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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 Beverages, Brunch, on August 5th, 2013.

kale_mango_peach_smoothie

A month or so ago I know I mentioned that I’d acquired a Vitamix blender. A workhorse of a machine that could mix cement, I think, if the quantities would fit in the container. (I’m joking, you’d never want to do that to a blender.)  A couple of weeks later, with me having not used the blender for anything except salad dressings, I saw a class listed at our favorite cooking school in San Diego (Great News, in Pacific Beach) on the Vitamix. I suggested my DH and I both go – he hardly does any cooking, but he was game. It was very inexpensive – although it didn’t include a meal – just a few samples of what the blender would do and we learned a bunch of techniques too. We had a strawberry agua fresca, a peanut and almond butter (wonderful), an orange vanilla vinaigrette (fabulous), kale and basil pesto (also fabulous) and a hot soup.

The very first thing the instructors did was a green smoothie. I was intrigued about that, because I’ve heard people say they’re really good and good for you. I watched The Chew one day a year or so ago when Daphne Oz  prepared green smoothies for all the other show cast. A few would just barely take a sip or two. Others loved it. Hers contains spinach, celery, kale, cucumbers, mint, parsley, apples, fresh ginger and lime juice.

In our class there was a recipe included in the handout for a “Spring Green Smoothie,” but this one we had in the class (below) was so good, I’ve barely ventured any further.  I’ve made this 3 times, so not every day – I have to have kale on hand, or baby spinach and I don’t always. Kale keeps for at least 10 days or so – spinach only a few days, so kale is my green of choice when I make this.

judy_jerry_green_smoothiesPlease don’t make a frownie face about this – you should try it before you decide you really don’t like it. Our friends, Judy & Jerry say they liked it (at right)! Jerry even asked for the recipe, so does that tell you how much? These are our friends from Newtown Square, a village outside of Philadelphia. My DH, Dave, and Jerry have been friends since high school, bonding early-on at sailing. These friends have a home in Florida also and they SAIL their boat from Annapolis to Naples, FL (it takes a month of sailing each way) in the fall and return in the late spring.

The fruit balances out the greens – it really does. The couple-instructors were vegetarians mostly, but they said they start every morning with one of these drinks. There’s all kinds of good nutrients contained in kale and other dark leafy greens that are so very good for us, and particularly if you have them as your first meal, or part of your first meal.

Providing you have a blender that will chop ice (a requirement here), this smoothie is very simple to make. You want to include some very fruit-forward fruit – meaning fruit that has lots of flavor like mango, pineapple or apple. You can use grapes, blueberries, strawberries, peeled oranges, or other stone fruit, but stonefruit, doesn’t have as much flavor as you might hope. It’s good, but not exceptional. I’d use an apple before I’d use peaches, nectarines or apricots.

About the only trick to making these things is to put the heaviest items in first (i.e. the kale goes in last). So ice, fruit, water, greens and sweetener, if using. Start the motor on low, then increase as it continues to blend. Stop and push any greens down into the liquid. Add more water if needed, more fruit, more sweetener . . . whatever suits your taste buds. The greens are the star of the drink, but you actually don’t TASTE the greens.

The next day after making the first version you see below, I made another one (the 2nd recipe below). A bit of a sweeter one, and everyone liked it better. Me too. I added just a little bit of apple juice, an apple and a small knob of fresh ginger. No other fruit, just the kale, parsley. Oh gosh was it GOOD! And we all really liked the little hint of heat from the ginger. Next time I’m going to add fresh mint leaves – just a few.

What’s GOOD: Well, what can I tell you – not only do these taste good, but they’re good for you. I like these a lot – the 2nd one maybe a bit better, but probably because I’m a novice at green smoothies and I prefer a bit more sweeter flavor.
What’s NOT: nothing – it takes a few minutes to make, that’s all. And really not all that many.

Green Morning Smoothie printer-friendly PDF – created with CutePDF Writer
Green Morning Smoothie MasterCook 5 file and MasterCook 14 file

SCROLL DOWN BELOW FOR SECOND RECIPE AND FILES

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Morning Smoothie

Recipe By: From a Vitamix cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 4

PLACE IN BLENDER CONTAINER IN ORDER:
2 cups ice
3 cups kale — or spinach or watercress (discard kale ribs)
1 cup parsley
1 cup fruit — your choice: mango, pineapple (or berries)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons honey — or sweetener

Notes: If desired you can add protein powder to this to make a complete breakfast.
1. In blender container add ingredients in order shown. Attach lid and hold it, then gently increase blender speed, stopping at least once to push greens down into the liquid. Continue to puree until the mixture is smooth. Taste for sweetness (add more fruit) or honey. (I prefer to use a little less water as I don’t like it watery – use just enough to get the mixture to blend completely.)
2. Pour into glasses and serve. Will keep for 24 hours in the refrigerator – reblend before serving as it will separate some.
Per Serving: 63 Calories; trace Fat (5.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

Green Smoothie with Green Apple and Ginger printer-friendly PDF – created with CutePDF Writer

Green Smoothie with Green Apple and Ginger MasterCook 5 file and MasterCook 14 file

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Morning Smoothie with Apple & Ginger

Recipe By: Adapted from a Vitamix cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 4

ADD TO BLENDER CONTAINER IN ORDER:
1 1/2 cups ice
2 1/2 cups kale — (ribs removed & discarded) coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley
1 small Granny Smith apple
1 1/2 cups water
One small knob of fresh ginger (about a 1″ x 1″ piece)
1 cup apple juice

Notes: If desired you can add protein powder to this to make a complete breakfast.
1. Add ingredients to blender as shown, in order. Turn on blender (low) and gradually increase speed until the mixture is smooth, stopping once or twice to push kale down into the liquid. Continue to blend until it’s very, very smooth.
2. Taste for flavor – more fruit? more kale? more ginger? Pour into glasses and serve. This will keep for 24 hours in the refrigerator – reblend and serve.
Per Serving: 71 Calories; 1g Fat (5.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 8th, 2013:

    Many years ago I was in Harrods, in a café near the Food Hall and I saw a green drink on the menu made from watercress and various other things. I tried it and it was delicious though it wasn’t called a smoothie. I did try to replicate it but was unsuccessful though the flavour memory has stayed with me all these years.

    Nowadays I don’t have a blender or a freezer for the ice so will stick to cold water as my drink of choice…

    You don’t have a freezer? Is that by choice? I’d probably have a hard time with that since I’m almost a hoarder when it comes to keeping things, but in time I suppose my thought processes about cooking and saving food would change, and surely I would adjust easily enough. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on August 9th, 2013:

    I rarely cook nowadays and if I do, it is just enough for me so have no need to freeze anything. Besides which, my kitchen is no bigger than a closet with just one drawer…

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