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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 September 23rd, 2012.

grilled_summer_panzanella

I’m always surprised when I run into someone who’s never had panzanella before. I’ve been making it every summer for years and years. Probably for 20 or so. But maybe some people, when they read it, say huh? Thinking that it doesn’t appeal, or something? I really don’t know. But they’re missing out. Truly!

Over the years I’ve figured out what I love about panzanella: (1) the bread; (2) the tomatoes; (3) the combo of flavors; and (4) the texture of everything. In a way it’s like an unstructured gazpacho, sort of. The most important ingredients are the bread and tomatoes, though. The bread because it soaks up the juices from the tomatoes and whatever dressing you toss with it. The tomatoes, because this dish showcases true summer tomato succulence – the best thing about tomatoes – when they’re big, fat, juicy and flavorful.

A couple of years ago I posted a recipe for a Grilled Panzanella Salad. And it’s a good one – a bit more of a standard or traditional panzanella. This one today, though, veers off to the untraditional because I added a bunch of things that don’t normally go in one – like green beans, corn, arugula, fresh mozzarella, capers and tarragon. And I just LOVED this salad. It’s the best panzanella I’ve ever had. Period. I had my DH grill the bread for it, and he also grilled the corn and the bell peppers. I harvested tarragon, basil and tarragon from the garden to toss in it too.

I had  some beautiful, huge tomatoes which is why I decided to make this salad. What better way to taste the deliciousness of summer tomatoes. I chopped up some hothouse cucumber, scooped in a little bit of capers, a few Kalamata olives (pitted and halved). I added in the grilled corn (cut off the cob after the grilling) and the chunked-up bell peppers. Scoops of fresh arugula was added in along with the mozzarella balls. Then I added the grilled and cubed sourdough bread. I add the tomatoes last because I like the juices from the tomatoes to soak into the bread. Lastly, a wine vinegar based vinaigrette is drizzled over it0. Toss and serve! To raves.

What I liked: every solitary thing about it. Deliciousness with every bite!

What I didn’t like: Absolutely nothing!

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Summer Grilled Panzanella Salad

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: I prefer this salad made with relatively fresh bread – if it’s allowed to completely stale it gets hard. I let a sourdough loaf sit out at room temp overnight, then slice it, grill it and cut it up into cubes. The inside of the cubes still have some softness. Once the salad is completed, I like the bread to still have some dry bits (that happens only if you eat it instantly). If you prefer a wetter salad, just increase the dressing by about half. The fresh tomatoes provide a LOT of fluid which soaks into the bread anyway. The dressing just adds a bit of piquant. Don’t make this – under any circumstances – unless tomatoes are IN season.

VINAIGRETTE:
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic — mashed & minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
BREAD:
14 ounces sourdough bread
Olive oil spray
SALAD:
1 cup hothouse cucumber — chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons Kalamata olives — halved lenghtwise
3 whole bell peppers — red, orange and yellow
2 whole corn on the cob
1/4 cup fresh basil — chopped (use more if you like it as much as I do)
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon — minced (optional)
3 cups arugula — chopped some
1 cup fresh mozzarella — little balls or small chunks
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes — peeled, large chop
1 cup green beans — cooked and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine vinaigrette ingredients and set aside for up to 2 hours.
2. Cut sourdough bread into 1-inch thick slices. Trim crusts off the bread. Spray with olive oil spray.
3. Prepare grill and quickly grill bread on both sides so it has grill marks, but it’s still a bit soft inside, 2-3 minutes over a hot fire. Set aside and when cool enough to touch, cut into bite-sized cubes.
4. VEGETABLES: cut bell peppers into big flat pieces, discarding core. Spray veggies with olive oil spray. Grill peppers and corn so both have grill marks, but don’t over cook them. Set aside and leave at room temp. Remove corn from the cob. Chop peppers into 1-inch chunks.
5. SALAD: In a large bowl combine all the ingredients – everything except the bread and dressing. Pile the grilled bread on top. Stir vinaigrette vigorously before starting to toss the salad. Pour the vinaigrette as evenly as possible over the bread and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 477 Calories; 23g Fat (41.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 569mg Sodium.

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