinach — washed, spun dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes — peeled, cut 1/4 inch slices
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
More salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup Gruyere cheese — shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (do not use Pam).
2. In a (very) large skillet, heat butter and saute shallot for a minute, doing it slowly to bloom the flavor, until the shallot is soft. Add corn and saute for 2 minutes. Add spinach and saute until it’s all wilted.
3. In another large skillet with sides, heat the milk and cream over medium meat. Add potatoes and cook for 6-7 minutes, or until the potatoes are just barely tender (they will continue to cook during the baking process). Season with salt and pepper and pour HALF of the potatoes into the baking dish.
4. Spread all of the spinach and corn mixture over the top of the potatoes, spreading evenly, then add the remaining potatoes and milky sauce. Spread potatoes evenly, then sprinkle all the cheese on top. (MAKE AHEAD: you can cool the gratin at this point, cover and chill for up to 2 days. Bring to room temp before proceeding.)
5. Bake the gratin for 25 minutes, covered with foil, uncover and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese are golden brown and the gratin is bubbling. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
NOTES: If you’d rather make this in individual ramekins, prepare the same, but bake covered with foil for 10-15 minutes, then uncover for just 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 379 Calories; 27g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 93mg Cholesterol; 218mg Sodium.

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  1. janet

    said on December 28th, 2014:

    Gosh that looks yummy! Diane has some excellent recipes.

    Indeed she does! My family just couldn’t get enough of this. Obviously I didn’t make enough! . . . carolyn t

  2. Kit Schindell

    said on December 28th, 2014:

    Carolyn
    Belated Christmas greetings! This looks wonderful. I can’t wait to make it. Do you think it would freeze well so we could eat half and have the other half later?

    I doubt it would freeze well. Potatoes don’t freeze well, in my opinion. They tend to fall apart. BUT, I just went onto the net and found a post about it on ehow.com.
    http://www.ehow.com/how_8222417_freeze-scalloped-potatoes.html
    That would mean freezing the casserole (adapting this recipe to their method) before you bake it because you cook the potatoes until they’re nearly done in the milk/cream. So, I’d do that much, add cheese, chill, then freeze. Defrost fully, then bake. Try it and let me know!
    . . . carolyn t

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