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Currently Reading

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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 June 18th, 2007.

Sorry about the blurred photo. I enhanced it as much as possible in my photo program, but this is as good as it gets. We had the family for dinner to celebrate Father’s Day, and I quickly snapped this and didn’t check it before shutting off the camera. When you do a close-up with a digital camera, it’s harder to keep perfectly still, so I try to be very conscious of that when I finally click the shutter.

But, that doesn’t mean the salad isn’t wonderful. I saw Ina Garten demonstrate this on her food network program, probably 2 years ago. It’s from her book, Barefoot Contessa at Home. Maybe the peas and spinach seem like an unlikely combination, but it sure works. Over the years I’ve used pesto in pasta dishes, of course, and to dollop on the top of certain soups, and as a dip, but never would have considered it as a salad dressing. I had some homemade pesto in the refrigerator, so this was a simple dish to throw together. Trader Joe’s carries a baby spinach, which is preferable here. Regular spinach is just too big for a salad – the pieces are too large without cutting them. I suppose you could do that, but the baby spinach just makes it so simple. I do tear off some of the larger stems, but most of them stay in the salad.

I find this salad goes so very well with a grilled dinner – chicken, steaks, pork chops, even fish. I hate to sound redundant, but this salad is SO simple. You just have to toast the pine nuts (I use a nonstick frying pan) and I caution you if you haven’t done this before – watch the pan very very carefully or they will burn. Pine nuts contain a high percentage of oil, so they burn very rapidly. I keep pine nuts in the freezer at all times, so just remove what you need for a meal.

And, the other thing I do is add more Parmesan cheese (that’s my addition to Ina’s recipe). Often, I believe, when you buy ready-made pesto, it doesn’t contain as much cheese as your own homemade variety, so I add some to the salad itself. It adds some color contrast too.
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Pesto Pea (Spinach) Salad

Recipe: Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten
Servings : 4

2 cups frozen peas — baby peas, if possible
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 1/2 cups spinach leaves — baby spinach, if possible
4 tablespoons pesto sauce
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. If you’re in a hurry, run hot water over the peas; otherwise, defrost them in the refrigerator for several hours.
2. Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan until golden brown. Watch them carefully as they burn quickly.
3. Place the spinach leaves in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with peas. Add pesto and toss. Sprinkle Parmesan and pine nuts on top and serve.
Notes: If you want to make Ina Garten’s pesto for this: In a food processor combine 1/4 cup walnuts, 1/4 cup pine nuts and about 9 medium garlic cloves, peeled. Process for about 30 seconds. Add 5 cups of basil leaves, 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp black pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups good olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese and puree for about 30 more seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Pour into a tall container and float a little olive oil on top and store in refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups – a lot more than you need for the salad recipe. This salad likes a generous amount of pesto – the tendency is to not do enough. However, there’s a fine line – don’t add too much, either. So, taste as you go.
Per Serving: 171 Calories; 10g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 245mg Sodium.

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