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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 Pasta, Veggies/sides, on April 30th, 2008.

armenian rice and noodle pilaf

Only vaguely do I recall when Rice-a-Roni came on the market. Way so many years ago. 1958 to be exact. It was a time when food producers were coming up with just the beginnings of boxed mixes. Cake mixes had been around for awhile, but not much of anything else. I thought the rice mixture was quite good. Tasty for such an easy combination in a box. But then the food police told us about sodium, and I began noticing how much was in lots of the foods I purchased. There still is a lot of sodium in many prepared foods. I started avoiding those products, especially after the medical experts told us we were only supposed to consume a max of 2,000 milligrams a day. It’s easy to consume double or triple that if you eat out and/or eat pre-packaged foods. Because Rice-a-Roni was so high in sodium I stopped buying it. By the way, it’s now owned by Quaker Oats.

Beginning in the late 1960’s I started avoiding nearly all packaged and ready-made foods altogether, in favor of making things myself, adding only fresh food, fresh vegetables, my own herbs and spices. And I’ve continued to adhere to that with only a few exceptions. There are a couple of cake mixes I do use for some family favorites. I do buy an occasional frozen vegetable, some Trader Joe’s mixes (that contain no additives or preservatives). And once in awhile I buy Pillsbury biscuits because I have one recipe that is just so good and easy. I try to buy organically fed meat. Sometimes I buy organic produce. Not always, depending on the quality or freshness of it.

Having done a search for this posting today, I discovered that the combo of rice and pasta is an Armenian thing. I thought it was Italian, but no. The founders of Rice-a-Roni actually created it from something served to them by an Armenian neighbor. Thus, the rice boxed mix was born. And why they must add so much sodium to it is beyond me. But they sure enough do.

Because I always walk right past that boxed mix section in my grocery store, I’d forgotten all about the rice/noodle combination until a recipe was printed in my local food section last week. Labeled Carrie’s Rice, it is identical to hundreds of other pilaf recipes out there on the internet. Some add mushrooms, garlic, maybe some dill weed, pine nuts perhaps, but they all contain noodle-type pasta or orzo, white rice, butter, onion and chicken broth. Some recipes brown only the pasta; others brown both pasta and the rice. If you use low-sodium chicken broth, as I did, you’ll likely want to add some salt to it. And you can vary the amount of butter. Many recipes call for a full stick of butter for 1 cup of rice and 1 cup of pasta. I cut it down by half, and think that was still too much. So I’ve reduced the amount even more in the recipe below. It’s a very quick side dish. The kids will like it, and since you’re doing all the cooking of it, you know exactly what’s in it. Unadulterated rice, pasta, butter and canned broth. Maybe some onion, and/or garlic too.
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Armenian Rice & Noodle Pilaf

Serving Size: 6

1 cup long-grain rice – raw
1 cup vermicelli – broken into small bits, or thin linguine
1/2 cup onion – chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup mushrooms – cleaned, sliced [optional]
3 tablespoons pine nuts – toasted, garnish
2 teaspoons fresh dill — minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a heavy skillet or saucepan melt butter, then add pasta, rice and onions. Stir and cook until the mixture is lightly browned. Add mushrooms at this point, if using, and cook them for about 2 minutes.
2. Add broth all at once, bring to a simmer, cover and cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes, until rice is completely cooked, but not mushy. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper). Garnish with pine nuts and dill, if using. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 246 Calories; 8g Fat (26.1% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 24mg Sodium.

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