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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, on August 3rd, 2013.


Without question, I’m begging you to make this. While rhubarb is still in season (barely) get yourself some, and gather some nice juicy strawberries and prepare this relatively simple cobbler that will make you and your guests swoon.

This recipe all started when our daughter Sara called to say she had some rhubarb one of her customers had given her, and since we were having a family get-together at her house in San Diego with dear friends who were visiting us from Philadelphia, she wanted to use it. Some of the group went sailing on our boat (which lives in San Diego) in the afternoon, then we high-tailed it to her house in time for dinner.

She’d never cooked rhubarb before. We live about 70 miles apart so we collaborated on who would do what – she did most of the dinner – I brought sangak bread and made this dessert. I found some rhubarb in one of our stores so brought additional – she said she didn’t have a lot. And, before we left home I mixed up the dry ingredients for the biscuits you see above. Once there I asked Sara for her rhubarb and she promptly pulled out 3 bunches of baby red chard. I laughed and told her no, that’s not rhubarb! She laughed. She had never even HAD chard before, she thought. It was very limp looking (she hadn’t wrapped it in a plastic bag) so I don’t even know that it will be edible.

straw_rhub_collageAnyway, good thing I’d brought about 8 stalks of rhubarb. I cut up all the fruit, added the sugar, tapioca and orange zest and let it sit for about 20 minutes (lower picture above). I spread it out to all the corners (I made a 1 1/2 sized recipe, so I used a 9×13 Pyrex dish, which was perfectly sized. Then I mixed up the dry ingredients, added the butter and cut that in, then added the milk and egg, mixed, plopped the biscuits all over the top (upper photo above). Baked for 35 minutes. Done! We let it rest about 45 minutes or so before we enjoyed it (immensely) with vanilla ice cream on the side.

The recipe came from Simply Recipes, Elise Bauer’s blog. She explained that this recipe was revised and revised until she got it, finally, just right. I agree. It’s marvelous.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, was this ever fantastic! Next time I’m at the grocery store I’m looking for any remaining rhubarb. Strawberries are still in, so I know I’ll find those. The biscuit/cobbler is tender and tasty. Loved it with vanilla ice cream. Altogether wonderful.
What’s NOT: absolutely nothing whatsoever. Worth making.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Recipe By: Many thanks to Elise at Simply Recipes blog
Serving Size: 6

4 1/2 cups rhubarb — cut into 1-inch pieces. Trim outside stringy layer of large rhubarb stalks make sure to trim away and discard any of the leaves which are poisonous; trim ends.
1 1/2 cups strawberries — stemmed and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
2 tablespoon sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg — lightly beaten

Notes: when I made it I ended up with more strawberries than rhubarb. I think this recipe is forgiving in that way – try to use the proportions above, but if not, just make sure you have the right amount (volume) of fruit. If you use less rhubarb, reduce the sugar some.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a bowl, mix the rhubarb and the strawberries with the sugar, tapioca, and orange zest. Let sit to macerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
3. In a medium bowl, combine 2 Tablespoons of sugar, the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter in with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk and egg until just moistened.
4. Pour fruit into a 2-quart casserole dish. Drop the batter on the fruit. Bake in a 350°F oven for 35 minutes until cobbler crust is golden brown.
5. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional).
Per Serving: 285 Calories; 9g Fat (28.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 57mg Cholesterol; 310mg Sodium.

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