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Currently Reading

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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 Desserts, easy, on May 3rd, 2013.


Love rhubarb, like I do? You’ll want to try this biscuit-style upside down cake that’s as easy as can be to make. You’ll just need fresh rhubarb and everything else is likely in your pantry.

My latest issue of Saveur Magazine arrived recently and I read it cover-to-cover. An article about rhubarb captured my interest, though, when I saw some of the photos. With rhubarb in season, I decided to make this recipe first. They explained that this method of making an upside down cake is rhubarb_cookingmore reminiscent of an apple tarte tatin since you cook the juicy rhubarb in a cast iron skillet as you would with a tarte tatin (photo at left), then add the biscuit batter on top (see photo at right below) and bake it. As soon as you take it out of the oven you place a plate on top of the iron skillet and very carefully and quickly turn it upside down and plot, it all comes out as you see above. rhubarb_cake_before_bakingI used hot pads and was very quick about turning it over. There wasn’t any liquid to spill out, fortunately, or it could burn you. It’s all absorbed by the biscuit batter.

We ate it warm, which is the best way, I think. And since the cake part is more biscuit than it is cake, it’s most likely best eaten the day it’s made. I ended up with left rhubarb_upside_down_cake_sliceovers which I portioned out into 3” wedges, wrapped in plastic, then in foil. If I find out it’s not good defrosted I’ll add a note here later.

Do serve it with ice cream or whipped cream, as the mixture needs something to cut the sweet of the rhubarb and moisten the biscuit cake. It’s not overly dry – that isn’t what I mean – but left more than a day, I’d think it might. Biscuits don’t keep well.


What’s GOOD: the rhubarb, for sure. But then, I love rhubarb in most of its guises. The cake wasn’t my favorite part, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. It was. It was a light dessert, I thought, although the calorie count doesn’t indicate so. Very tasty and a lovely presentation.

What’s NOT: really nothing except that you probably should eat this up the day you bake it.

printer-friendly PDF – created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file (and remember where, run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Recipe By: Saveur Magazine, Apr. 2013
Serving Size: 9

3/4 pound rhubarb — trimmed and cut into 1 ½” pieces on an angle
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — plus 6 tbsp. cut into ½” cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — chilled, cut in 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream — for serving (optional)

1. Heat oven to 375°. Combine rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, 4 tbsp. butter, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt in a 9″ cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and rhubarb is tender and slightly caramelized, 8-10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add remaining butter and the shortening and, using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Add milk and eggs and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms.Using your hands, lightly flatten pieces of the sticky dough and place on top of the rhubarb. Fill in spaces as needed – it does not have to be completely smooth or covered – just do the best you can. If you want, smooth top with a nonstick spatula.
3. Bake until the crust is golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove skillet from oven; place a large flat serving platter on top of the skillet and invert very carefully and quickly. If a few pieces of rhubarb stick to the pan, use a spoon to fill in any spaces on the top. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.
Per Serving: 503 Calories; 26g Fat (46.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 83mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on May 3rd, 2013:

    I adore Rhubarb and used to eat it raw, as a child, dipped in sugar. I can still recall the delight at the first taste of Spring.

    Biscuit is like Scone here, I must remember that.

    I thought when the Brits say “biscuit” they mean cookie? Not so? I know muffin means like a “English muffin” to us – once I was walking around Harrod’s Food Halls and in the pastry dept. saw “American Muffins” on the tags. I laughed! . . . carolyn T

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 5th, 2013:

    Yes, our biscuits are your cookies; your biscuits are our scones. English muffins are not pastries, but bread. See link.

    And finally – your muffins are our Fairy Cakes. Confusing, isn’t it?

    Ah yes, I should have said English muffins are a bread – they are, of course! Years ago I used to make them from scratch with sourdough. So good. But I’d not heard of Fairy Cakes? Interesting. . . carolyn t

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