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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 Salads, Vegetarian, on July 3rd, 2016.

mitsitam_wild_rice_salad1

This post is going “up” on July 3rd. Just before you might need a nice, different salad for the celebration of America’s 4th of July, Independence Day. Since we should be remembering our forefathers, and their sometimes friendliness to the native American people, this one is appropriate.

This recipe has been posted before, about 5 years ago. My D-I-L gave me a cookbook from the Mitsitam Café (at the Smithsonian Native American Museum), and when she and the family had visited the museum, they had lunch at the café, and ordered this wonderful salad. It’s so good and worth repeating. As I write this, I’m taking the salad to their house to celebrate Karen’s birthday, and this is the salad she requested. I think Powell remembered I’d made it before so he asked for a repeat. He’s doing duck as the main course.

I’ve updated my photos on the 2011 post (with the ones I took today) which highlight the freshness of the ingredients – the just slightly chewy wild rice, the crunchy carrots, toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, and with no question, the watercress is the #2 star of the dish (wild rice, obviously, must be the #1 star). You do want to make the wild rice ahead – it needs to chill, and it is so easy to put this together about an hour before serving. Adding the dressing (apple cider vinegar, honey, canola oil + S&P) gives time to be absorbed into the rice (and maybe add a jot more dressing when you DO serve it).

mitsitam_wild_rice_saladIdeally, you’ll eat it all – in which case you can toss the watercress in with the salad. If you think you might have leftovers, either add the watercress on top (and maybe add a bit more half way through as people take salad) OR optionally, keep some watercress reserved, remove the watercress that got left in the salad (it gets withered and is not appetizing after a day or so if it’s been soaking in the dressing) and just add more watercress when you serve it the next time.

I’m a fanatic about watercress – I don’t like the “baby cress” they offer at some grocery stores these days – the one that’s in a root ball. It bears little or no resemblance to full-grown watercress that has that peppery bite to it. If that’s all you can find, well, use it I guess, or buy arugula instead. It’s not the same, but it does have that peppery bite that I’d be looking for in this recipe.

It’s a very pretty salad to look at. It’s healthy (although there IS an oil/vinegar dressing on it), hearty, and could serve as a vegetarian entrée as well. Throw some quinoa in there and you’d for sure have ample protein – or maybe a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans. Not authentic to the recipe, but I think it would be tasty in it.

What’s GOOD: I love wild rice (it’s not really a rice, but a wild grain) and it contains good-for-you stuff. The crunchiness of the salad is part of what appeals to me – the dressing is fairly innocuous, but it is a good foil for the carb aspect of the salad. There are some chopped green onions plus a few dried cranberries (think Pilgrims) in there too, and I just love-love the watercress. If watercress wasn’t so expensive (I had to buy 5 bunches at $1.29 each) I’d reverse the order of things and make the wild rice the #2 item here. Either way, though, this salad is delicious. It’s a beautiful looking salad too. Don’t overcook the wild rice – it’s not very nice when it’s “popped” as it does when it’s overly cooked – I started watching it at 40 minutes and it was done to my liking at 45 minutes.

What’s NOT: the only thing I’d say is the washing and prepping of the watercress. It took me about 30 minutes to wash, then pinch the young leaf bunches off the watercress stems (bigger watercress stems are almost woody and certainly not very tasty). But then, I was making this to serve 18 people. If you only bought 1-2 bunches it wouldn’t be so formidable a task. Do plan ahead – make the rice the day before if at all possible. Otherwise, everything about it is pretty easy. I rinsed and picked the watercress the day before and rolled all those tender leaves in tea towels to get all the moisture out.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Wild Rice Salad with Watercress

Recipe By: From Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)
Serving Size: 8

VINAIGRETTE:
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup canola oil Salt and pepper to taste
SALAD:
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups wild rice
1 whole carrot — chopped or in matchsticks
3 tablespoons dried cranberries — chopped (or use golden raisins)
1 whole plum tomatoes — chopped
5 whole green onions — diced
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds — roasted
3 bunches watercress

NOTES: The nutrition info assumes you’ll use all the dressing; you don’t – you’ll use about 3/4 of it.
1. Combine vinaigrette, cover and refrigerate for one hour (dressing will keep for 10 days).
2. Combine wild rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until cooked through. Start checking at 40 minutes, and do NOT overcook the wild rice. Drain and spread the rice out onto a large baking sheet to dry.
3. Scrape rice into a large bowl, add carrots, cranberries, tomato, green onions and nuts. Add about half the vinaigrette, toss together and refrigerate for an hour. Taste for seasonings (it likely will need more salt) and add more dressing if it appears to be dry.
4. Place watercress on individual plates and top with wild rice mixture. If you have leftovers, remove all of the watercress as it turns icky if it’s kept past the first serving. Alternately you can place the salad in a large bowl and toss it all together and either serve it buffet style or place the tossed salad on individual plates.
Per Serving (not accurate): 535 Calories; 29g Fat (48.0% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1234mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 4th, 2016:

    I had forgotten about wild rice, it is a tasty thing to eat. I, too, love watercress but I only buy it when in season, any other time it has very little flavour.

    Well, THAT’s interesting – you have seasons for watercress? When is that? I can buy it year ’round usually, and haven’t had any difficulty with the flavor. I’m guessing it’s not wild, but “farmed.” . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on July 5th, 2016:

    Spring is the time to buy and eat watercress. It flowers in summer so is not usually sold then. It grows in ‘beds’ which are watered by natural springs so everything is clean and fresh.

  3. Susan Dillard

    said on July 6th, 2016:

    I made this last night and it is so good! Thank you for sharing. I didn’t have watercress, but used a mixture of different lettuce and radicchio and another salad green that I don’t know the name of. 🙂 It was very easy to put together and I loved it. Thanks again.

    I’m so glad you like it, Susan! It has subtle flavors, yet the citrus shines through for sure. Thanks for telling me! . . .carolyn t

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