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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 Cookbooks, Veggies/sides, on November 25th, 2007.

mashed-potatoes-crockpot

Do you run out of oven space on holidays? Especially Thanksgiving? Fortunately, I have 2 regular ovens AND a microwave/convection oven too. When we remodeled our kitchen a year ago we put in 2 ovens. They are just 27″ wide, so the two turkeys took up both regular ovens with no room to spare for side dishes. We baked yeast bread in the small convection oven an hour or so before dinner, and heated up one of the vegetable dishes in the microwave.

Making mashed potatoes at the last minute is not my idea of fun cooking on Thanksgiving. Recently a friend mentioned that she keeps mashed potatoes in her crockpot for holiday dinners. What a great idea, I thought. She said, as long as your potato recipe has a goodly amount of fat (butter, sour cream or something), the potatoes will hold for hours. I’m here to tell you the technique works like a charm. I’ll be doing this year after year after year.

Again, I turned to Rick Rodgers’ book, Thanksgiving 101, and he has a “Make Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole” in the 1998 edition. His are baked, but I used the recipe with just one substitution, then piled the 10 pounds of mashed potato mixture into the large crockpot. [I made a double batch.] The recipe below is for 5 pounds of potatoes. I have a very old crockpot – with a ceramic insert. It has the high, low and auto settings, but it’s big. Good thing since we filled the pot to the brim with potatoes. These can’t be called healthy in any way, but this was Thanksgiving, after all. I didn’t skimp – I used full fat cream cheese, and full fat sour cream. Were they good? Abso-posi-tutely, as my dad used to say. I’m looking forward to all the leftovers for tonight’s dinner. The pumpkin pie is gone and the broccoli with Hollandaise is gone, but we have lots of the other stuff: the super-moist kosher turkey, dressing, green beans, broccoli/leek puree, gravy AND mashed potatoes!
printer-friendly PDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 contains photo)

Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole/Crockpot Method

Source: mostly based on a recipe from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers
Servings: 8

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
8 ounces cream cheese, cut in chunks
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk (original recipe used milk)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1 T. butter
1. Fill a large pot with water and cut up the potatoes in quarters (or more, depending on the size of the potatoes). Simmer until potatoes are tender, but not falling apart. Drain.
2. Using a hand masher or a hand mixer, puree the potatoes until smooth, then add the cream cheese, sour cream and buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Pour potatoes into crock pot and dot the top with about a tablespoon of butter. Put lid on and set crock pot at lowest setting. Will hold for several hours.
Per Serving: 391 Calories; 16g Fat (36.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 132mg Sodium.

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  1. kari b

    said on November 27th, 2007:

    What an amazing idea & it works perfectly! No more slaving over the stove right before the meal to get hot mashed potatoes! Thanks for the great idea….

  2. Kate

    said on November 28th, 2007:

    I always do my Thanksgiving turkey on the grill- mostly because I love to smoke it, but it also saves on oven space, which then eases my stress. This year’s bird turned out beautifully.

    This is a great suggestion, and I just love cream cheese in my mashed potatoes.

  3. Nancy

    said on December 2nd, 2008:

    I use an almost identical recipe and these mashed potatoes always get rave reviews. My recipe states that you can make them up to 5 days in advance and I’ve read other versions stating that they can be frozen. I just found your blog and am enjoying it. I love food blogs!

    Wow, 5 days, huh? That will make Thanksgiving even easier if they could be made a day or so ahead of the big day. Thanks for the suggestion. Thanks for stopping by my blog! . . . Carolyn T

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