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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.

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Posted in Appetizers, on April 19th, 2013.


A quick and easy dip or spread made with canned salmon, some cream cheese (light would be okay), a little butter to help smooth it, lemon juice, Kalamata olives and a bit of anchovies to give it some flavor depth. Serve with baguette slices or crackers.

The basis for this recipe came from The Wednesday Chef blog, way back in 2008. Luisa made this, but hers was with tuna. Now, I have canned tuna, but it’s really expensive stuff that I have shipped a couple of times a year from Washington, young tuna that don’t contain so much mercury, and I just didn’t feel like using my pricey can of tuna on this in case I didn’t like it. I needn’t have worried – I loved it, and I’d guess the tuna version would be just as tasty as the salmon one. I have 6-ounce cans of salmon too – from the same purveyor – but I don’t seem to use the canned salmon very often, so for this I decided to try the salmon.

This pate – or tapenade – that’s what Luisa recipe called it – named so probably because it has olives in it, and tapenades DO contain mostly olives. This concoction isn’t olive-centric – it’s salmon and cream cheese centric, but with all these other added flavors that do everything to enhance the salmon. Things like lemon juice, the anchovies, lemon juice, pepper and the butter. There is a short discussion on Luisa’s blog about leaving out the butter – the original recipe (click on the blog link above if you’d like to make Luisa’s version) called for more butter, more anchovies, more olives too (and the recipe didn’t specify Kalamata, just “black olives,” but I just couldn’t quite see a ripe black olive doing a thing for this mixture). I keep pitted Kalamata olives in my refrigerator at all times. And I buy a little bitty jar of anchovies once or twice a year – I buy the most expensive one I can find at my local Italian deli – and use a few, then refrigerate it. It keeps nigh on forever as long as it’s covered in olive oil. I thought the butter was needed, but I didn’t use as much as the original called for.

Everything except the chives is whizzed up in the food processor until it’s super-smooth, then spooned into ramekins, or some kind of serving bowls. The recipe makes about 3 ramekins worth. The recipe indicates you can use it right away, but I think the flavor is better once it chills overnight. Besides, it’s something you can make the day before a dinner party if that’s what you’re making it for. This recipe makes quite a bit, and it’s rather difficult to make half a recipe, what with salmon or tuna cans at about 6 ounces. IF you have some leftover tuna or salmon, by all means make a half a recipe!

When I made it we were having dinner guests, so I toasted a baguette slices for it, but this would be just dandy with crackers, or toast for that matter. It’s probably fine with celery sticks too. Sprinkle chopped chives on top if you have them – don’t go buy chives just to put on it – some minced parsley would be fine. Even some fresh dill would work too.

What’s GOOD: I loved the stuff – but it does have a definite fishy taste – a good kind of fishy taste if you get my drift. The anchovies add depth of flavor and you really can’t taste them. I used ample lemon juice which was really good in it. It’s also EASY!
What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. I’d definitely make this again.

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Salmon Tapenade

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe at Wednesday Chef, 2008
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons anchovies — [buy the best quality you can afford]
6 ounces canned salmon — drained
7 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — (use more to taste)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
9 Kalamata olives — pitted, halved
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh chives — saving some for garnish

1. Combine all but the chive garnish in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture is smooth. Taste for seasonings.
2. Spoon the mixture into 1-2 small serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or overnight. Garnish with more finely minced chives before serving with toasted baguette slices or crackers.
Per Serving: 162 Calories; 14g Fat (78.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 394mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on April 19th, 2013:

    Oh, YUM! That is tomorrow’s lunch sorted, thank you. I have a lot of cans of Alaskan Wild Red Salmon, which I usually eat with diced cucumber and lemon juice on toasted brown bread. I am not fond of canned Tuna, there is something about the aroma that I don’t like.

    Have you never used Anchovy in a meat stew? It gives a superb depth of flavour

    I too, have been reading Luisa’s blog for some time.

    Oh good, glad you’ll give it a try. I really liked it a lot. If I were to make it for a topping for bread, I’d probably use a bit less cream cheese since it’s more like a dip, or something for small bites. You’ll have to let me know how it was. And no, I don’t think I ever have added anchovy to stew. I’ll try to remember to try it. . . carolyn t

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