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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 Pork, Soups, on March 29th, 2011.


The first time I had posole – when I was visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico for the very first time, I was blown away with the intense flavors. I attended a cooking class in Santa Fe and learned some of the nuances, and about the important New Mexico chiles and/or powder that must be in it. Whenever I see posole on a menu I usually order it. But really, it’s not hard to make, and I think this recipe is as good, if not better, than any I’ve ever had at a restaurant. It freezes well, too, although the toppings must be made within an hour or so of serving.

I made this a couple of weeks ago when we were visiting our Northern California family, and the grandkids could pick and choose which toppings they wanted on their soup. Our 17-year old grandson doesn’t like vegetables, he says. Pushes them around his plate to avoid eating them, and he picked all around the veggies in this soup. Our granddaughter, though, is game for tasting almost anything (thank you, Taylor! – she reads my blog) and she liked this soup and ate it all.

The soup is pork based – this one uses country style ribs. They are slow cooked for a couple of hours, then the mixture (including the broth) gets refrigerated overnight. Now, you don’t have to do that step, but it makes for a healthier soup since you can remove the fat from the meat and the broth before proceeding. The dried New Mexico chiles are an essential ingredient – I hope you can buy them at your local market like I can. Anyway, the chiles are soaked in water for half an hour, then made into a thin puree in the blender (with some added onion, garlic, salt and waterpork_cooked).

The actual soup preparation is easy. I actually add some vegetables to my posole. It’s likely not traditional, but this soup isn’t billed as an authentic posole anyway. You can add what types of veggies you like – I used carrots, more onion, and because I had one, I charred a pasilla chile and added that chopped up as well. The hominy, though, is a necessity. Mostly this stew is all about the hominy. You can find hominy in the canned vegetable aisle. You could substitute other beans, but it definitely wouldn’t be a New Mexican style posole that way. If you don’t like hominy, use canned pinto beans instead. Pictured here you can see the big bag of shredded, chilled pork, all ready to be poured into the soup.

The garnishes, though, are what make this dish. Truly they do. You simply must have some corn tortillas chips. You can use packaged chips – or visit your local Mexican restaurant and buy a small bag of their homemade chips if you don’t want to make your own. Do add the finely shredded Romaine lettuce, some diced avocado, radishes (very finely sliced or diced), some freshly chopped cilantro and if you really want to cap it off, serve with a couple of lime wedges on the side of each bowl.

posole_stewThis would make a very fun company meal – especially if you make oodles of toppings to put out. Cheese isn’t traditional, but maybe some of the Mexican crumbly white cheese (queso fresco) would be good too. The finished soup flavor is spicy, but not overwhelmingly hot. The dried chiles add a really delicious depth to the soup, and a gorgeous red/orange color. This soup is really flavorful!

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Pork and Hominy Stew with Red Chiles and Avocado

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe by Susan Vollmer, A Store for Cooks, Feb. 2011
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: DO make the pork the day before – so you can refrigerate the broth mixture and remove all the fat before you proceed with the soup portion.

1 head garlic — (save 2 cloves and set aside)
12 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
4 pounds country style pork ribs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 ounces dried New Mexico red chiles
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 whole onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon salt
60 ounces hominy (canned)
2 large carrots — peeled, chopped
3/4 whole onion — chopped
1 whole poblano chile — also called pasilla
1 whole avocado — diced
2 cups Romaine lettuce — shredded
1/2 cup radishes — minced
1 cup cilantro — minced
2 whole limes — cut in wedges
8 whole corn tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil, for frying the tortillas

1. Peel garlic cloves and reserve two for the chile sauce. Slice remaining garlic. In a large heavy pot bring water and broth to a boil. Add sliced garlic and pork. Skim the surface of any scum, then add dried oregano. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours, until pork is tender. Ideally, make this part one day ahead so you can chill the cooking liquid and remove congealed fat the next day.
2. Meanwhile, place dried red chiles in a flat bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 30 minutes. Remove stems and seeds, then place chiles in blender with the onion, soaking liquid, the reserved garlic and 2 tsp. of salt.
3. Transfer pork to a cutting board and reserve broth mixture. Shred pork and discard all the bones. Rinse and drain the canned hominy.
4. Roast the pasilla (poblano) chile: if using gas, hold it over the flame until the skin has blistered and turns black. Or, broil on all sides until the skin blisters. Remove chile and place in plastic bag. Set aside for about 15 minutes to cool. Remove from bag and remove black, blistered skin, cut into pieces (removing stem and seeds).
5. Strain pork liquid and return to pot. Bring to a simmer and add carrots and onion. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the pasilla chile, reserved shredded pork and canned hominy. Simmer for about 10-30 minutes and serve.
6. Fry the tortillas, cut into strips, in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
6. GARNISHES: Place all the garnishes out for your diners to select whichever ones they wish to eat. Place about 1 1/2 cups of the posole/hominy stew in a wide bowl and hand each one to your guests.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 7g Fat (21.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1701mg Sodium.

A year ago: Plum Compote (oooh, that was delicious – try it during plum season)
Three years ago: Iceberg Wedge with Blue Cheese

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  1. Melynda@Moms Sunday Cafe

    said on March 29th, 2011:

    This sounds delicious. A great dish to make when the family comes to dinner. thanks.

    Let me know what you think of it! . . . carolyn t

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