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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 November 23rd, 2009.

cranberry apple salad

For any number of years at Thanksgiving dinner I made a Jell-O salad with peach flavor(I think Jell-O used to produce a peach flavor, but in more recent years I’ve found only somebody else’s brand instead), filled with apples, celery and walnuts. My mother used to make a frozen fruit cocktail kind of salad with peeled grapes, of all things, mixed with whipped cream and frozen in a can, then sliced into a large discs and served on a lettuce leaf. I thought it was too rich, so when I began cooking the big feast I changed to other things. That’s when the Jell-O salad hit my radar back in the 1960’s. And it stayed there for a whole lot of years.

Why did I make Jell-O? Well, it was something I could make ahead; it wasn’t heavy; it had a sweet hint to it so it fit in with the turkey meal quite well; and it also offered crunch. When you think about it . . . follow along with me here . . . what else is on the plate? Turkey? Soft. Dressing? Soft. Mashed Potatoes? Soft. Sweet potatoes? Soft. Gravy? Really Soft. Peas maybe? Soft. Maybe a corn casserole? Very soft. Rolls maybe? Soft. See where I’m going here? Everything else about Thanksgiving is soft food. Tasty, but without much texture. So I liked the bit of crunch offered by the apple, celery and nuts in the gelatin salad. But then one of our grown daughters begged for a green salad. She loves green salad. Okay, so I made green salad, even though I didn’t exactly think a garden salad went with the meal all that well, but it was okay. Lots of people did eat it. I didn’t make both a green and a gelatin salad, though. So for some years I’ve made green salad as our only side salad.

Until this year, that is. This new recipe will be a part of my Thanksgiving dinner. It is so festive. And colorful!  It is crunchy (from the apples and pecans). Much of it can be made ahead too. Although you do have to compose it just before serving, that’s all. I suppose you could just mix this all up together, but it would lose something, I think. Some people wouldn’t get many cranberries; others would get too many apples, or nary any. And it definitely wouldn’t be as pretty as the individual plated version. I’ll be able to assign the assembly task to one of our dinner guests.

Kitchen Tip about Apples:

To keep apples from turning brown, put them in a bowl and cover with Sprite (not Diet). They will keep at room temp for 4-5 hours. Just drain it off when you’re ready to finish whatever you’re cooking. And the apples don’t care that the Sprite has lost its fizz – it’s the citric acid that does the deed, not the fizz.

The recipe for this salad came from a Thanksgiving cooking class with Phillis Carey. That woman is a wonder – she comes up with the most interesting ideas, this being one of them. The lime juice dressing was perfect for it. And again Phillis shared a kitchen tip with us that I keep forgetting. Did you know that if you want to keep apples from getting brown you just cover the chopped fruit or slices with Sprite. Yes, Sprite, the carbonated beverage. Not Diet Sprite, but the real stuff. And Phillis assured us that the apples keep at room temp for 4-5 hours without getting brown. Then you pour out the Sprite. She keeps a big bottle of it in her spare refrigerator. Stale Sprite. The apples don’t care that it doesn’t have any more fizz in it. You can’t use Diet – it doesn’t contain citric acid. Neither does 7-Up, or any other lemon-lime soda. Just SPRITE! So I now have a small stash of Sprite in my pantry. I just keep forgetting this great kitchen gem.

So anyway, back to this salad. Phillis calls it layered because it is sort-of layered on the plate. There’s a lettuce layer on the bottom, the apple pecan layer (you drain off the Sprite and discard it) on top of that, kind of in a flat mound in the middle, then you make a small well in the middle of the apples and spoon in a bit of the fresh cranberry/sugar mixture that sat overnight in the refrigerator. That’s it. The apple mixture can be prepared ahead (remember, Sprite soaking), the pecans toasted and chopped, the green onions sliced ahead, even the salad mixture too. The dressing would be best whisked together just before serving, BUT have all the ingredients handy and it should take no more than about 2 minutes to whisk it up. Half goes on the apples (drained of their Sprite), the other half on the lettuce. I’m telling you, this salad is a must fix. Even for some other time of year if you have access to cranberries!
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Cranberry, Apple Pecan Layered Salad

Recipe By: A cooking class with Phillis Carey
Serving Size: 8

CRANBERRY LAYER:
2 cups fresh cranberries — coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
DRESSING:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
APPLE LAYER:
3 large Granny Smith apples — peeled, cored, coarsely chopped About a cup of Sprite beverage (not Diet)
1 1/3 cups pecans — toasted (350 6-10 minutes) and chopped
1/3 cup green onions — sliced
SALAD:
2 heads Romaine lettuce — torn in bite sized pieces

1. Pick through the cranberries and throw out any soft or unripe ones. Combine in a bowl the coarsely chopped cranberries and sugar. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 24 hours.
2. Place apples in a small bowl. If you’re doing this ahead, cover the apples in Sprite beverage and set aside. The apples will stay firm and bright for 4-5 hours in the liquid. When ready to proceed with recipe, drain off the Sprite (and discard), then add the green onions to the apples.
3. In a medium bowl whisk lime juice and mustard. Add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Pour half the dressing on the apples. Then add the pecans.
4. Toss the lettuce with the remainder of the dressing.
5. To serve, divide lettuce among salad plates and top it with the apple mixture. Keep apples together in a small sort-of flattish shape (not sprinkled all over the lettuce). Make a small well in the center of the apples and spoon in the cranberry mixture.
Per Serving: 390 Calories; 33g Fat (71.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 42mg Sodium.

A year ago: Mushroom Soup with Meatballs & Cream
Two years ago: Pumpkin Bread Pudding

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