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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Veggies/sides, on March 18th, 2013.

mixed_beans

Just recently I learned how easy – and I mean EASY – it is to cook raw beans in a pressure cooker. So a few weeks later I was about to cook a different kind of bean, and didn’t know how long it would take to cook, so I went online to read about it. That led me to one site, to another, and to yet another and bingo – I found a chart. A wonderful chart that lists just about every bean known to man, and what the cooking times are for traditional stove-top cooking, pressure cooker times, and slow cooker times.

beans_speckled_redI tried to save the chart and had some trouble, so I contacted the website and asked them if I could use their chart here on my blog. They were kind enough to send me a revised PDF file so you can download it and keep it on hand.

So, thanks to the folks at Delectable Planet for helping – now you, too, can have a copy to keep in your kitchen. If you want to go to the actual chart on their webpage, click here.

beans_in_bagsWhat I do is tape these kinds of things inside my kitchen cupboard doors. I have a few such must-haves – some 3×5 cards with my favorite salad dressings are there, and now this 2-pager with info about beans. Also my grilling chart graces another interior cupboard door so we never have to go far to look up what temperature to cook pork. Or chicken, etc. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t seem to remember from one time to the next, usually several weeks in between, the different temps.

printer-friendly PDF  – bean_chart was kindly provided by Delectable Planet

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 18th, 2013:

    Carolyn, I am delighted to have this chart. Thank you! One of the reasons I purchased a pressure cooker a couple of years ago was because I heard you could cook beans quickly in them. I only tried it a couple of times, though, because they came out mushy and overcooked. I did pinto beans once, and the other time I made a chili recipe from Jacques Pepin, and both times, the beans were overcooked. I look forward to trying again now that I have this handy chart.
    I, too, keep charts and recipes on the insides of cupboard doors. One has the capacity of each of my favorite teapots, another weight equivalents of common baking ingredients and weights of my favorite mixing bowls, in case I want to weigh something I’ve already mixed, like cake batter, in order to divide it evenly between pans. Also my favorite food processor bread recipe and the diameters of my 7 cast iron skillets. I’ll be posting the bean cooking chart there, too.

    A woman after my own heart, Donna! My scales has an automatic button to push to take away the weight of a bowl so I don’t have to do what you do. I hope the bean cooking chart works – I would certainly THINK it would be correct, but one never knows! I under-cook with my pressure cooker because I’m always afraid of things being over done. I haven’t done my updating of my recipe index in about 3 weeks, so obviously I’m way behind. I will double-check that one, though, to make sure I didn’t overlook it! Thanks for reminding me I’m overdue! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 20th, 2013:

    I can zero out my scale, too, Carolyn, but sometimes I have a bowl or pan full of something and I want to figure out how much the contents weigh. By knowing the weight of the container, I can do that without dumping it into another container zeroed out on the scale. I just weight the whole thing and subtract the weight of the container. Then I can figure out how much a serving weighs or how much batter to put into a layer cake pan.
    I realize the bean cooking chart can’t be perfectly accurate, because factors such as the age and dryness of the beans can affect cooking times. It should be a helpful guide, though. I didn’t realize what a wide range of times there would be.
    I purchased my pressure cooker before Cooks Illustrated did their tests, and I purchased an electric model because I had seen one on a Jacques Pepin episode. I love it! You can be sure I would have done something like you did with your artichokes if I had had a stove-top model. This one gives me peace of mind, and I have had excellent results with it. Perhaps if I had been cooking with a stove-top model to begin with, I’d find the electric one lacking. But for anyone who is forgetful and easily distracted, I highly recommend it.

    As with just about everything made, variations occur. I thought about buying an electric model awhile back, but at the time they were much more expensive, so decided not to. I rarely measure out yield in any recipe – I wish sometimes I did know whether a soup makes 6 cups or 9 or 4 & 3/4. I can guess – and that’s what I do when it’s necessary – and I don’t know any way, really, to do yield except plain old measuring! I guess I don’t have many occasions when I need to know interior weight in a bowl. . . carolyn t

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