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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 Beef, Pork, on November 12th, 2008.

unstuffed sweet and sour cabbage

When I saw the photo and recipe in the November, 2008 Gourmet for this beef, pork and cabbage dish, it just sounded a resonating bell in my head. Years ago I used to make stuffed cabbage rolls, but always found it a lot of work, and . . . well, just not worth the effort. Hence I haven’t made them in decades. But I always liked the flavor. This particular recipe is a quick and easy version – most of the ingredients – but without the work of parboiling the cabbage leaves, stuffing, rolling (carefully) then stacking them in a pot, making a sauce to go over, etc. Then baking or simmering them for awhile.

This recipe is just so simple – it was in Gourmet‘s “Everyday Quick Kitchen” – you make the sauce – kind of like a soup or stew mixture (it sort of looks like tomato chili in a way), and then you simmer the cabbage wedges in broth (separately) and combine them briefly before serving them on a rimmed plate (or a wide soup bowl in my case). I thought this dish was just great – not something you’d serve to guests, perhaps, unless you share really casual meals together. It all could be made ahead and reheated. I doubt the cabbage would do all that well frozen, but I’ll probably freeze a portion or two of the meat mixture and just prepare fresh cabbage when I want to have it again. I cooked the sauce longer than indicated (because I had the time and thought the flavor would improve by longer simmering) and I added some fennel, caraway and thyme to the sauce. You could put this dinner together in less than an hour if you hustled the chopping and cooking of the sauce. The cabbage takes about 45 minutes – you could do that in the microwave or a pressure cooker to speed it up. The beef and ground pork sauce has a delicious tang (from the brown sugar and red wine vinegar) and the juices are so good you don’t want to miss a single slurp. So, try it!
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Unstuffed Sweet-and-Sour Cabbage

Recipe: Andrea Albin from Gourmet
Servings: 4

1 head cabbage — (2-lb) quartered lengthwise and cored
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 garlic cloves — thinly sliced, divided
1 large onion — thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground pork
28 ounces canned tomatoes, including juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds [my addition]
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds [my addition]
1/2 teaspoon oregano — crushed [my addition]
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut cabbage into wedges (maybe 6) and place cabbage in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet with broth, 1 garlic clove (sliced), and a rounded 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cook, covered, turning cabbage occasionally, until very tender, about 45 minutes. (Add more broth or water if necessary.)
2. Meanwhile, cook onion and remaining garlic in oil in a heavy medium pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and stir in ground meats along with 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and breaking up lumps with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
3. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, cranberries, vinegar, and brown sugar and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes with spoon, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. (Can cook longer to develop flavors, about an hour.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Pour sauce into skillet with cabbage and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley. (Serve with steamed rice or mashed potatoes.)
Per Serving: 408 Calories; 28g Fat (60.1% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 83mg Cholesterol; 378mg Sodium.

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