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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 Veggies/sides, on December 8th, 2010.

saffron basmati rice

After we had our big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving I piled all the bones, a bit of the skin, and some of the meat that I chose not to pick off, into my big crockpot and left it to simmer with a couple of quarts of water. It simmered overnight. By morning I had this lovely big pan full of thick turkey stock. Along with a bunch of little, tender pieces of turkey too (you can see a long strand of it in the left foreground above). After saving the meat pieces, I strained the broth to remove all the bones, skin and some of the little pieces of junky tissue, and it had almost no fat in it.

leftover turkey with basmati

Going to my to-try file I found a recipe that I’d read on someone else’s blog. I wasn’t so enamored with it as the blogger was (see link in last sentence below). My DH said “you can throw out the rest of that.” Sigh. I haven’t, because I figure I’ll eat it, even if he won’t. It’s rare that I make something my hubby simply won’t eat, but this dish was one. (Not the rice, just the turkey part.)

This reminds me of a story  . . . but let me just say about this above recipe, that I altered the ingredients a little. That sets the stage for my story  . . . years ago I was good friends with a gal who went to college with me. She married the same week I did (this was in 1962), and we ended up moving close to one another (by happenstance). In a matter of 5 years she had a whole passel of children, was a stay-at-home mom of the first order. Cooked everything from scratch, including all her own bread. One day she made a dessert – let’s just say it was a kind of Boston cream pie dessert – and raved about it, and she shared the recipe with me. A few weeks later I made it, but was short on time and I used a box mix for the yellow cake and a package of quick-cooking pudding for part of the filling. I wasn’t so thrilled with the results and mentioned it to my friend [one of my early lessons – if it’s your friend’s recipe, you don’t always tell your friends everything]. She quizzed me about what I’d done. After telling her how I’d changed the recipe to save time, she was hugely annoyed and informed me that if I wasn’t going to make things exactly the way she gave me the recipe, then she wasn’t going to give me any more recipes! It’s now 45 years later, and I still remember her lecturing me! She and her family moved to Oregon in the 1970’s and we’ve lost touch.

So perhaps, because I changed the recipe I made here today, it wasn’t like the recipe I printed out. The blogger would probably scold me for not adhering to her recipe exactly. She had used fresh, raw chicken, marinated it in yogurt and stuff, then flash-fried it. No sauce at all (there’s no sauce in the picture above, just some nuts on top). Me? Well, I had leftover turkey. So I coated the nice tender bite-sized breast meat pieces with the yogurt mixture and flash fried it too (quickly, as it didn’t need any cooking, just warming). The mixture was a tad on the dry side – but maybe it’s supposed to be that way – it’s a rice dish, not a curry or a stew. But it was too dry for me. So with the leftovers of that I added a jar of Trader Joe’s Thai green chile curry sauce. That almost made it worse!

BUT, the rice was fantastic, so I’m giving you that part. It will be made again. And again. Because of the texture of the rice (it’s actually more like a pilaf) and the flavor (saffron). I made a nice big batch of it and will freeze quart-sized freezer bags of it for future meals. It’s a Nigella Lawson recipe.

printer-friendly PDF

Saffron Basmati Rice Pilaf

Recipe By: Originally a Nigella Lawson recipe
Serving Size: 8

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
4 cups turkey stock — or chicken broth
1 whole lemon — zest and juice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
3 whole cardamom pods — gently crushed with meat mallet
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts — or other nut for garnish

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter with olive oil. Once it’s shimmery hot, add the rice, stirring it to coat the rice. Allow to cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Add the saffron, cardamom seeds, turkey or chicken stock, and the lemon zest and juice.
2. Bring to a boil and cover tightly. Turn heat to very low and cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, about 10-15 minutes. Do not over cook the rice.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 5g Fat (21.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 1123mg Sodium.

A year ago: Butternut Squash Soup with Amaretti Cookie Crumbles
Two years ago: Chocolate Mousse in the Blender
Three years ago: Harlequin Pinwheels

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