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Just finished another great book, The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


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 Cookies, on December 13th, 2008.


Oh, these cookies. Oh, my. Well, they’re almost more like candy than cookies because of the caramel layer in them. The toffee. When I saw this recipe calling for saltines in it, as I am wont to do, with something unusual in it, I had to try it. You might not think this sounds good, but it’s a perfect match. You find that you LIKE the little bit of salt from the saltines. To me, the saltines “make” this. It’s really quite easy – different than making traditional cookies for sure. We made these on Wednesday, and I’m finding myself reaching for just one more little piece of this. It’s particularly delicious with a cup of coffee.

saltine-toffee-deconstructedPicture right: one of the saltine toffee shards turned on its edge so you can see the layers.

First you put down a layer of saltines in a rimmed baking sheet (with parchent or silpat – mandatory to get them out of the pan). Then you make the caramel toffee – just sugar, butter and a tad of corn syrup, until it reaches 300 degrees F, at which point it’s turns to a beautiful honey color. That gets scooped or poured (carefully, as it’s really hot) over the saltines. Meanwhile you’ll already have the chopped up chocolate standing by. After cooling the caramel layer for 3 minutes, you sprinkle the chocolate pieces all over. In minutes the chocolate has melted and it’s spread over the toffee with an offset spatula (if you have one). Then the sliced (toasted) almonds are sprinkled on top of the soft chocolate. Press them in slightly so they’ll adhere to the chocolate. Freeze 15 minutes, carefully tip the sheet out of the pan, upright it, then break it into narrow shards. Done. You should really try these. They’re a winner-recipe in my book. It came from Food & Wine.
printer-friendly PDF

Chocolate-Almond Saltine Toffee

Recipe: Nicole Plue at Food & Wine
Servings: about 30 pieces

1/2 cups sliced almonds (6 ounces)
Approximately 60 saltine crackers (not low-sodium)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter — 3/4 pound
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate — chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 350°, spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 6 minutes, until golden.
2. Line a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or lightly buttered parchment paper. Arrange the saltine crackers on the baking sheet in a single layer, patching any holes with cracker bits; slight gaps are okay.
3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter and corn syrup and cook over low heat until the sugar is melted. Brush the side of the pan with a moistened pastry brush to wash down any sugar crystals. Cook the syrup over moderate heat without stirring until it starts to brown around the edge, about 5 minutes. Insert a candy thermometer into the syrup and simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon, until honey-colored caramel forms and the temperature reaches 300°, about 6 minutes longer.
4. Slowly and carefully pour the caramel over the crackers, being sure to cover most of them evenly. Using an offset spatula, spread the caramel to cover any gaps. Let cool for 3 minutes, then sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly on top. Let stand until the chocolate is melted, about 3 minutes, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee. Spread the almonds evenly over the chocolate. Freeze the toffee until set, about 15 minutes. Invert the toffee onto a work surface and peel off the mat or paper. Invert again, break into large shards and serve.
NOTES: The chocolate-almond saltine toffee can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

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