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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 Soups, on October 28th, 2008.

Thai pumpkin, shrimp and coconut milk soup
Recently I went with a couple of my watercolor class friends to a Thai restaurant for lunch. I enjoyed my lunch so much I decided to try to recreate it at home. My entrée was a special that day, a creamy (coconut milk-based) sauce with fresh pumpkin cubes and shrimp. It had enough of the sauce/gravy to serve over a bed of rice. It was absolutely out of this world fabulous. I tried to close my eyes and analyze the flavors floating around in my mouth. I hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out how to make it.

Seeing sugar pie pumpkins at the market reminded me I wanted to try to prepare the dish. I did sleuth on the internet for a recipe, and found one that was similar, but different. I decided to make mine a soup without rice rather than the shrimp entrée sauce over rice I’d had at the restaurant. Since there were already carbs in the dish (the pumpkin) I thought it would be healthier for us anyway. The internet recipe called for shrimp paste (I used a fish soup base) and dried shrimp (I didn’t have them, nor did I buy it). It called for “green chiles,” so I used one Poblano (probably not traditionally Thai, but it was what I had) and one jalapeno. It had a perfect degree of heat for my taste. This other recipe called for basil. I used spinach instead. So I really changed the recipe all around, different proportions of most things and added ingredients plus deleted others.

The seafood soup base I bought from Penzey’s. You’ve read about them here before – their soup bases are just the greatest. I’m generous with how much I use. They don’t keep forever anyway. I’ve had my three jars for about 5 months now and they’re still just fine (stored in the refrigerator).

As I was making the soup I kept tasting the broth. Finally, after I added a jar of Thai red curry sauce I was pleased. The sauce came from Trader Joe’s, but I believe there are other brands out there . . . just seek them out. I purchased frozen already-cooked extra-large shrimp which got added to the soup at the very end. They slow-simmered just long enough to defrost and heat through. The coconut milk gets added at the very last also because it does not like to be boiled. I added the spinach and merely stirred it into the soup minutes before serving. The flavor comes from all the other stuff you put into the broth, though. The garlic, shallots, lemongrass (I used a paste from a tube since I can’t always find fresh lemongrass in my markets), the chiles, Thai fish sauce, and the soup base. There’s also just a tad of sugar in this. The soup is quite versatile – you could easily change the ingredients to ones of your choice. Don’t like pumpkin? Use butternut squash. Don’t like shrimp? Use chicken. Don’t like coconut milk? Use regular cow’s milk or soy (although the flavor will be really different). Don’t like chiles? Add green or red bell pepper instead. But, if you enjoy Thai flavors, this is one fantastic soup. My DH thought it was wonderful too.
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Thai Pumpkin, Shrimp and Coconut Milk Soup

Recipe: Inspired by but significantly changed from a recipe on dlife.com
Servings: 5
NOTES: You can use your own choice of chiles. I happened to use one poblano and one jalapeno. Neither was very hot on the Scoville rating. If you don’t mind being un-authentic, add some frozen peas and mushrooms to the soup too.

3 cups pumpkin — fresh, peeled, cubed (don’t use the large carving-type pumpkins for this)
2 whole garlic cloves — crushed
2 large shallots — finely chopped
1 teaspoon seafood soup base — or chicken soup base
2 tablespoons lemongrass — fresh, chopped or lemongrass paste
2 whole green chiles — seeded (see notes for explanation)
4 cups chicken stock
16 ounces shrimp — fresh, shelled
11 ounces Thai red curry sauce
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar — or more if desired
4 ounces spinach — baby type
1/2 cup canned pumpkin — optional
2 cups coconut milk — canned
Salt and ground black pepper

1. With a sharp knife or very sturdy peeler, peel the pumpkin, and cut into quarters. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard. Cut the flesh into chunks (about 3/4 inch) thick and set aside.
2. Put the garlic, shallots, fish soup base, lemongrass, and green chiles in the food processor. Process to a paste, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the workbowl. Continue to process until it’s a smooth paste.
3. In a large, heavy pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the ground paste and stir well to dissolve. Add the pumpkin chunks and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Don’t overcook.
4. Stir in the shrimp, bottled Thai red curry sauce and spinach, bring to a simmer and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, then bring the soup back to simmer. Be careful not to let it boil. Add a bit of water if you want more quantity (up to about 2 cups). Add the fish sauce, canned pumpkin, sugar and ground black pepper to taste. Add more salt if needed. Cook (below a simmer) for 2-3 minutes. Serve in warmed soup bowls. Since the spinach floats to the top, it provides a lovely garnished LOOK to the soup. No need to garnish with anything else unless you want to sprinkle some shredded spinach on top.
Per Serving: 645 Calories; 39g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 139mg Cholesterol; 3972mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 29th, 2008:

    Phew, what a lot of catching up I have to do here! I shall take my time, though and savour everything that you’ve written whilst I have been absent.

    Have a happy Halloween, won’t you? Can you believe that we had snow last evening? At least three inches stayed on the ground all night long and is still visible in some places, in October, in middle England!

    Well, T-A, I’ve missed you! Hope you had a good holiday. Did you go to India? Anyway, glad you’re back. Right now I envy your 3-inches of snow. One January many years ago we flew to England, stayed in London for a few days (this was one of BA’s annual good-deal packages that included airfare and lodging in London for 5 days), then took the train down to Ilminster (a little town kind of near Taunton) to visit dear friends who then lived there. It had snowed overnight. We were snug in the train, but the landscape was pure white. Everwhere we looked the landscape was white. It was a dirty-gray day and the snow had stopped. But, the rooftops were white. The ground, the streets, trees, bushes. Everything white. It was beautiful but eerie. So when I read your note, that’s what I remembered. Keep warm! . . .Carolyn

  2. Erik

    said on November 1st, 2008:

    I love pumpkin with practically any Asian ingredients, so I am going to have to try this soon! Thanks for the ideas!

    Erik – you’ll love this soup. We had the last of the leftovers today, and I think I’ve decided this may be the very best soup I’ve ever made. Bar none. My husband agrees. Hope you do try it. You’ll not be sorry! . . . Carolyn T

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