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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 Pasta, Vegetarian, on July 30th, 2007.

pasta-puttanesca
About 20 years ago a wonderful restaurant opened near our home, called Zov’s Bistro. Owned by Zov (pronounced like the letter oh) Karamardian, it was open for weekday lunches and a few nights a week for dinner. As the restaurant grew, and Zov’s well-executed Mediterranean food became more well known, they opened every day but Sunday. Zov is a wonderful philanthropist in our community, and loves to share her native Armenian cooking, although she has broadened the scope to include recipes from many different cultures around the Mediterranean. Now the restaurant houses the bistro, a bakery and a she’s opened a couple of other locations as well.

puttanesca-sauceBut back in the earlier days of the Bistro, Zov taught a cooking class starring some of her family favorites, of which this recipe was one. It’s not on the restaurant menu, unfortunately, or I would have it more often. I have no recollection what else she made that night, but I fell in love with this simple pasta dish, and have been making it ever since. You need to enjoy garlic, as it plays a prominent role. And the sauce needs to sit for awhile (at least an hour, or up to 2-3 hours) to develop its flavors. You can make this any time of year – it’s nothing more complicated than canned tomatoes, garlic, green onions, olives, capers and olive oil tossed with hot pasta and sprinkled with real Parmesan. It has some other things in it too that enhance the flavor, and you garnish with a lot of fresh basil. The anchovies (buy good ones if you can find them . . . they have so much more flavor than the cheap cans at the supermarket . . . go to an Italian deli if you have one) give it some character, but you never know they’re there. This is a great meal for a warm summer night.

So, I have a fun story to relate about this recipe. We had dinner with our son, Powell, and his wife the other night, and I mentioned that I had written up this recipe, which has always been a favorite of his. I’d forgotten that when he first met Karen he offered to help her with catering food for an art event a couple of weeks later. She wasn’t a caterer, but had offered to help a friend and was happy to have some help with it. Powell enjoyed cooking and loved entertaining when he was a bon vivant bachelor. Anyway, back then Powell had phoned me to ask advice on what recipes I had that might work for such an event where they could do no actual cooking, so they’d have to make everything ahead. This recipe was a standout for doing ahead, no question.

According to Karen, she was mightily impressed when Powell made this in a very large quantity for her event. According to Karen, her thoughts were along the lines of wow, this guy may be a keeper. It was a black-tie event, and the two of them served this dish and a bunch of others to the crowd of people. Toward the end, with Powell standing nearby in his tux, a businessman approached him and asked for his card. Probably Powell looked at him askance. Uhm. The guy said, we’d like you to cater something for us at our home. Powell laughed and said, we really don’t DO catering, etc. The guy said, well, what do you do and Powell explained that he is in the investment banking/bond biz. The guy looked at him and said what in the world are you doing here? Powell & Karen had a good laugh over that. So, a romance was made that night, according to them, over a big bowl of Pasta a la Puttanesca.
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Pasta a la Puttanesca

Recipe from Zov Karamardian, of Zov’s Bistro, Tustin, California
Servings: 10

1 bunch green onions — chopped
6 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups tomatoes, canned — drained
1/2 c parsley — minced
1/2 c basil, fresh — minced
1/2 c capers
1/2 c olives — black, Mediterranean
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
2 ea anchovies — mashed
1/2 c Parmesan cheese — imported, grated
1/4 tsp hot chili flakes
1/8 tsp black pepper — cracked
2 pounds pasta of your choice (I prefer small spaghetti or linguine)

1. Heat the small quantity of olive oil in a small skillet and add green onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add minced garlic. Allow to cook together gently for 2-3 minutes. Do not brown.
2. In a large, non-metallic bowl combine the tomatoes, pitted olives, capers, anchovies and add the onion/garlic mixture. Add parsley, basil, chili flakes, pepper. Slowly stir in olive oil and allow to sit at room temperature for about an hour. Fold in cheese just before serving. Can be made a day or so ahead, but add fresh basil and cheese at last minute.
3. Cook pasta of your choice, drain, and pour into large bowl. Pour room temperature puttanesca sauce on top and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately adding strips of chicken on the top if desired. Recipe says you can serve it warm or cold. Or, place a serving size of hot pasta on a plate and add about 1/2 cup of mixture on top. Traditionally you should use Kalamata olives in this, but any other kind of Mediterranean cured olive will do.

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