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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 April 18th, 2011.

green_beans_balsamic_dill

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were eating in a nice, fairly upscale restaurant, and our waiter, a nice young man, was reciting his litany of specials. And he rattled off the sea bass preparation and said it was accompanied by “hair-a-cots verts.” I know I said “what?” He said “hair-a-cots verts. You know, little green beans.” So, being part of the foodie police, or maybe more like a closet teacher, I explained that it’s a French phrase, and it’s pronounced “hair-eh-co vehr.” He asked me to repeat it so he’d get it right. I was amazed that nobody in the restaurant hierarchy had told him how to pronounce it!

Our Costco sells  a lovely bag of haricots verts for a quite reasonable price, and I buy them every few weeks because I enjoy them so much. My go-to recipe for them is garlic green beans. I must make those about every 3-4 weeks for sure. We were having our friends Bud & Cherrie over for dinner, and ever since she had them at my house, she’s been making them regularly too, so I needed to find something new. I turned to my newest cookbook, the The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, Amanda Hesser’s newly published 881-page book. I must write up a separate post just about this cookbook, as it’s SO interesting. I’ve left it sitting out on my kitchen counter and have been putting yellow stickies in it every day or two when I scan an interesting recipe.

Anyway, everything for this side dish can be done ahead of time. You can even dress the salad a couple of hours ahead and leave it out at room temp for awhile. That’s the kind of side dish I like when I entertain! I made the balsamic vinaigrette, then simmered the beans in a huge pot of boiling water, plunged them into ice water to cool them off (and keep the color), then minced the red bell pepper, dill and green onions. Just before serving I tossed some of the dressing on the beans – just enough to give them a light slick – and mounded them on a white platter, then garnished them with the red pepper, dill and green onions. It was delicious. Easy. Do put this on a white or light colored platter. Ever so pretty.

printer-friendly PDF

Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
Serving Size: 4

BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE:
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil about 15 grinds of freshly ground black pepper
HARICOT VERTS:
1/2 pound haricot verts — or regular sized green beans
1/4 cup green onions — minced
2 tablespoons red bell pepper — finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill — minced
lettuce greens of your choice to serve under the beans, if desired

1. VINAIGRETTE: In a glass jar dissolve the salt in the two vinegars. Add mustard, pepper and olive oil. With lid on, shake vigorously until the mixture is thick and smooth. Yield: about 1/2 cup. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator. You need about 3 T. for the above salad.
2. BEANS: Steam the beans for 3-4 minutes (don’t over cook them) until they are just barely tender. Drain and pour beans into a large bowl of cold iced water. Stir until beans are cold, then drain and set aside in a colander until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the stem ends only of the beans.
3. In a bowl place the beans and add the vinaigrette, then toss. Taste for seasoning.
4. Place beans onto a serving platter and sprinkle the top with the red bell pepper, green onions and fresh dill. Serve, or cover and keep at room temp for an hour or two at the most. Per Serving: 184 Calories; 20g Fat (96.8% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 417mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Mustard Port Sauce
Three years ago: Coffee Walnut Cookies

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