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Just finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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.

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 April 30th, 2016.

indian_spiced_cauliflower

Can I see frowns on your faces? Curry? Oh, I don’t like curry, you say, skip this recipe. Well, you’ll be missing out if you don’t at least try it. There is so little curry in this you can’t exactly identify it. Yet it adds a very elusive flavor.

A couple of weeks ago (when I made this) I’d just gotten home from a 5-day trip to Northern California to visit Taylor, my granddaughter who’s attending Sonoma State, and my daughter Dana and her family near Placerville. Once home from the trip I knew I needed to use up some things in my refrigerator and a head of cauliflower was first on the list.

And actually, when I threw together a dinner the next night (you know how it is – you get back from a trip – there’s laundry to do, phone calls to return, mail to go through, bills to pay) and I didn’t have much time to cook dinner. And it wasn’t even in my mind that the recipe would be worthy of a post here on the blog. I just needed a quick dinner and I’d get back to the things that needed doing.

I drizzled some canola oil into a frying pan and then added a bit of butter too. While it was heating up I quick-like sliced and chopped up the cauliflower. The pieces that I sliced were the ones that had more of the caramelization, so I’d vote for doing a lot of slicing rather than floret-ing. I grabbed my bunch of cilantro and twisted off a little chunk to mince. Once the pan was just about smoking (be careful as the butter could burn, and you don’t want that) I threw in the cauliflower, turned the heat down just a bit, turned on the overhead fan and let those pieces caramelize. It doesn’t take long – there is a fine line, though, between hot and burning. It took very little time to get those pieces of cauliflower to brown. I tossed and stirred, along with the bit of dried thyme I sprinkled over it. Once browned to my liking, I added some water to the pan, on went a lid and I let it steam for about a minute. Just a minute. Then I sprinkled on the curry powder, salt and pepper. I tasted a piece because I did want the cauliflower to be done. Oh my goodness was it delicious – so into that little bowl it went – and I took a photo.

As it happened I only cooked a half of a head of cauliflower, but shall I just confess? I ate it all. Every single bit. Does that tell you how wonderful it was? In my defense, I will say that it was a small half head!

What’s GOOD: If you read my last sentence, I ate a half of a cauliflower when I made this. The entire amount. It was that good. The curry powder (I use Madras because I like that type, but you can use any curry powder) isn’t predominating by a long shot. In fact, you can hardly taste it. If you want to make it more special, throw in some pine nuts. Toast those in the frying pan during the last minute of cooking. You could add some turmeric too. If you don’t like cilantro, add some Italian parsley (it was as much for color as anything else). If your family doesn’t much like cauliflower, they might like it this way. The vegetable almost tastes sweet – caramelization or roasting does that to a lot of vegetables.

What’s NOT: not a thing. I love cauliflower, so it was a no-brainer that I’d enjoy it. I just didn’t know how MUCH I’d enjoy it!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click on line to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Indian Spiced Cauliflower

Recipe By: my own concoction
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon canola oil — or olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 head cauliflower — cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon dried thyme — crushed between your palms
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder — slightly heaping
3 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish)
salt and pepper to taste

NOTES: As you cut up the cauliflower, it’s fine to cut some into slices, because they will lay flat in the pan and caramelize easier than florets. Just make them small, bite-sized. I advise you not to wash the cauliflower just before making this as it really will spit at you while cooking.
1. In a saute pan large enough to hold all the cauliflower in one layer, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat until melted and almost spitting. Toss in the cauliflower and the dried thyme and maintaining fairly high heat as you brown (caramelize) the cauliflower. Use a spatula to turn the cauliflower periodically so browning occurs over all the surfaces. Watch the pan carefully so it doesn’t burn, and turn down the heat as you need to. Once all the pieces are nicely caramelized, add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover for just a minute or two to cook the cauliflower through.
2. Sprinkle on the curry powder and toss in the pan. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 68 Calories; 6g Fat (80.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 11mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 30th, 2016:

    Roasted/caramelized cauliflower, with or without curry, is hard for me to stop eating, too! In a big pan of roasted vegetables, the cauliflower bits are the ones I go for first. Good thing it’s good for us!

    You and I really are a lot alike, Donna! I think I could even eat hot, roasted cauliflower for breakfast! Not every day, however. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 30th, 2016:

    I would eat it for breakfast, too. With an egg on it. I love to make breakfast with odds and ends of leftovers. Yesterday, I had crab legs with a green peppercorn sauce at a restaurant, and I brought home the shells and sauce, which had slivers of red bell peppers and jalapenos in it. I used the sauce for today’s breakfast, drizzled over a poached egg. Delicious! This afternoon I made crab stock with the shells, strained it and set it to reduce while I practiced my dulcimer. A smell of burning crab brought me back to the kitchen an hour later. My stock was reduced to black crumbs. Fortunately, I caught it in time to save the pot. Forgive me for going off topic, but I thought you might might appreciate the story.)

    Oh my goodness!! Not that something similar (burning the stock) hasn’t happened to most every cook – thank goodness you didn’t ruin the pan!! . . . carolyn t

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