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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 Veggies/sides, on May 9th, 2011.

summer_squash_casserole_ritz_crackers

Goodness me, was this ever good. The day after I made it a friend came to visit who’d watched me put it together (but who wasn’t invited to the dinner – mean, huh?) and asked to taste it. Not only did she love it, but after dishing up a few bites for her, I just licked the spoon clean and it was even delicious cold out of the refrigerator!

summer_squash_raw_slicesThe recipe has an interesting story behind it. Amanda Hesser, who compiled the 1000+ recipes of  previously published ones into the new monstrous cookbook published last year from the New York Times, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, wrote this as the headnote to the recipe:

Warning to food snobs: the following recipe contains Ritz crackers.

As much as the Times food writers and editors (myself included) like to think we’re covering the nation’s foodways, it’s a bit of a lie. We are and have been preponderantly New Yorkers, smitten with the new and the best on our little island, and we have sometimes ignored – or even turned up our noses at – the way most Americans are cooking.

Julia Reed, who wrote regularly for the Magazine in the early 2000s, was one of the few who had the guts to run recipes involving jarred mayonnaise and iceberg lettuce. In this casserole – and I mean casserole in the American pile-in-the-ingredients sense, not the French – a moist squash puree is held together with grated cheddar and Ritz cracker crumbs. It’s the kind of dish that probably won a cooking contest or two, and it will win you plenty of compliments. Whether or not you reveal the secret ingredient [the Ritz crackers] is up to you.

With that kind of write-up, I decided it needed to be tried. And since one of our guests was recovering from surgery and barely starting to eat anything except soft foods, I thought this would be a perfect one to try. It does use squash puree to start with, so it’s almost a soft food to begin with.

summer_squash_casserole_wholeBut, with all the different things in it – like red and green bell pepper, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cheddar, eggs, cream, sugar, salt and cayenne – plus the fresh bread crumbs on the top – it makes it a company-worthy dish for sure. The recipe is available at the New York Times website. It was published in 2002.

It’s a cinchy dish to make – and if you didn’t put the bread crumbs on the top until later, you could easily prepare this ahead of time, which I should have done. But the recipe didn’t indicate  you could, so for my first time through I stuck to the recipe exactly.

What can I tell you except that the flavors are just dynamite. You can’t taste the Ritz crackers, of course, but it does give the squash part a delicious texture, somehow. I don’t know the how of it, just that it is. There is just the right amount of heat (with one jalapeno and some cayenne added). I left the jalapeno out of one part of it so our grandson would have some, but he didn’t like it period even so. But he was the only person at the table who didn’t. Trust me on this one, okay?

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Summer-Squash Casserole

Recipe By: From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, 2010
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: This may seem like it’s over-the-top in fat and calories – well, I suppose it is – and you may scoff at using Ritz crackers. But taste this and you’ll be a convert.

2 pounds yellow squash
7 tablespoons butter
1 large onion — chopped
1 large clove garlic — chopped
1/2 red bell pepper — chopped
1/2 green bell pepper — chopped
1 medium jalapeño pepper — seeded and chopped
4 slices white bread — toasted
24 Ritz crackers — crumbed in food processor
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese — grated
4 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Purée in a food processor.
2. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, crumb the toast in a food processor, melt remaining butter and toss together.
3. Mix the squash purée, cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir in the eggs, cream, sugar and seasonings. Blend well. Pour into the baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until browned, about 40 minutes.
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 25g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 585mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Strawberry Mango Margarita
Three years ago: Trout Fillets
Four years ago: Creamy Cold Pea Soup

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