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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 Desserts, on July 30th, 2012.

wattleseed_ice_cream

Ever heard of wattleseed, or wattle seed (one or two words, you’ll see it both ways)? It’s the seed from a specific type of Australian acacia shrub. It’s not a variety grown anywhere but Australia, otherwise I’m certain we’d have  wattle seed on our spice shelves.

wattleseedflowersMy daughter-in-law brought me a very small package of  several Australian herbs and spices some years ago after a trip, and I’d planned on using all of them, but we had a bug infestation in my pantry, and they loved the wattleseed and everything else in the other packages too.

So it wasn’t until we visited Australia a couple of years ago and I sought out some wattleseed (not on every grocery store shelf, I discovered) that I now have some to try. I’d intended to make something with it right away, but I stored it in a jar and promptly forgot about it. The picture at left was taken near Hobart, Tasmania, and shows my DH’s hand holding the acacia flowers out in the sunlight. The seed pods from this shrub were and still are harvested by the Aboriginal people in Australia. They use it in a variety of cooking methods – in a drink – in stews. Eventually non-Aboriginal people discovered the interesting flavor profile it has, and began using it in other (mostly dessert) dishes.

ground_wattleseedWhen we were in Australia we ate some wattleseed gelato. Oh my goodness, was it ever good. Tasting it, it conjures up hazelnut and vanilla  on my taste buds. It has tiny dark and light flecks in it which look something like the tiny seeds in a vanilla bean. It’s the kind of mottled color of ground coriander (see picture at right), but bears no flavor resemblance. Some people taste chocolate and coffee in it too. I’ve not found any source for ground wattleseed here in the U.S. (although I read somewhere that any U.S. grown wattleseed is poor quality and not worth buying – I haven’t found it in any case). Here’s a link if you’re wanting to buy this from Vic Chericoff, the man who really put wattleseed on the world culinary map in the 1980’s. Maybe one of our friends will visit Australia sometime soon and I’ll be able to ask them to buy it for me – although as I mentioned, we had trouble finding it. My DH was so patient with me – we walked all over a farmer’s market in Melbourne trying to locate some – finally did at a butcher shop, of all places. They said they used it for a particular kind of seasoned roast.

Anyway, after all that info about wattleseed, let’s get to the recipe, okay? The only recipe I had was wattleseed ice cream which I researched a couple of years ago after we returned from Australia. Going online I also found a recipe for a cake, which I made, and will post here in a few days – it was kind of like a pound cake using wattleseed and citrus. There aren’t lots of recipes for the spice, surprisingly. There is a short list here, and here. You may not remember a post I did from our trip to Australia about the ANZAC biscuits – I wrote up a recipe provided by our Aussie guide’s sister who brought a plate full of them to our tour bus when we stopped near where she lives in New Zealand (they’re cookies developed during WWII to ship to soldiers at the front because they’re sturdy and because they couldn’t get eggs and butter during the wartime shortages, yet they’re still very popular today). Anyway, I did find several wattleseed ANZAC biscuit recipes.

Some years ago Emeril made wattleseed ice cream on one of his Food Network shows, and it’s his basic recipe I used, although I did make a couple of changes. Vic Chericoff mentions Emeril’s recipe on his website and makes suggestions like not adding vanilla, as he feels it’s redundant since wattleseed has vanilla undertones all by itself. He also doesn’t think you should strain the custard mixture of all the wattleseed segments because they add a lot of color and interest to the ice cream. I used a really fine-mesh strainer and most of the seeds still went through it, which was fine. Usually you strain the ice cream base because you want to remove any possible egg “stuff.”

When you use wattleseed, you want to extract as much flavor as possible, hence adding the ground wattleseed to the cream you scald helps accomplish that. Other than wattleseed, the base mixture is very similar to every other egg-based ice cream base you’ve made. In my case I poured the base into a plastic bowl, nestled it into a bigger bowl filled completely with ice, then I added another bowl on top filled with ice – all this to chill it faster. And chill it below 38°. Chilling the base as fast as possible doesn’t allow for as many ice crystals to form (makes for smoother ice cream).

So, after making the ice cream base – and chilling it quickly, I made it in the ice cream machine. Since it was so cold, it only took about 40 minutes. I scooped it out into a quart-sized plastic container and froze it. When I served it about 3 hours later it was still slightly soft and smooth in the middle – made for easier scooping.

Serving it to our friends Cherrie and Bud, who have never been to Australia, and had never heard of wattleseed, they were blown away. I mean blown away by the taste. Dave and I relived our Australia visit too.

What I liked: well, there’s no question I like this stuff or I wouldn’t have run all over in markets throughout Australia trying to find wattleseed! Good. Tasty. Ah yes. I have just enough to make one more wattleseed something and it will be ice cream. Wattleseed has such a unique flavor spectrum. It’s worth seeking out somehow. Any of your friends going to Australia? Get them to buy you some! Buy me some too, okay?

What I didn’t like: well goodness – nothing at all. Loved it! As long as you can find wattleseed!

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Wattleseed Ice Cream

Recipe By: adapted from Emeril Legasse (food network)
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: Don’t serve this with anything too powerful in flavor as you want to taste the wattleseed. If you don’t have wattleseed, don’t even make this ice cream – it’s just a vanilla type plain ice cream base but it’s a neutral flavor so the wattleseed nuances will shine through.

2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup fat free half-and-half — [I used Trader Joe’s]
2 tablespoons ground wattleseed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon wattleseed extract — [optional – I don’t have this ingredient]
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
5 large egg yolks

1. In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the half-and-half, cream and fat free half and half, powdered wattleseed, vanilla, wattleseed extract (if using), sugar, and salt, over medium heat. Bring the cream to the boiling point to scald it. Remove from the heat.
2. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl. Add the cream mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, to the beaten eggs, whisking in between each addition, until all is used. Pour the mixture into a saucepan, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (optional).
3. Chill the custard mixture in a bowl with ample ice to bring it down in temp (below 38° which is the temp for standard refrigeration) if possible. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for churning time. Scoop into a plastic container and freeze solid, about 3-4 hours.
Per Serving: 225 Calories; 14g Fat (57.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 131mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium.

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