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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 May 19th, 2007.

For me, serving a variety of vegetables is the spice of life. I can always sauté zucchini with a little onion and garlic and call that the veggie side for a dinner. But other times I really like finding new and different ways to make vegetables. Hence this recipe. Some people don’t like Ina Garten. I don’t really understand why, because every dish I’ve tried of hers has turned out very well. Agreed, the woman has made millions with her TV Food Network show, and her cookbooks, but I have concluded that she is a great cook. My friend Linda gave me Ina’s book Barefoot in Paris. This recipe comes from that book, and I’ve made this about 5 times in recent months.

What I really like about the dish – other than the fabulous taste – is that you only dirty up two pans to make it. Even though you may think a gratin might be complicated, you make it in a large sauté pan and pour it into a baking dish, so this absolutely is NOT complex or difficult. I guarantee it. So, here are the stages:

1. You can do the slicing by hand, but this is what I do. First I dug out my Oxo mandoline. I may only use this every two weeks, but when I do I fall in love with it all over again. It makes slicing so incredibly easy.
2. I sliced up the onion and got that cooking in my large sauté pan. Meanwhile, I sliced up all the beautiful farmstand zucchini I bought a few hours before. It took me about 5 minutes total to slice everything. Then I added that to the pan and cooked it for a short time.
3. Then I add the flour, salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg to the pan, then the hot milk and in a jiffy you have the thickened dish ready to go. You pour the whole thing into a large baking dish.

4. Do you know Panko? I’d heard of it, but never bothered to buy it. I said – gee, it’s just bread crumbs, right? That was until a few years ago when a cooking instructor served it on a
chicken dish, and I was amazed at how good it was. It’s not that the Panko crumbs have a lot of taste. They don’t, because they’re simply a bread product, a Japanese bread product to be specific, chopped up very fine. But, it stays crispy throughout the cooking, so there is something they do differently to make it act like that. That’s what’s so unique about Panko, and I use it regularly now. Trader Joe’s carries it under their own label (see package picture below); otherwise most major grocery stores also have it, usually in the Asian food section. So you mix the Panko with grated Gruyere or Parmesan (I have always used the latter), sprinkle it on top, bake and you’re done.

The casserole will sit for awhile waiting to be baked, or you can refrigerate it earlier in the day too. It’s a very forgiving recipe in all respects. Less zucchini? No problem. Not much cheese? No problem. Only have fat-free milk? No problem. You have yellow squash instead? No problem. You get the drift.

Our friends, Bud & Cherrie (my cohort in crime at many cooking classes) came for dinner last night, and the amount I made should have served at least 6 people. Hmmm. Guess what? We four slicked it up clean. You need to try this recipe; you’ll be very glad you did.


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

Zucchini Gratin

Recipe: Barefoot Contessa in Paris by Ina Garten
Servings: 8

NOTES: Ina Garten’s recipe calls for 2 tsp. of Kosher salt, but I tested it first using less, and thought it was fine, so have reduced the recipe by 1/2 teaspoon. Taste it before you decide for yourself. I also use Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if I don’t have Gruyere on hand. This can be made ahead and refrigerated, then reheated later. The baking time is very forgiving – if the dish is sharing the oven at 350°, it will be just fine, just bake a little longer. I much prefer using Panko crumbs as they stay nice and crunchy throughout the baking time.

6 tablespoons butter
1 pound yellow onions — cut in half, then sliced
2 pounds zucchini — sliced 1/4″ thick
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg — freshly ground
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk — hot
3/4 cup bread crumbs — or Panko crumbs
3/4 cup Gruyere cheese — or Parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Melt butter in a very large (12 inch) sauté pan and cook the onions over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until tender, but not browned. Add the zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Stir in the flour until you no longer see any dry bits of flour, then add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes until it makes a sauce. Pour the mixture into an 8×10 baking dish.
3. Combine the bread crumbs or panko and cheese together in a small bowl, then sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot the 1 tablespoon of butter cut into very small bits and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.
Serving Ideas : This could be a main dish for a vegetarian meal. You could also add a little bit of goat cheese to the mixture before baking.
Per Serving: 232 Calories; 15g Fat (57.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 42mg Cholesterol; 596mg Sodium.

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  1. kelli groth

    said on April 21st, 2010:

    I love your site, however when I went to print a recipe the picture printed but the recipe didn’t, 3 times, just wanted to let you know.

    Thank you, Kelli. I emailed you some suggestions. The recipes print fine for me, so wasn’t sure whether the difficulty might have been your own computer. All my recipes are done in pdf, so it should not be a problem to print any of them. Do let me know if you’re still having problems. . . carolyn t

  2. Edie Lang

    said on February 8th, 2015:

    I really enjoyed your dialogue along with the recipe. Your dialogue actually convinced me to try the recipe. You should be a writer. I also enjoyed your reading recommendations. This is one recipe site I might need to sign up for.

    I hoped you liked the recipe. Glad you stopped by .. .carolyn t

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