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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 Veggies/sides, on April 17th, 2017.

kabocha_cornmeal_polenta

Polenta usually is made with cornmeal only. This one veers off the grid and uses mostly kabocha squash and some cornmeal. It has a very similar consistency, but maybe more healthy for us!

Polenta is really, really good stuff. And I just wish it weren’t so heavy in carbs. In this version, made with kabocha squash (which is a winter squash and a carb) it has all the benefits of flavor, but maybe because of the squash, it might be a bit healthier. Just sayin’. A serving of this has 44 grams of carbs. That’s a lot, but oh gosh, was it ever good with the Sicilian Chicken Stew. My downfall is that once I have a serving of polenta, I want more. It’s kind of like popcorn at the movies – I don’t EVER buy it, because I can’t stop eating it once I start!

Image result for kabocha squashDo you know kabocha squash? It’s mostly credited to Japan (but it isn’t, really). Like the photo at left (from Trader Joe’s), they’re round, globe-like, sometimes more squat that this one shows. They’re very nutritious and have lots of good flavor.

According to Wikipedia, Portuguese sailors introduced kabocha to Japan in 1541, bringing it with them from Cambodia. The squash claims a whole lot of beta-carotene.

In any case, they’re tasty things. At the cooking class, Chef Caroline said that she usually cooks the kabocha for about about 20 minutes (at 425°F) BEFORE she tries to cut it open. It has a pretty hard shell. Once cooled a bit, she cuts it in half crosswise, then puts the squash, cut side down onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roasts it for about 35 minutes. At that point the flesh is totally soft and scoops out easily. As with regular polenta, the cornmeal is slowly added to simmering vegetable broth and in this case, some milk, and then cooked gently for about 5 minutes. Then you add some salt, butter and the mashed up squash – which gives the polenta a more orange color. Taste for seasonings. Serve while it’s HOT.

What’s GOOD: loved the added flavor from the kabocha – an unexpected treat. Still tastes like polenta, but perhaps more nutritious.

What’s NOT: maybe just the nuisance of having to bake the squash – not difficult, just a bit time consuming, plus having to cut it. Winter squashes are sometimes really hard to handle – and cut.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cornmeal and Kabocha Squash Polenta

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, Antoine’s San Clemente, CA, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 1/2 pounds kabocha squash — yield: about 4 cups flesh
4 cups vegetable broth — low sodium
1 cup whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Poke a few holes in the kabocha squash (upper half) and roast it whole for about 20 minutes. This will allow you to cut in half with ease. Cool for about 20 minutes, then cut in half crosswise. Turn it cut side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake an additional 35 minutes or so. Cool, then scoop out the flesh and set aside to cool.
2. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the broth and milk to a boil. Lower heat and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Stir in the salt, butter and squash and stir until well combined, the squash is completely heated through and butter is fully melted. Add seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 9g Fat (27.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 1301mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 18th, 2017:

    It’s high in carbs, all right, but I think the squash is responsible for most of that nine grams of fiber per serving. That’s a good thing!

    Yes, that’s why I decided to post the recipe. Not only was it a bit different, but felt that it was likely more healthy as polenta made the traditional way. .. carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 19th, 2017:

    And thanks for the idea. I love polenta, too, and I’ll try this next time I want to serve it.

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