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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 Desserts, on December 30th, 2010.

indian_rice_pudding

Last summer, every week I watched the Next Food Network Star, and from the very first show, when there were 12 or more candidates, I thought Aarti Sequeira had what it would take to win. I rooted for her from day one. And sure enough, she won, and now she has her own Food Network show, Aarti Party. I Tivo it every time it’s on (don’t you just love the new DVRs when all you have to do is set it up once and it forever records all new shows?). And I’ve made several of her recipes too. Her cooking schtick is comfortable American food with an Indian twist. At least that’s how I see it.

Anyway, after her first few shows ( her first “season,” she’s back on with more shows. And when she made Indian-style rice pudding using basmati rice, I knew I had to try it. All I had to buy was whole milk. I thought I had some pistachio nuts, but when I was ready to add them I   found none in the freezer. So the pudding doesn’t look quite as pretty as hers. Pistachios are on my grocery list now. What makes this pudding Indian is the addition of cardamom spice, rosewater (instead of vanilla) and pistachios.

The pudding is easy enough to make – you simmer the rice in whole milk with ground cardamom for about 45 minutes or so.

Caution:

use a larger pot than you think you need as simmering milk has a tendency to balloon over the edge of a moderate sized pan.

The milk reduces down, concentrating its richness. After it’s cooked you add the sugar and some rosewater (or vanilla). I’d have added the pistachios then (some in the pudding, more for garnish) if I’d had them.

The taste? Really unctuous. Rich. Smooth. Still a little tiny bit of tooth to the rice, even after that much cooking. I definitely didn’t want to over cook the rice. I like basmati rice as a rice pudding type. It’s a long-grained rice and retains a nice crunch, I think. Will I make this again? Definitely. Maybe it’s not quite up to my very favorite rice pudding, but it’s pretty close!

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Aarti’s Indian Rice Pudding

Recipe By : Aarti Sequeira, Food Network, Dec. 2010
Serving Size: 6

1/2 cup basmati rice
6 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup sugar — [I used Splenda]
1 teaspoon rosewater — or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons pistachio nuts — minced unsalted, plus extra for garnish (or almonds)

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the rice, milk, and cardamom to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-safe spoonula to help keep the milk from burning.
2. Reduce the heat so that the milk is gently simmering and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring often. The rice should be tender and the milk will have reduced by half, giving a porridge-like consistency.
3. Add the sugar, rosewater or vanilla, and pistachios. Stir and turn off the heat. Serve either warm or chilled, garnished with extra pistachios. Goes well with fresh fruit too.
Per  Serving: 290 Calories; 10g Fat (32.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 33mg Cholesterol; 130mg Sodium.

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