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Currently Reading

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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 Beef, easy, on August 12th, 2011.


Am sure I’ve mentioned before that I Tivo all of Ina Garten’s new episodes. And even though it’s summertime and the weather is warm and muggy, when I watched Ina make this easy-easy Bolognese sauce, I was hooked. I went online to download the recipe and noted a few comments from others who had made it (suggesting cooking a little longer than the 10+ minutes and reducing the salt). So I added a quarter of an onion to the sauce (sautéing it first), greatly reduced the salt in the sauce, and I also added a little dollop of beef soup base (my Penzey’s favorite flavor enhancer) to the sauce also.

Using orecchiette pasta was different – usually I opt for linguine – but I’m very glad I used the orecchiette because it did exactly what Ina said – it provided little “cups” to hold sauce. The only other unusual thing in this is 1/4 cup of heavy cream. What a great idea – and wow, did it ever add a delicious richness to the sauce. She also has you add 1/4 cup of the red wine toward the end – it does simmer off the alcohol in the 10 minute cooking then – but she said it added lots of good flavor. Some sliced basil was added in at the end also. Oregano and a pinch of red chile flakes are all the herbs that flavor the dish.

My DH loved it. I mean, he nearly licked the bowl. He raved about it. And raved about it. I thought it was delicious. And I mentioned above how EASY it is. If you don’t want to, or can’t add wine, use good, flavorful beef stock instead. I’m looking forward to the leftovers, for sure.

What I liked: how easy it was to make, beginning to end about 45 minutes; liked the added flavor from the heavy cream – it’s just 4 T. of it; really liked the orecchiette pasta too – would definitely do that again. It should freeze well, too. Next time I’ll make a double batch and freeze half.

What I didn’t like: nothing at all. Would and will make it again, sooner rather than later.

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MasterCook 5+ import file

Weeknight Bolognese from Ina Garten

Recipe By: Adapted from Ina Garten, 2011
Serving Size: 5
Serving Ideas: Ina recommended orrechiette because the little cups hold some of the sauce in each bite.
NOTES: If you can’t buy San Marzano type tomatoes (there is a brand called San Marzano, but they’re not really San Marzano tomatoes), use other brands, but add in about 1/2 tsp of sugar to the sauce. I also added about 1/2 tsp. of beef concentrate (from Penzey’s) just for extra flavor. I also let it simmer for about 30 minutes – longer at least than the recipe indicated.

2 tablespoons olive oil — plus extra to cook the pasta
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef — sirloin, if possible
4 teaspoons minced garlic — (about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine — divided
28 ounces crushed tomatoes — preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound pasta — such as orecchiette or small shells
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves — lightly packed, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese — freshly grated, plus extra for serving

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, then add ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
3. While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes (or up to 20 if you think it needs it), stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan and more basil on top.
Per Serving: 729 Calories; 33g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 68g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 91mg Cholesterol; 521mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Red Pepper and Walnut Spread, with pita bread
Four years ago: Chicken Bamako (very easy baked chicken breast and bacon dish)

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  1. jody snyder

    said on December 11th, 2014:

    Am trying this tonight. I love all things ina.

    You’ll be glad you did. I love her recipe. Don’t know why hers tastes better than many, but it’s also easy, or at least easier than some. . . carolyn t

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