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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on August 25th, 2009.

If you have tomatoes accumulating at a rapid rate at your house, oh, do I have a recipe for you today. To say this pie is delicious is a gross understatement. It’s not my recipe – it’s Elise’s, over at Simply Recipes. She got it from an acquaintance. And what a winner it is. The words of wisdom here are: sometimes the simplest of recipes are the best. This pie is nothing fancy – it contains onions, lots of tomatoes, fresh basil, cheese, mayo and some hot sauce. All piled into a pie shell in layers. And just so you know:

This recipe contains fat in the pie crust.

This recipe contains cheese (uh, yea, calories and fat)

This recipe contains mayonnaise (3/4 cup for the whole pie).

Other than that, it’s good for you  – nice chunks of tomatoes. (BG).

I’m going to write up a separate post about the pie shell (otherwise this post would be pages and pages long). So here we’ll just talk about the pie itself. I started off with a mixture of tomatoes (red and yellow heirlooms plus a small pile of smaller tomatoes right out of our garden. The heirlooms were very moist – VERY juicy. And that can be the slight undoing of this recipe – you’ve just got to get out as much of the liquid as possible. It’s not that the pie won’t be good, but the bottom shell will be soggy (as mine was). But I have a “fix” for it – next time I’ll add an extra step. More on that later.

Obviously, first you have to make a pie shell. We couldn’t find any refrigerated pie shells in our local stores, so with barely enough time, I made a crust myself. It was a very buttery savory shell. Flaky beyond belief. It was blind baked (about 20 minutes at 350) first. Meanwhile, I started in on the filling.

tomato pie oions First went in the chopped raw red onions. Next time I’d chop them up finer AND I’d cook them a bit. The onions were still crunchy when we ate the tart after 40 minutes of baking.

tomato pie basil

Next went in the chopped tomatoes that I’d drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, AND I squeezed them to get out even more juice. I used about 3 1/2 cups for my large 9-inch pie plate.

Then I sprinkled in about 1/4 cup of fresh sliced basil leaves from our garden.

tomato pie toppingNext I mixed up an equal quantity (approximately) of shredded Gruyere cheese and mozzarella (not fresh), along with some bottled mayonnaise and a dash of hot sauce. Using my hands I pressed the cheesy clumps all over the top of the pie. I didn’t mash it down or try to make it a solid layer – there were a few holes. But they all disappeared during baking. Bake for 25-40 minutes or so until the top is golden brown.

tomato pie whole

There it is, in all its gloriousness just out of the oven. We took it to our kids’ house and had it with some grilled Italian sausages and a delicious field greens salad topped with more garden-grown sliced tomatoes. The pie sat out for about an hour (uncovered in the trunk of the car for the 30-minute ride) and it was still nice and warm in the middle when it was served soon thereafter. Definitely eat it warm or hot. Next time I make this I’ll add a thin layer of cream cheese over the pastry – to keep the juice from waterlogging the pie shell. And a word of caution: Gruyere is what I used here – it was beyond wonderful – but it’s a very salty cheese, so I might not add any additional salt. Mozzarella can also be very salty too.

The result? Oh gosh. Juicy. Creamy. Cheesy. Flaky. Tomatoey. All over perfection. I’m writing this as we just had a tiny wedge as leftovers. I heated it in the microwave and it was just SO SO good. Can’t wait to have an occasion to make it again – before all the tomatoes are gone for the season.
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Savory Tomato & Gruyere Pie

Recipe: Elise at Simply Recipes
Servings: 8 (maybe more like 6)
NOTES: NEXT TIME-I’ll spread a layer of light cream cheese (very softened) over the bottom and up the sides of the pie crust. It needs to be solid, otherwise the juice will leak through to the flaky pastry. If using Greyere, it’s a very salty cheese, so go very easy on the salt. Also, cook the onions just a little bit first.

1 whole pie shell — 9 inch
1/2 whole yellow or red onion — chopped finely
3 1/2 cups tomatoes — cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield 3 -4 cups
1/4 cup basil — sliced in thin strips
2 cups grated cheese — (combination of Gruyere and Mozzarella or sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce — (or more to taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves for garnish

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you’ll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.
2 Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. Squeeze gently in your hands, too, to get the last bit of juice out, without pulverizing the tomato flesh in the process.
3 Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.
4 In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The mixture should be the consistency of a gooey snow ball. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.
5 Place in oven and bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes
Per Serving (and higher if you only serve 6 servings): 388 Calories; 33g Fat (74.2% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

A year ago: Restaurant review of the Posh Peasant in San Clemente
Two years ago: Goat Cheese with Apricot Chutney

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