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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 Appetizers, on May 21st, 2008.

About eight years or so ago I tasted homemade hummus for the first time. Served to me by a friend who is Armenian (she’s a Parisian – not Persian, but Paris-ian, but she’s Armenian, and she lets you know you’d better not forget it!). My taste buds hit nirvana. I’d had nothing but ready made previously, and didn’t realize how incredibly easy it was to make. Or how delicious it could possibly be. Not long after that I attended a cooking class and the instructor demonstrated this method. Oh my gosh. It was so gosh-darned delicious!

The appetizer is not all that difficult, but it does have a moderate amount of work involved. I wish I could tell you there wasn’t. But, you can do most of it ahead – even the day before if you’re pushed for time. Because it has so much work involved, I tend not to make this when I’m doing a company meal with several courses. But, I’ll tell you, nobody has ever come away from the platter without oohs and aahs. Guaranteed.

Here’s what’s involved. One, you make the hummus in the food processor with canned garbanzos, garlic and tahini (sesame seed paste). Two, you slice up the eggplant and sauté it in batches in olive oil. Three, you concoct a simple balsamic vinaigrette which gets tossed with the eggplant once it’s chopped up. Mound the hummus on a lovely platter, then mound the eggplant on top of that and garnish with a bunch of chopped cilantro (or Italian parsley) and toasted pine nuts. That’s it. I serve it with toasted pita chips. The eggplant takes on a very rich mahogany color and when you serve this on a big platter with the eggplant on top, it’s very colorful. You don’t use all of the dressing, so the nutritional information is misleading.

This recipe is one of my all-time favorites and will be so marked on my recipe page (click Recipes in my right sidebar). We had a friend over for dinner last night and she helped with the preparation of this dish (thanks again for your help, Kathleen!).
printer-friendly PDF

Layered Hummus and Eggplant Appetizer

Recipe By: Judy Bart Kancigor, http://cookingjewish.com
Serving Size: 10

HUMMUS LAYER:
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
15 ounces garbanzo beans, canned, save liquid
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water — or juice from garbanzos
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice — or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
EGGPLANT:
1 1/4 pounds eggplant, whole — purple type, no bruises
1/4 cup olive oil
DRESSING:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — or to taste
GARNISH:
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro — chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted

1. HUMMUS: Turn on processor and drop in garlic cloves, and process until minced. Add salt and allow to sit while you collect the ingredients down through ground cumin. Add those items to the processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water if mixture is too thick. This makes about 2 cups of hummus.
2. EGGPLANT: Slice the eggplant in 1/3 inch thick slices, or slightly thicker. Heat just enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet and fry over medium-high heat, in batches, on both sides until the eggplant is cooked, brown and slightly crisp, approximately 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop. Place in bowl.
3. DRESSING: Meanwhile, combine in a lidded jar the balsamic vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper and shake until combined. An hour before serving, pour about 2 T. of the dressing over the eggplant and stir. Set aside.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a hot skillet until barely brown. Set aside. Chop cilantro a few minutes before serving.
5. To serve: spread the hummus on a large, flat serving platter. Spoon the eggplant over the top, leaving hummus layer visible around the edges. Sprinkle with cilantro (or Italian parsley, if preferred) and toasted pine nuts. Serve with torn or cut pita for scooping.
Per Serving (not accurate because you don’t use all the dressing): 351 Calories; 30g Fat (75.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

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  1. Connie

    said on September 27th, 2013:

    I doubled this for a social gathering and it turned out great. I did not have any tahini, but I added a couple cups of fresh basil, an extra can of garbanzo beans (drained) and a cup of walnuts, minced. I found that the humus was too runny to support the eggplant so I had to beef it up. Perhaps using less garbanzo juice would have been better.
    In addition to the eggplant, I also added a half cup of onions (remember, I doubled it) and some fresh tomatoes, all sautéed.
    This was a great way to use all the japanese eggplant, basil and tomato form my garden.

    I improvise like that all the time – am glad it was successful for you. . . carolyn t

  2. Carol Distabile

    said on December 2nd, 2015:

    While on safari hummus was served as an appetizer. I tried to locate this recipe under vegetable dips but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I should try the hummus and eggplant instead.

    I haven’t updated my recipe index for several weeks. I did post it – go to this link:
    http://tastingspoons.com/archives/12766

    Carolyn

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