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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 easy, Salads, Veggies/sides, on June 24th, 2012.

corn_tomato_scallion_salad

Not like any other corn and tomato salad you’ve ever had. What makes it different is the use of white balsamic vinegar as the dressing. All of 1 1/2 tablespoons for an 8-serving bowl of it. You wouldn’t think it would add all that much. But yes, it does.

As it happens, I had some lemon flavored white balsamic vinegar that I picked up at Oliver’s in San Clemente some months ago. I’d not used it yet. I thought white balsamic was milder in flavor (it’s not) – making that assumption just because it’s as clear as water in color. Some other people who made this salad commented they didn’t like using dark balsamic (which, I think, is what the original recipe called for) because it stained the corn. When I read that I just decided to use white balsamic.

Although I’ve used white balsamic for some years (and not often, I have to admit, and only when a recipe called for it) I wasn’t sure of the production process. Here’s what I found at www.thekitchen.com:

White balsamic vinegar . . . blends white grape must with white wine vinegar and is cooked at a low temperature to avoid any darkening. Some manufacturers age the vinegar in oak barrels, while other use stainless steel.

The flavors of the two are very similar, although the dark balsamic is slightly sweeter and tends to be a little more syrupy. The white has more of a clean aftertaste. The main reason one would use white balsamic, rather than regular, is mostly aesthetic. It can be used with lighter colored foods, dressings, or sauces without any discoloring.

It’s that last sentence that confirmed my reasoning. No dark colored, stained corn for me!

The recipe I’ve had hanging around in my to-try file for some years – it first appeared in Gourmet Magazine in 2000. By the way, did you know that the internet still has a Gourmet magazine presence – not just old recipes (1941 to when Gourmet stopped publishing a monthly magazine in 2009) which live over at www.epicurious.com – it actually has new content. Just not in a monthly magazine. But it’s an evolving online website. They also publish some special editions, which I’ve not seen, although I don’t frequent any magazine aisles at all – I have all the magazine reading I can handle, thank you! But perhaps I should look at the special editions now and then.

Okay, back to this recipe. It’s SO very simple, although you do sauté the corn a little. I questioned why I should need to do that since corn cut right off the cob is so very tasty and tender. But perhaps when it’s cooked slightly it just becomes sweeter. Hard to imagine, as sweet as corn is these days. It’s cooked in a little jot of olive oil, then you add the garlic, and the halved cherry tomatoes. Lastly you drizzle in the white balsamic vinegar and lastly the scallion. Done. I didn’t add quite as many tomatoes as called for, and I decided to use the white part of the scallion too – meaning I used both the white and green parts. Perfection.

What I liked: everything about it – the combination of flavors is particularly good. We had it cold as left overs a couple of nights later and I swear it was as good if not better. No balsamic taste at all, yet it added a little elusive flavor somehow. I’ll be making this again this summer, before corn season is gone.

What I didn’t like: gosh, nothing. Worth making for sure.

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Corn, Tomato and Scallion Salad

Recipe By: Gourmet, 7/2000
Serving Size: 6-8
NOTES: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. You can also use regular dark balsamic in this – the corn will have a brownish tinge to it.

4 ears fresh corn — shucked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar — [mine happened to be “lemon” white balsamic]
1 pound cherry tomatoes — halved
1/2 cup scallions — coarsely chopped (use just scallion tops according to the original recipe – I used whole scallions)

1. Cut corn kernels from ears, discarding cobs. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté corn with salt and pepper to taste, stirring, until tender, about 2 minutes.
2. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, until most is evaporated, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, gently stirring, 1 minute.
3. Remove skillet from heat and stir in scallions.
4. Transfer vegetables to a large plate to cool and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; 4g Fat (40.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 24th, 2012:

    This looks like another winner. I will definitely try it. I like white balsamic, too–use it a lot in salads that have fruit in them. This corn salad recipe reminds me that I tried your lemon oregano vinaigrette last week as a dressing for a corn and lima bean salad–a sort-of salad version of succotash. The salad was delicious and your dressing was just perfect for what I had in mind.

    It is really delicious. I’ve now made it twice in the last week. It’s a keeper. . . carolyn t

  2. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 20th, 2012:

    Made this today and not only is it very pretty, it’s also really good!
    I served it in a shallow Waterford bowl…gorgeous!

    Oh, that sounds beautiful! Glad you liked it. . . Carolyn t

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