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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, Pork, on May 30th, 2008.

zinfandel sausage sauce for pasta
I know, the name is odd, isn’t it? I suppose I could just change the name and claim the recipe as my own, but that’s not fair to the originator of this sauce, so I’ve always referred to it by her title. It’s not just any old spaghetti sauce, as we’d be likely to call it, and surely Camille Stagg meant for us to take notice. This isn’t your ordinary red – either the wine OR the sauce. Camille Stagg is a well-known journalist, travel writer, and must live in Chicago, as she’s written a book about gourmet haunts in that town. She consults with some wineries and wine distributors (clubs), as I found other recipes listed by her in a couple of places on the internet.

Many years ago we used to have two bottles of wine delivered to us each month by a small company up in Emeryville, California. And each month the wine purveyor included a write-up about the wines in the box, AND a recipe suitable for that wine. Likely this recipe came in with a box of zin, since it calls for the wine in the recipe. It sounded so intriguing, I had to try it. We were going to have a wine tasting at our home a week or so later, and I asked each guest couple to bring a bottle of wine and food to serve with it. Specifically, they were to bring something that would complement their wine type. We stood around our kitchen island with 4 (small) glasses of wine in front of us, and sampled food with each wine. It was fun, and we really liked this sauce.

Having not made this for several years, I had to refresh my memory about what was different about it (it uses nearly a whole bottle of zin for 5 pounds of sausage). Once you combine the sausage, onions, mushrooms, garlic and seasonings, you can either simmer it on the range, or put it in a crockpot for long, slow simmering. I did the latter and kept it at high for about 4 hours to help boil off the wine. The sauce is thin to start, and must be simmered down to reduce it. Obviously, it’s a heavy sauce, redolent with the winy taste, and complemented with a large quantity of mushrooms. It’s an extremely dark-colored sauce – zin wine certainly stains nearly anything it touches anyway, so the meat takes on the dark red color as well. You can use your own combination of sausage – the recipe calls for half hot and half sweet. It’s zesty, I’ll give you that! Zinfandel is a zesty wine in and of itself – most people describe it as spicy. And the hot/spicy sausage ups the ante. If you don’t like spicy sausage, use all sweet Italian. This freezes well. Over the years I’ve increased the recipe volume – you can certainly halve it easily enough. I like to have leftovers to freeze. Linguine is my pasta of choice for this. I also increased the amount of wine in the recipe, but not by much.
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Zinfandel Sausage Sauce for Pasta

Recipe By: adapted from one by Camille Stagg
Serving Size: 15
I caution you about one thing, though:  canned tomato sauce – most are very, very high in sodium. When this sauce reduces down, the sauce will be too salty, so I recommend you use a low or no added sodium tomato sauce. Read the label!

2 1/2 lb Italian sausage — hot
2 1/2 lb Italian sausage — sweet
3 whole onions — minced
1 1/2 lb mushrooms — sliced
4 c red wine — Zinfandel style
48 oz tomato sauce — low sodium
1/2 c Italian parsley
6 cloves garlic — minced
3 tbsp fresh basil
3 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp dried rosemary
Salt & pepper to taste, or no salt at all depending on the sodium in the tomato sauce
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. In a large, heavy skillet, slowly brown the crumbled sausage; drain off fat. Add onion and sauté until limp, then add garlic and mushrooms. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.
2. Add Zinfandel wine, tomato sauce, herbs and spices. Bring to a boil, partially cover pan, and reduce to a simmer.
3. Cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced to a thick consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over cooked pasta and top with grated parmesan. This freezes well. It is best if prepared a day ahead.
Per Serving: 641 Calories; 49g Fat (73.4% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 1775mg

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  1. Amanda

    said on January 5th, 2010:

    I just made this and fed it to 3 big eating, very hungry 20 year old boys. They LOVED it, as did I! Will be freezing the extra and eating some more tomorrow!

    Am so glad you liked it! I haven’t made it in eons, but it’s definitely a favorite. . . carolyn t

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