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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, Vegetarian, on January 22nd, 2010.

tomato sauce and butter

If you’d told me even a few days ago that I’d make a tomato sauce (without meat) for pasta and I’d be head over heels, I’d have laughed. I’m from that school-of-thought that says for any tomato or vegetable-based sauce to taste good, it’s got to have some meat in it somewhere. I’m definitely a carnivore. But something about the write-up at the Smitten Kitchen blog made me rethink my position. The original recipe is from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (one I don’t own).

So, I actually made this a couple of days ago when we were in the midst of our rainstorms. I was inside the house, my DH was struggling outside for hours on end and I knew he’d be starving hungry for heavier fare than we usually eat for lunch.

Besides, I’d just read the blog post about this sauce. I had some canned San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry. I had butter. I had a yellow onion. And I had some Dreamfield’s pasta (the kind that’s a lower-glycemic carb). That’s all you need for this. The onion is peeled and halved, the large can of tomatoes and the onion are added to the pan, brought to a boil along with the 5 T. of butter and it simmers. The onion gets tossed out once it’s cooked (seems a shame, but it’s done its duty and out it goes). I happened to use San Marzano chopped tomatoes, but probably any kind of whole or chopped tomatoes would work here. The butter – well, obviously – that’s what gives it the supple smoothness.

I cooked up the pasta and spooned a glob of this sauce on top and sprinkled it with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and this was a mighty-fine meal. We really don’t eat pasta very much (not that we don’t love it, it just doesn’t love us), but oh my goodness, this may have to become a regular on some one of our menus. My DH loved it – really loved it. He asked questions about how I’d made it, so I knew he enjoyed it a lot.
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Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions

Recipe By: Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Classic
Italian Cooking (read on Smitten Kitchen’s blog)
Serving Size: 4

28 ounces canned tomatoes — (San Marzano, if possible)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 whole onion — peeled and halved
Salt to taste
8 ounces spaghetti — cooked
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt and pepper to taste (adding salt might not be necessary) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.
2. Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.
NOTES: For me, the addition of grated Parmigiano was essential. Some might prefer it without. I used 2 ounces of pasta per person and divided the sauce equally. It was just enough to coat the pasta to my taste.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 16g Fat (35.8% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 302mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Loin Roast with Apricot Glaze

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