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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 Salads, on August 19th, 2008.

watermelon and tomato salad with Feta, mint, red onion, in vinaigrette

It was last summer that one of my cooking magazines arrived with a cover  photo of a watermelon and tomato salad. At the time my face must have squeezed up funny-like, thinking yuk, why would anyone combine the sweet of watermelon and the savory pucker of a tomato. Well, I stand corrected. Big time. It’s a match made in heaven, especially if you have ripe tomatoes. Flavorful full-of-summer tomatoes and ripe, sweet watermelon. And likely  you’ve encountered this salad if you’ve eaten in any leading edge or avante-garde restaurants. Dave ordered it recently at one restaurant. I tasted it and agreed it was sensational.

A couple of months ago my friend Kathleen served us a watermelon and Feta salad, which I liked ever so much. It was simply dressed with Feta and mint. I’ve made it a couple of times this summer and enjoyed it hugely. So I guess you could say that I’ve discovered the culinary big deal about watermelon. I can’t eat a whole lot of watermelon – because of the high water content, it fills me up so, so fast. So I never serve it as a dessert because generally I’m too full for that much additional fluid in my already sated stomach. But as a side dish with a meal, it’s fine.

Therefore, when I purchased the September, 2008 issue of Saveur (a magazine to which I do not subscribe), with a photo of watermelon on the cover, I thought ah-ha, maybe there will be some other variations on the watermelon and tomato theme. Sure enough there were. The issue contained a few other watermelon concoctions: Watermelon, Feta and (Kalamata) Olive Salad, Russian Pickled Watermelon, a Watermelon Curry (believe it or not, an Indian hot dish served with rice) and a Watermelon Pudding (a Sicilian specialty). I’ve earmarked the pudding to try (very low calorie). And it did contain a salad of watermelon and tomato chunks, with red onion and a vinaigrette dressing. That intrigued me. I did alter the recipe some, so it’s more of a Carolyn recipe, but still this recipe was the inspiration.

The salad is incredibly easy. You shave up the red onion slices and marinate them in champagne vinegar and sugar (Splenda) with a little cayenne added. That wants to sit for about 30 minutes to lessen the bite of the onion. Meanwhile, you cut up the watermelon and tomatoes, the mint and Feta (not in the Saveur recipe,  but I added it because I like the watermelon-Feta combination). Once you toss everything together, then you add a splash of basil oil (my substitution) or olive oil, along with some cracked black pepper. The original recipe called for salt, but I didn’t think it was necessary. The Saveur recipe also suggested basil (although I had some in my garden, I decided to use some infused homemade basil oil my friend Lucy gave me last summer). But if you’d prefer the olive oil, add fresh basil to the salad as well. I just used a whole lot more mint, because I like the combination of mint and watermelon.

watermelon_feta_mint_saladThe onions retain their crunch (a great texture in the salad since the watermelon and tomatoes are soft), but they lose their bite with the vinegar soak, and the vinaigrette just adds a great smoothness to the entire dish. I l-o-v-e-d this salad. The joy of it is that you could easily substitute your own twist – you don’t like mint? Add tarragon. Don’t like Feta? Eliminate it. Or add ricotta salata, which might be more appropriate anyway. Just maintain the tomatoes and the watermelon, and create from there. The salad is edible the next day, but it’s lost a lot of its zing, so ideally make just enough to eat at that first meal.
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Watermelon & Tomato Salad

Recipe: Inspired by a recipe in Saveur, Sept. ’08 issue
Servings: 8

6 cups watermelon — sliced, cut in 1-inch cubes
3 cups tomatoes — sliced in bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup Feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar — or white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar — or Splenda
2 pinches cayenne
1/4 whole red onion — thinly sliced
2 tablespoons basil oil — or extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh mint — minced

1. Combine in a small bowl the white wine vinegar and cayenne, then add the sliced red onions. Toss lightly so all the onions are combined with the vinegar. Allow to sit for 30 minutes (to soften the sharp onion taste).
2. Meanwhile, cut up all the watermelon and tomatoes. Combine in a large bowl.
3. Add the crumbled Feta cheese and the onions (with any vinegar that’s still remaining in the bowl. Sprinkle with the fresh mint, then drizzle on the basil oil (or olive oil) over the top. Toss well to combine. Serve within about 30 minutes, or refrigerate no longer than an hour.
Per Serving (even less if you substitute Splenda for the sugar): 110 Calories; 5g Fat (39.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 64mg Sodium.

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