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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 Beverages, Brunch, Desserts, on May 25th, 2013.


Horchata is a refreshing rice-based drink from Latin America. It’s very easy to make, and if you’re so inclined, you can add some Kahlua to it as we did. Not traditional, but oh-so good.

Recently our four-couple gourmet group got together for a brunch. What fun we had, even though it wasn’t a nice day – one of those cloudy, overcast days that we, here in Southern California, don’t understand much, except in June, when we usually  have that kind of weather for the entire month, hence we call it “June Gloom.” But it was on Cinco de Mayo (the 5th). Early May!

One of the gals brought my Tuscan Sangria with Tuaca. We had 4 different salsas with chips (2 of them you’ll see here in a few days), then our main food included a egg/chile/cheese baked dish, caramelized carnitas tacos served with hot flour tortillas, guacamole and slivers of radishes. We also had a no-bake vegetarian enchilada dish that was surprisingly good. I’ll post that too. This, our dessert, was a horchata milk shake. I’d seen the recipe in Food and Wine, and since I like horchata, this one, with ice cream, sounded more like a dessert than a beverage to serve with a meal. So that’s what I did. And most of us ended up adding some Kahlua to the drink – making it a boozy drink, but not much. Just enough to taste it.

Horchata (hor-chaatah) is an agua fresca (meaning fresh water). All agua frescas are non-alcoholic and are common refreshing drinks served all over Latin America. In many Mexican restaurants here in California anyway, they serve some type of agua frescas – either horchata or tamarindo (tamarind) or hibiscus (also a favorite of mine – have never made it, I just buy it when I see it). We visit a Saturday morning farmer’s market some miles from us, and one of the food trucks there almost always has the hibiscus agua fresca, or the tamarind one. They’re all sweet, including horchata.

Anyway, horchata is easy enough to do, but since I’d never made it before, it was all new to me, other than I knew it was rice based. First I measured out rice, added water and whole cinnamon sticks (horchata typically is a cinnamon flavored drink). That sat overnight (out on the kitchen counter, not refrigerated). You remove the cinnamon sticks (see ERRATA below), then pour the entire mixture into the blender. The rice was not cooked at all, but after it sat in liquid all night, it was softened somewhat. Nothing is heated up during the making of horchata. I turned on the blender and let it go a bit, then added in some toasted sliced almonds, sugar and cinnamon. And here’s the most difficult thing you’ll do – pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Do NOT try to push the mixture through – you want the sieve to catch whatever rice it can, although it is ground up, you understand! I poured in about a cup and just let it sit until it had drained through. I rinsed the sieve and did it again, and again. It will take a few minutes for that, but truly that’s the most time consuming thing you’ll do making horchata.

Kahlua Tip:

If you do add Kahlua to this drink, don’t use much – you still want to taste the cinnamon, banana and almond flavors.

At that point in the making I poured it into a pitcher and refrigerated it (several hours before our get-together). When I was ready to serve it I put it back in the blender, added sweetened condensed milk, the banana, vanilla ice cream and ice. I tasted it and put in a tiny bit more horchata_lua_1of the sweetened condensed milk. Truth to tell, in our drive to the hosts’ home, my pitcher, with lid, slid and some of the horchata ended up on the carpet in my car’s trunk. Ooph! I wasn’t sure how much quantity I really had left, so needed to guesstimate how much to add in. Pour into glasses, add a straw and sprinkle the top with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

OPTIONAL: I served the horchata milk shakes in silver tumblers – they’re actually mint julep cups. Some people were drinking coffee with whipped cream on top and Kahlua was on the table. One person added a little jot of Kahlua to their horchata and he made very noisy mmmmmm’s, so someone else added Kahlua, and in short order nearly everyone had added Kahlua. Knowing that horchata is really a non-alcoholic drink, I wasn’t so sure it would be a good thing! Oh, was I wrong. It was fabulous. My only caveat: don’t add too much Kahlua or it does overpower the delicacy of the cinnamon, almond and banana flavors.

ERRATA: I have to confess, I forgot to take out the cinnamon sticks after the rice had soaked overnight. I glanced at the recipe and didn’t see the instructions. I just missed it. So our horchata was a bit grainy from the ground-up cinnamon – but you know what? Everyone seemed to love it that way. They said they liked it grainy and would definitely do it that way if they made it. Well, okay then!

What’s GOOD: every little sip of it was fantastic. I’d definitely make this again, with or without the Kahlua. I didn’t mind the grainy texture from the cinnamon sticks, but that’s up to you. Traditionally, remove the cinnamon sticks! You could lighten up the recipe some by using sugar-free ice cream, or light ice cream. There’s also low-fat sweetened condensed milk in grocery stores too. This one’s a keeper.
What’s NOT: nothing. Absolutely nothing wrong with this at all!

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Horchata Milk Shake

Recipe By: Food & Wine, May 2013
Serving Size: 4 (maybe 5)

1 cup long-grain white rice — rinsed well
3 cups water
4 medium cinnamon sticks — cracked
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon — plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 banana — (2 ounces)
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup ice
OPTIONAL: Kahlua to taste, about 2 tsp per serving

1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, 3 minutes. In a small bowl, stir 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes. Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. Rinse out the blender.
4. Return the horchata to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend. Pour the shake into glasses, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top and serve.
5. OPTIONAL: Add Kahlua to each glass (about 2 tsp). Don’t overdo the Kahlua as it will overpower the delicate cinnamony flavor of the horchata.
Per Serving (this is off some because you don’t consume all the rice – some yes, all? no): 482 Calories; 15g Fat (26.0% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 91mg Sodium.

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