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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 Desserts, easy, on June 26th, 2010.

Do you believe me when I tell you that something is cinchy easy? Hope so – this is one of them. It’s been years ago that Phillis Carey made something nearly the same as what I made here. So I’ve used mostly her recipe with the addition of vanilla ice cream. And when I made them the other night for our big dinner here at our house for 9 people, I didn’t use the Grand Marnier because the group was mostly tee-totallers. Here’s what you need to have on hand to serve 4:

1. vanilla ice cream
2. about a pint of fresh berries (your choice: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
3. whipping cream (plus powdered sugar and vanilla)
4. vanilla meringue cookies (from Trader Joe’s, or?)
5. and Grand Marnier, if you want to use it

In Phillis’ original recipe she soaked the berries in a little bit of sugar and the Grand Marnier for an hour or so. And she crumbled up the meringue cookies in a little baggie ahead of time (I didn’t do that part). In the serving bowls above I scooped in a few blueberries first (I had more blueberries than blackberries), then I added the scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then I crumbled in the cookies (about one per bowl), added the sweetened and vanilla-added whipped cream, more fruit, a bit more meringue cookies, and lastly one more dollop of whipped cream on the top. Then I sprinkled the top with the crumbs of the meringue cookies. And you serve it immediately. Before the ice cream completely melts. What makes this dessert is the crispy, crunchy meringues – great texture. I particularly liked the ice cold ice cream as an added texture too.

Trader Joe’s does sell chocolate meringue cookies too, and I’ve thought about making this same dessert with them and chocolate ice cream, and mostly raspberries (chocolate and raspberries have a natural affinity – think black forest). Maybe marinating the raspberries with Chambord. And the whipped cream maybe lightly laced with a bit of cocoa powder. And possibly drizzled with a tiny bit of Hershey’s syrup on top? I might even sprinkle it with some almonds too. Doesn’t that sound good?  May have to try that sooner rather than later.

Anyway, the recipe is so simple to make. You could make your own meringue cookies, but why? Trader Joe’s makes good ones. You could also substitute other delicious summer fruit instead of berries, but the berries are the best! And they look the prettiest too. Try this!
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Mixed Berry Meringue Parfaits

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe by Phyllis Carey, cookbook author
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: This is the kind of dessert you can almost always have on hand – if you have whipping cream, frozen berries in the freezer, and the meringue cookies on the shelf. It’s very easy to assemble, although you must do it at the last minute. If you’re serving a crowd, ask somebody else to help you do it. The berries may not need additional sugar – use your own discretion. You can also serve it without the ice cream, but I like the mixture of berries, cream and cold, with the crunchy from the cookies. I think the calorie count on this is way too high – probably because the program can’t determine the sizes very well – like scoops of ice cream.

16 ounces berries — mixed, Trader Joe’s frozen or fresh
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 whole meringue cookies — crumbled, Trader Joe’s
1 cup heavy cream — whipped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 scoops vanilla ice cream — (use small scoops)

1. If desired, a few hours before your dinner, toss the frozen or fresh berries with sugar and Grand Marnier. Allow the berries to thaw at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then refrigerate.
2. Crumble the meringue cookies and put in a plastic bag, so they won’t absorb any moisture, until you’re ready to serve.
3. Whip the cream, adding the additional 2 T. of sugar and vanilla.
4. In tall parfait glasses layer the berries, one scoop of vanilla ice cream, meringue cookie crumbs and whipped cream in 2-3 layers, depending on the height of the glasses. Sprinkle the remaining meringue cookie crumbs on top with any additional fruit.

Two years ago: Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken

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