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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 Salads, on August 20th, 2016.

beach_house_watermelon_salad_greens_macadamia_gorgonzola

No, those aren’t cherry tomatoes in there – they’re cute little balls of watermelon, mixed into a delicious salad garnished with macadamia nuts and Gorgonzola cheese. And the dressing . . . well, read on.

My friend Joan L has been mentioned many times on this blog – I’ve garnered a number of recipes which I’ve posted – she’s most famous amongst her friends for a fabulous pasta salad, appropriately called Joan’s Pasta Salad! It’s a winner of a recipe and very easy to make. Joan is a very good cook and I’m happy to share another of her recipes. She brought this to a potluck dinner we had in 2011 when we were bidding farewell to dear friends, Sue and Lynn, who moved to Colorado (some of Sue’s recipes are here on my blog too). Joan gave me the recipe and I filed it and hadn’t made its acquaintance since then.

Having been invited to a luncheon, I needed to bring a salad of some kind and I chose this one. Six ladies made salads, and mine was the only one containing greens! How funny! There were two orzo and shrimp salads to make an appearance, but they were both very different. What makes this one unique: (1) the dressing contains some fruit, which is a bit unusual; (2) macadamia nuts – not too many, which is good since they are quite dear; and (3) the watermelon, which doesn’t make many appearances in green salads!

Joan’s recipe comes from The Beach House Restaurant in Poipu, Kauai. I don’t know how she came by the recipe – perhaps it’s on the web already . . . I haven’t searched. But it’s a real winner. It’s unique and very special. You might not make this for a weeknight dinner since it does take a bit of time to make. The dressing contains some seedless raspberry jam (Smucker’s makes a good one) and some pureed fresh strawberries. Although it’s somewhat sweet (from the fruit and jam) it seems to blend in perfectly with the mixture of greens and nuts and cheese. The recipe, as is, makes about twice as much dressing as you’ll need. You could halve it and be fine for serving 6, I’m sure.

Once you prep all the different components (the sliced onion, sliced or shaved carrot, crumbled cheese, watermelon, chopped and toasted macadamia nuts) they could be set aside for awhile. The dressing can be made in a shaker jar, for sure and made ahead too. The salad gets tossed with the dressing. I found that the salad needed a bit more dressing than some – I think that’s because the other garnishes aren’t dressed with the salad, so it’s nice to have ample dressing on the greens. You can make the salad on a platter to pass, or make individually plated salads; either one works fine. I tried it both ways. The original recipe called for watermelon wedges to be placed around the edge of the plate (my guess is this is an entrée salad). But I didn’t want wedges, so I made melon balls and actually when I served it, I mixed the melon balls into the salad (after the dressing was tossed with the greens).

What’s GOOD: everything about this salad is lovely. It’s a bit sweet and savory, with unusual ingredients like macadamia nuts and Gorgonzola crumbles. Really delicious.

What’s NOT: if you don’t like sweet dressings, you won’t like this; otherwise it’s a stellar recipe.

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

Watermelon Salad with Field Greens

Recipe By: From my friend Joan, she got it from The Beach House Restaurant in Kauai, Hawaii
Serving Size: 8

SALAD:
6 cups field greens — mixed variety
1/2 cup red onion — thinly sliced
1/2 cup carrots — cut in curls or shreds
1/4 cup macadamia nuts — toasted (or pecans)
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese — crumbled
RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE:
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup strawberry puree — (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

NOTES: If you don’t want to have much of any dressing left over, make about half of the recipe.
1. VINAIGRETTE: Whisk ingredients and set aside or prepare in a shaker jar.
2. SALAD: Toss greens with enough vinaigrette to coat them well – be generous with the dressing as the other ingredients aren’t “dressed.” You’ll use just a part of the dressing.
3. Either plate individual servings or pour all of the dressed greens on a platter, then garnish with the Gorgonzola, nuts, onion and carrots. The watermelon: you may cut watermelon into balls, or in the original recipe cut watermelon wedges are arranged around the greens.
Per Serving (not accurate because you use only a portion of the dressing): 422 Calories; 42g Fat (86.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 213mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 20th, 2016:

    This sounds really good. I’m fond of salads with watermelon in them, even though I’m not big on watermelon itself–don’t dislike it, but often find it tasteless and disappointing. But I’ve had a yen for the Panera watermelon salad several times this summer, and it was wonderful. The one in this post is different in that it calls for gorgonzola rather than parmesan. And since I just opened a package of gorgonzola, and there are some macadamia nuts in my freezer, there’s a good chance this recipe will appear on a menu at my house one of these days! In fact, my daughter and her watermelon-loving family will be here next Sunday for a seafood boil. This would make a good accompaniment.
    Good! I hope you’ll enjoy it as I did. . . carolyn t

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