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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 Salads, on January 7th, 2016.

spinach_jicama_orange_saladAn absolutely lovely spinach salad. A special occasion salad, for sure – lovely for the holidays, although I’m not posting this until now, in January. With the fruit in it (and the pomegranate molasses in the dressing), it has a nice sweet tinge to it. It’s beautiful, too. The photo was Phillis’ from the class. My photo was good, but hers is better.

Last month my friend Cherrie and I attended a bonanza cooking class in San Diego. The venue where our favorite cooking teacher, Phillis Carey, taught, closed a couple of months ago. That was a sad day.

Once a year Phillis and Diane Phillips taught a double class, usually in December, that were recipes for the holidays. So Phillis and Diane found a new venue, although I think it may be the only time they teach there, so I won’t even tell you about it. Where it was held was not important anyway.

Diane prepared an Italian inspired menu. I’ll share 2 recipes from that one – a delish gratin, and some Brussels sprouts. Oh, and a very nice filet mignon. Later on those . . .

Phillis did a more California-ish menu – a shrimp cocktail, this salad, a buttermilk-brined pork tenderloin that was to die for, a really fantastic savory bread pudding, some unusual green beans with a tomatillo salsa, and the finale was a chocolate tres leches tiramisu. Oh my gosh, was it wonderful.

But today we’re just going to talk about this salad. Luscious salad. I think I could eat this salad at least once a week, but it takes a bit of prep, so no, I won’t be doing that. If somebody would make it for me, then absolutely, I’d be asking for it on the menu every week.

Tip: buy pomegranate molasses to make the vinaigrette if at all possible. Otherwise you can boil down pomegranate juice to make it yourself. The vinaigrette for this salad is just so good – the pomegranate molasses gives it the sweetness, but it’s tempered by balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar. The salad itself is just spinach, jicama that’s julienned into itty-bitty pieces, a red onion that’s soaked in acidulated water (to take the sharpness and heat out of it), fresh oranges (or use mandarin oranges, canned) and a modicum of fresh pomegranate seeds that you can buy at Trader Joe’s already prepped. So easy.

Phillis prepared a candied pecan to go on this, but I’m giving you the recipe for the peppered pecans that have been a big-time favorite of mine for years. You can make those a day or so ahead of time. This is a sturdy salad (from the spinach) so you could get everything ready ahead of time and just toss it all at the last minute.

What’s GOOD: this salad is special. A real special-occasion type salad, but if you had the dressing made and the pecans already prepared, well, you could throw this together in no time. The jicama takes a bit of time to prepare – if you have a mandoline, then you could do it in a flash. Jicama is a bit unwieldy to work on, but it added a really nice crunchy texture. The jicama soaked up the red colored dressing, so it was also juice and tasty. Altogether delicious salad. A winner.

What’s NOT: well, all I can say is the time it takes to prepare. More than a normal green salad for sure. But you’ll be wowed when you eat it, so it might make all the effort worthwhile.
printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spinach, Jicama, Red Onion and Orange Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
PEPPERED PECANS:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pecan halves
SALAD:
16 ounces spinach leaves
1 cup jicama — julienned
1 whole red onion — sliced and soaked in vinegar water for one hour, then drained
4 whole navel oranges — or substitute mandarin oranges (easier)
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

NOTES : If you don’t have pomegranate molasses, use 2 cups pomegranate juice and boil it down until you have about 1/3 cup – it’ll be thick and full of flavor. Don’t let it burn.
1. VINAIGRETTE: Combine in a bowl the pomegranate molasses, olive oil, honey, vinegar, mustard, pepper and salt. Can be made ahead by 3 days.
2. PECANS: Place a baking sheet or jelly roll pan next to your range before you start.
3. In a small bowl combine sugar, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
4. Heat a large wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add pecans and toss until pecans are warm, about 1 minute.
5. Sprinkle pecans with HALF of the sugar mixture and toss until the sugar melts. Add remaining sugar mixture and toss again until sugar melts, then IMMEDIATELY pour out onto the baking sheet. Spread nuts out and allow to cool. These will keep, stored in a plastic bag, for about 3-4 weeks.
6. SALAD: In a large bowl toss together the spinach, jicama, drained red onion slices, oranges and enough vinaigrette to coat all the spinach. Plate the salads and top with pomegranate seeds and peppered pecans. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 352 Calories; 27g Fat (66.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 286mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 9th, 2016:

    I am craving a salad today but since pomegranate and I don’t get along and I have no idea about jicama, I would have to leave those out. I do like using oranges in salads though.

    Certainly, leave out the pomegranate, jicama and oranges. But do use the pomegranate molasses, if you can find it. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 10th, 2016:

    You come up with the best salads and dressings, Carolyn! When I am looking for a special one, I can usually find something if I check your recipe index. I made this for dinner yesterday, and it was excellent–the pecans make this salad and any other salad they are featured in. I first made them for the spinach salad with roasted apples and pecans you posted a couple years ago. That one is my favorite of the two, but this one was less work (no need to roast the apples) and very appealing with its mixture of soft and crunchy textures. It would certainly complement a fancy dinner, but I didn’t think it was too much bother for a simple family meal, simple being the key word. Most of the effort for the meal went into the salad, and now there are leftover pecans and dressing, so the next salad will be a snap!

    I agree – this one’s a keeper. So glad you enjoyed it like I did! . . . carolyn t

  3. gayle tucker

    said on January 16th, 2016:

    Carolyn, as usual you have came up with another winner. I made this for our quilt guild and all, save one, enjoyed it. We live in northwest Montana and anything resembling pomegranate molasses does not exist. But, I soldiered on and made the pomegranate reduction and it was delicious. I had some left over and used it as a glaze on a pork tenderloin and it, too, garnered applause. I had never used jicama but will in the future. Nice and crispy.

    I’m delighted! I’ve served this salad several times in the last 6 weeks, and everyone has enjoyed it. I’m lucky that I have a Middle Eastern market near me and they had not one, but SIX varieties of pomegranate molasses. But the reduction works too. So glad the recipe was a hit with your group. . . carolyn t

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