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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 20th, 2009.

radicchio-belgian-endive-salad

You’re going to l-o-v-e this salad. I really mean it. It’s worth every second of effort to make it. The pecans need to be seasoned and caramelized a little bit, you need to soak the dried cranberries in bourbon (or omit this step if you don’t want the alcohol – soak them in orange juice instead), and you need to chop up all the salad stuff. And, the apple needs to be sliced just before serving. And you have to make the vinegar and oil dressing (easy, however).

This recipe has been in my to-try file for many years. What’s funny about it is the real title – “Even Men Love This Salad.” I found it on the recipe bulletin board at Martha Stewart’s website 15 years or so ago.  (I was unable to locate the recipe there now.) The contributor, Susan (no last name given) said that every time she served it men told their wives to get the recipe. She mentions that yes, indeed, there are lots of flavors floating around in this salad, but she says when you put it all together, it’s sublime. I absolutely agree.

I did make just a few minor changes to the recipe – Susan used black raisins – I used dried cranberries instead. She added frisée greens to her salad. I thought there was enough salad quantity without it (there was) so I omitted the frisée. There’s a LOT of celery in it. Don’t eliminate that – it’s an essential ingredient somehow. The pecans are just mildly warm from the cayenne, but they are wonderful in this salad, or for nibbling if you have leftovers. Susan didn’t soak the onion – I do, to remove some of the harshness, the sharpness of raw onion. I actually tossed everything together except the pecans, but her recipe indicated adding the cranberries, Feta and pecans on top when it’s served. If you eat radicchio and Belgian endive very often, you know that they have a slight bitterness to them. The caramelized pecans and the dried cranberries totally balance that. MAKE THIS SALAD! Okay?
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Radicchio & Belgian Endive Salad with Spicy Pecans

Recipe: adapted from a recipe found on Martha Stewart’s bulletin board, about 1995
Servings: 8

1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons bourbon (or orange juice)
PECANS:
1 cup pecans — chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
SALAD DRESSING:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar — better the quality the better the dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper — to taste
SALAD STUFF:
2 heads radicchio
3 heads Belgian endive — leaves separated, chopped
1/2 medium red onion — thinly sliced
2 medium Granny Smith apple — peeled, sliced
2 cups celery — chopped
1/4 cup Feta cheese — crumbled
1 head
frisée lettuce — (optional)

1. Soak cranberries in bourbon for 2+ hours. You can reuse the bourbon multiple times.
2. Place the sliced onions in cold water and set aside (removes some of the sharpness).
3. In a medium nonstick skillet combine the pecans, sugar, cayenne and cumin. Heat until the pecans are lightly toasted and brown sugar has caramelized. These nuts are not highly caramelized, so don’t expect a coating of sugar.
4. In a jar or small bowl combine the vinegar and mustard. Use a whisk to mix well, and then drizzle in the olive oil until it’s thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate dressing until ready to serve. (You will probably use all the dressing.)
5. Chop up the radicchio, Belgian endive, red onion (drained and blotted dry with paper towels), apple and celery and combine with the salad dressing (taste it to make sure you don’t use too much dressing). If using the frisée, add it also. Serve on salad plates and top with cranberries, pecans and Feta cheese.
Per Serving: 331 Calories; 31g Fat (83.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

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