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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, Veggies/sides, on July 5th, 2010.

Oh my goodness gracious is this salad ever good. I can take absolutely NO credit for creating it. But I urge you, if you enjoy pasta (the Israeli couscous) and a few grains (baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa), along with asparagus, almonds and goat cheese, to read on. Well, this recipe will make you sing! And, it’s going onto my carefully crafted “Carolyn’s Favs,” my separate page listing all of my favorites of everything I’ve ever posted.

We were at a family gathering a couple of weeks ago where someone brought this dish. After tasting it, and taking a small spoonful of seconds to try to deconstruct it, I found out our daughter-in-law’s cousin’s husband Chris brought it. I made a beeline to him, and began asking questions. After listing off the ingredients, he told me he’d found the recipe over at blog (it’s part of the Apartment Therapy website).  When I did a search for some of the ingredients there, this recipe popped right up. Oh, happy day! It was uploaded to their site in 2008 by Faith Durand.

The basis of the salad is a mix produced by Trader Joe’s (called Harvest Grains Blend). But, if you don’t live in Trader Joe’s country, then you can easily substitute Israeli couscous and farro (spelt) and call it even. The two types would need to be cooked separately (the farro will take a lot longer than the couscous), but you’ll still get all the greatness of this salad using those instead.

The recipe online calls for using half farro/spelt and half of the Trader Joe’s grains mix. But I didn’t have any farro, and Chris’  salad I’d tasted didn’t have it, either. So, I’ve altered the recipe to use just this mixture.

But what MAKES the salad is the overtones of fresh lemon juice. It really doesn’t have all that much other stuff in it (fresh asparagus, toasted almonds, olive oil, walnut oil, salt and pepper plus the zest and juice of a couple of lemons. I happen to have Meyer lemons, but you can substitute any kind of fresh lemons. Remember, though, that Meyers are a bit sweeter, so regular lemons might require less juice. Taste it and see what you think.

This salad is a shoe-in for a summer dinner/barbecue/picnic. It can be made aheadit also keeps well. I can attest to that – as I write this, it’s 5 days now since I made it and it’s every bit as good today as it was the first. Soooo, if you’ve learned to trust my judgment, and my recipes, please do print out this one and make it right away quick. OKAY? Okay! And my thanks to Chris for sharing the recipe origin.

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Meyer Lemon Grain Salad with Asparagus, Almonds and Goat Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted from Faith Durand at blog 4/2008
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: You can use a combination of farro (spelt) and Israeli couscous, if you’d prefer. Use 8 ounces of each, cook separately, then combine when they’ve cooled.

3 1/2 cups water
16 ounces Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend — or see Notes
1 pound asparagus
Olive oil to cook asparagus
1 cup sliced almonds — toasted
4 ounces soft goat cheese — chilled and crumbled
2 whole Meyer lemons — zested and juiced (or regular lemons)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the Harvest Grains blend according to package directions (3 1/2 cups water to 16 ounces of the grain mixture) in a medium saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes until just barely cooked through, remove the lid and cook, stirring, until any remaining moisture evaporates.
2. Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and cut each spear into a 2-inch piece. Rinse out the large sauté pan and dry. Heat a little olive oil over medium heat, and cook the asparagus until just barely crisp-tender – about 1-2 minutes. Add to the grains and toss.
4. Also toss in the sliced toasted almonds, goat cheese and lemon zest.
5. Mix the Meyer lemon juice with the oils, taste, and adjust. Pour over grain salad and toss, along with salt and pepper to taste.
6. This salad lasts very well in the fridge; the herbal flavors of the Meyer lemons bloom nicely when it sits. If you want it to look particularly attractive, save some of the asparagus, almonds and goat cheese to sprinkle on top when it’s served.
Per Serving: 443 Calories; 22g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 60mg Sodium.

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