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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 Appetizers, Vegetarian, on August 9th, 2013.


Whew, that’s a long-winded title for a recipe. You could eat this as an appetizer, cut up into wedges, or a whole one as a stand-alone lunch or vegetarian dinner. Or you could do what I did when I made it for a group: pile the hummus on a serving platter, then pile everything (except the arugula) on top of it. I used Feta cheese as the decoration, and I served sangak bread on the side with a knife so people could spread some of the mixture on individual pieces – this was an appetizer (see other picture below). As an appetizer I didn’t think the arugula would be easy to eat, so I left it off.

white_bean_hummus_appetizerWith the left overs a day later I served it with pita chips (Trader Joe’s). What you see in the photo at top is the flatbread on the bottom (from Trader Joe’s), and there’s a schmear of white bean hummus underneath there – sorry you can’t see it – then some sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onions (hmm, can’t see those, either), some Kalamata olives, then the arugula and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

The most time-consuming thing to do is caramelize the onions. While you’re at it, make more than you need because you’ll use them in something else within a few days. Or you could eat them plain right out of the pan. Love caramelized onions!

My DH just walked past me as I’m sitting here at my computer in the kitchen, looked at the photo and said OH, that was so good. Make that again, will you? The recipe came from a Phillis Carey cooking class, and the 40+ people all oohed and aahed over it. I got the same when I made it as a plated appetizer. Great recipe.
What’s GOOD: everything about it – my favorite flavors in this are the caramelized onions and the sun-dried tomatoes – probably because the mixture of the savory (hummus) and sweet (onions and sun-dried tomatoes) offer such a taste contrast.
What’s NOT: nothing. Loved it a lot.

printer-friendly PDF – created using CutePDF Writer not Adobe
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Grilled Flatbread with White Bean Hummus, Caramelized Onions, Olives, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Arugula

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 12

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large sweet onions — peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic — peeled
30 ounces canned white beans — drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 whole flatbreads — Trader Joe’s or others, about 7 inches diameter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Kalamata olive — slivered
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained, slivered
1 cup arugula — buy baby arugula if poss. or chop up regular sized
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — shaved into curls

1. ONIONS: Heat olive oil in a large nonstick or regular skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and sugar and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown. Lower heat and continue to cook until very soft and golden. Do not allow them to brown-burn – if they start to, reduce heat. Add the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made ahead and rewarmed before serving.
2. WHITE BEAN HUMMUS: Drop garlic into a running food processor. Stop machine and add the beans, tahini, lemon juice and hot sauce and pulse JUST until pureed. Don’t over-process – you want the hummus to have a little bit of texture. With food processor turned on slowly add olive oil until it’s emulsified. Again, don’t over-process. Add more oil if necessary to make mixture creamy and snoot, but not too thin. Cover mixture and chill at least one hour (or up to 48 hours) and return it to room temp before continuing.
3. Preheat grill. Brush flatbreads with olive oil and grill 2 minutes per side or until warmed with grill marks, but do NOT make flatbreads crispy. Can also do this on an indoor grill pan, or if in a real hurry, heat in microwave.
4. Spread each flatbread with a thick layer of hummus. Top with caramelized onions, olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle with arugula and top with Parmesan curls. cut into wedges and serve immediately.
ALTERNATE SERVING: Layer hummus on a large, round serving plate, top with onions, olives, tomatoes and top with crumbled Feta cheese. Serve with lavash or toasted pita chips, or even crackers.
Per Serving: 336 Calories; 20g Fat (53.0% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 9th, 2013:

    That sounds like something that I should like. Other than the Arugula, that is – I have such trouble keeping bits of greenery on my fork!

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