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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, on October 11th, 2013.

pureed_beets_yogurt_zaatar

Surely there will be some of you reading this who will scoff at beets, mashed up at that, standing in as an appetizer. I’m telling you it’s good. Very good, in fact. But then, I like beets! It’s cooked beets with yogurt mixed in, some garlic and spicy heat, a jot of oil and maple syrup, then decorated with toasted chopped hazelnuts, green onions and goat cheese.

Have you ever looked for something new and different to take as an appetizer to someone’s house? This might just be the one, providing the group is adventuresome. Some might be put off by the color, let alone the smooth creamy texture, but according to the cookbook, Jerusalem: A Cookbook this is a frequent visitor in a mezze meal. It could also be served as a vegetable, but I think it worked so very well as an appetizer. We had 2 appetizers the night we did this Israeli meal, and the 8 of us just didn’t dig into either of them much – not that both weren’t delicious – they were – but we got to talking and drinking our glasses of wine, and gosh, suddenly dinner was ready. I ate a couple of pieces of sangak bread with the beet appetizer and thought it tasted wonderful. I liked the crunch of the hazelnuts on top. A few days later I had some more, and I served it as a side vegetable, in a bowl, when we ate the left overs.

The beets are cooked (or buy the already cooked ones in the vacuum sealed pouches at Trader Joe’s and some other markets). They are mashed up with some yogurt, some garlic, a bit of red chile, some maple syrup (original recipe calls for date syrup, but who has that, I wonder?), olive oil zahtar bottle 1and then some za’atar. If you don’t have za’atar, it’s probably no biggie. Za’atar, or Zatar is a spice mixture. Some American versions don’t contain herbs from the plant of the Middle East (in Lebanon, for instance, they grow a plant that they call a za’atar plant, related to the oregano) – the little jar I had (see photo at left) contains sumac, thyme leaves, white sesame seeds and salt. Other mixtures might contain marjoram and some oregano.

My friend Dianne, who made this, said the beet mixture was quite thin when she got done, so the recipe indicated to add some mashed potato (cooked, obviously). She did and that gave it a better consistency. Alternately, perhaps adding a bit less yogurt would do the trick too.

What’s GOOD: the taste – it’s slightly sweet, actually. But beets are sweet to begin with. The consistency is smooth and I particularly liked the toppings (green onions, crumbled goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts). It’s a very unusual appetizer – the color alone is startling!
What’s NOT: Nothing at all.

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Pureéd Beets with Yogurt & Za’atar

Recipe By: From Jerusalem: The Cookbook, by Ottolenghi and Tamimi
Serving Size: 10

BEETS:
2 pounds beets — roasted or boiled until tender and peeled
2 cloves garlic — crushed
1 small red chile — seeded, finely chopped
1 cup yogurt
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon Za’atar
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1/4 cup mashed potatoes — (use only if mixture is too thin)
GARNISHES:
2 whole green onions — minced
2 tablespoons hazelnuts — toasted and chopped
1/4 cup soft goat cheese — crumbled

Note: If you buy fresh beets, cut off tops and tails (without cutting into the main body of the beet), puncture with a knife and wrap the bunch in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375°F. When tender, allow to cool, peel and chop or slice.
1. Add everything to the bowl of a food processor and run until smooth. (If the mixture is too soft and runny, add some softly mashed potato.)
2. Scoop the mixture onto a flat type bowl or plate, use a spoon to spread it out. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 1-2 hours, if possible, to blend flavors.
3. Garnish with sliced green onions, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled goat cheese. Serve with crackers or flatbread.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 7g Fat (53.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 201mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 11th, 2013:

    I would be in Heaven if I ate that, Beetroot is my favourite root vegetable.

    Well, you can make it. It makes a LOT – try a half recipe. . . carolyn t

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