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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 Appetizers, on May 31st, 2013.


You probably can’t quite tell what’s in this – there is regular cooked salmon and smoked salmon (that’s the darker orange colored pieces), butter, chives, lemon juice and a bunch of other normal pantry stuff. You mix it up and pack it into a terrine and bring it out an hour or so before serving (so the butter softens a little). If salmon is a favorite of yours, you’ll like this.

Every spring we are invited to friends for Kentucky Derby day. Some of the ladies show up in flowy, flowery dresses and big floppy hats. Others are in Hawaiian attire, and yet others in regular casual clothes. I have worn a big floppy hat a time or two, but I’m not much of a hat person – I have fine, soft hair and I get a big whopping “hat hair” look that I truly don’t like. Nothing rescues my hair from that except another shampoo and blow dry! I either wear the hat the whole time, or I don’t take one at all. Usually, we dress casually, and hats don’t much go with that kind of outfit. Everyone is asked to bring an appetizer to share. They usually provide a big tray of wings and lots of mint juleps, which I l-o-v-e. My limit, though, is 2, especially if I’m driving and several hours have elapsed before I get behind the wheel. This year I had 1 1/2 and the 2nd one I asked the bartender to make it light on the bourbon, because I was driving 4 of us home. I think they use Maker’s Mark bourbon. Good stuff. They make up a mixture of the simple syrup with the mint muddled in already, so all the bartender has to do is pour in bourbon, add mint sprigs and a bit of 7-Up. They’re scrumptiously delicious.

Anyway, for my appetizer contribution I wanted something I could make ahead. Everyone wants finger food, so after attending several years, I’ve learned what things this group does/doesn’t like. We ended up coming home with a lot more of this than I’d planned. I thought it was really tasty, but I should have made half a recipe, I suppose. We still have some left over and will need to throw it out in a day or so.

In the photo at left traw_cubed_salmonhere’s the raw (regular) salmon all cut up into small cubes. It was simmered on the range with vermouth and water (and lemon peel), cooled, then I carefully combined it with all the other ingredients. Here below right you can see the other stuff that was added to itrillettes_mixing_up like lemon zest, green onions, chives. Then I added the butter and the smoked salmon. You need to use a light hand with mixing as you’ll destroy the texture of it – you want to be able to see the two types of salmon. I sprinkled a bit more chives on top, although that wasn’t in the recipe.

It came from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Dorie is an American, but she and her husband must be Francophiles at heart, as they own an apartment in Paris. She goes back and forth all the time (if you read her blog, you’ll know about her comings and goings). The recipe actually came from David Lebovitz, another American who now lives in Paris all the time. Both are accomplished culinary experts and authors.

You’ve probably heard the term “potted” – this is in relation to food, not liquor or consumption of it! The most common is potted shrimp, and I think I had that the first time I visited England about 40 years ago. As I recall, I was brought a plate with a small, very small ramekin on it and a few water crackers. The ramekin surface looked like congealed butter. Well, it was, but underneath was a shrimp mixture, and you just spread some of it onto the cracker. It was a first course at a restaurant.  The Brits like potted things. So do the French (like duck liver), although in that case it’s called pâté, and it’s almost exclusively meat, usually more in a paste form. Americans have taken to meat pates, and our local grocery stores usually have some kind of offering, often imported from France. There are liver pates, and nut pates too, and my favorite, a rustic pate which usually contains some other cuts of meat, not just liver.

But back to potted food. We here in the U.S. don’t know much about “potted” anything. So anyway, this is potted salmon, through and through. This version contains butter (the most common binder used in potted food), but mayo is found in some.

What’s GOOD: the texture and color for sure. I probably should have put out a little sign telling people what it was. I don’t think this group is very adventurous when it comes to food. I should remember that for next year! I liked the taste of regular salmon and smoked salmon together – it makes a great combo. It also can be made a day ahead.
What’s NOT: really nothing. If you like salmon in its many guises, you’ll like this.

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Salmon Rillettes

Recipe By: Dorie Greenspan, from her book Around My French Table
Serving Size: 8

1 large lemon — multiple uses (see Directions)
1 red jalapeno chile — or use green if red isn’t available, multiple uses (see Directions)
1/2 cup vermouth — or dry white wine
1/2 cup water
5 white peppercorns
5 coriander seeds
1 Turkish bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole green onions — green tops and white parts finely chopped separately
8 ounces salmon fillet — skinless, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
4 ounces smoked salmon — thinly sliced and coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pink peppercorns — finely cracked
Freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon chives — finely minced for garnish [my addition]
Toasted baguette slices — crackers, or toasts

1. Using vegetable peeler, remove one 3-inch-long lemon peel strip from lemon and place in medium saucepan. Finely zest remaining peel from lemon and set aside. Cut 1-inch-long 1/8-inch-wide strip from jalapeño and remove seeds; place jalapeño strip in saucepan with lemon peel strip. Finely chop enough of remaining jalapeño to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons; place in a small bowl and reserve. Add wine, 1/2 cup water, peppercorns, coriander seeds, bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and green onion tops to saucepan with lemon peel strip and jalapeño strip; bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add salmon cubes; cover and cook 1 minute.
2. Transfer salmon mixture to strainer set over medium bowl and drain. Transfer poached salmon pieces to another medium bowl; discard liquid and spices. Using fork, lightly mash poached salmon. Add smoked salmon, reserved zest lemon peel, about 1 1/2 teaspoons reserved chopped jalapeño, and 2 tablespoons white parts of green onions and stir to blend. Add butter and mix in with fork until thick spread forms. Stir in 5 teaspoons reserved lemon juice. Stir in cracked pink peppercorns. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Add more lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed. It’s best to have a pronounced lemony flavor. Transfer salmon rillettes to glass jar or bowl. Press piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface of rillettes and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.
3. Serve rillettes with baguette slices, crackers, or toast.
Per Serving: 135 Calories; 8g Fat (58.6% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 271mg Sodium.

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