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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 Breads, on October 25th, 2013.


Why don’t I bake bread more often? This recipe was so darned easy and the bread was so darned GOOD. You just have to plan ahead, that’s all. It takes no time at all to mix up the batter and it lives in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. Allow about 2 hours on the day you decide to bake it.

Remember when the no-knead sensation hit a few years ago? It was a revelation to me. And I baked No Knead Bread using the Sullivan Street Bakery method. I even bought a cute little enameled pot just to make it in a small 2-person shape and size. And then I just got out of the habit. In the interim I bought the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg. He made the process so easy and gives all manner of variations on the theme. His method is slightly different than the Sullivan Street method, but they’re similar. Hertzberg gives you options, though, for whole wheat, rye, and other flour types.

Hertzberg’s method involves mixing up the dough (a batter, because it’s really wet and sticky) and refrigerating it. He says it will last for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. I made a half of a recipe (half of the one shown below) and it made 2 loaves. I mixed it in my Kitchen Aid, just because it was easy. You want to cover it, but not seal it airtight as the batter needs a little bit of air. Several days later, the day I made the Spicy Moroccan Lamb Soup with Lentils and Chickpeas, I pulled out the bowl and set to work.

You sprinkle the top of the batter with a little flour. This helps. And surprisingly, once you coax the batter out of the bowl, it’s easy to work with. I took off my rings (DO do that!) and go in there with the dough and a bit of flour. I cut the batch in half (remember, I made half) and gently tried to sculpt the round boule by pulling the dough down the sides with my thumbs and pulling the dough together underneath and pinching it. Not hard to do, and it takes but a minute or so to do it. What you DON’T do is knead it – at all. Next you place the round balls on top of a pizza peel (or something that has no raised edge). You do this to let the bread rest a bit (the next step) and you want it to be on a bunch of cornmeal so that when you open the oven door awhile later the dough will hopefully slide right off. Mine didn’t, exactly. It stuck some, so that’s why I say use ample cornmeal.

european_peasant_bread_raw_doughSo you let the boules rest on the cornmeal and on the pizza peel for about 40 minutes. After 20 minutes you preheat the oven (450°) with 2 things in it: (1) a low edged baking pan (a broiler pan? a sheet pan is what I used) on the lowest shelf; and (2) a pizza stone on the middle shelf (where you’ll slide the bread onto). You’ll not notice much difference in the size of the dough during this resting period. I was concerned, but didn’t do anything different. Just before baking you slash the top of the dough with a serrated knife – this helps it to expand properly when it begins to rise during baking. Don’t cut too far towards the side – you want the rising to happen on the top, not the sides. I slit it a bit too far the first time. Now I know better.

Carefully move the dough onto the pizza stone then pour a cup of hot tap water into the pan below the bread. Because the pan and oven are HOT, it makes a huge billow of steam. Shut the oven european_peasant_bread_cutquickly so the steam stays in the oven. That’s what helps it get the wonderful chewy and crunchy crust. Since home ovens don’t have steam injection, this is a marvelous substitute! It works like a charm.

The bread is baked for about 35 minutes and it’s done. Remove the pizza stone – or at least remove the bread and place on a cooling rack. They’re hot, so be careful. Allow to cool at least 30-40 minutes before slicing.

What’s GOOD: everything about the no-knead method. Texture of the bread was really good – not exactly hole-y, or as much as I’d have liked. Maybe my yeast was old – it had been in the refrigerator for about a year. I’ll buy new the next time. But the bread was wonderful and I liked the whole wheat and rye additions – neither predominated. Definitely I’d make this again.
What’s NOT: it’s pretty straight forward, really, though it does take planning ahead. At least a day.

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European Peasant Bread (No-Knead)

Recipe: From Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
Serving Size: 32

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast — 2 packets (not rapid rise)
1 tablespoon Kosher salt — (original recipe calls for 1 1/2)
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
cornmeal for pizza peel

1. MIXING: Mix yeast and salt with the water in a 5 quart (20 cup) container (best if it has a lid but is not airtight). Mix in remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a wooden spoon or mixer. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on the top) approximately 2 hours. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 14 days. [This recipe makes 4 loaves, small boule sized, enough for 4 people to accompany a meal.]
2. BAKING DAY: On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
3. RESTING PERIOD: Allow to rest and rise for 40 minutes on a pizza peel or cutting board that is WELL covered in cornmeal. Note: it is hard to tell much difference in size during this resting period.
4. BEFORE BAKING: 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F, with a baking (pizza) stone placed on the middle rack. Place and empty (metal) pan or broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
5. BAKING: Sprinkle the loaf liberally with flour and slash a cross, scallop or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife. Leave flour in place for baking, tap some of it off before slicing. Using a thin spatula or your hands, slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray (it will steam up immediately) and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top crust is deeply browned and firm. Allow to cool before slicing.
Yield: 4 loaves
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Per Serving: 92 Calories; trace Fat (3.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 178mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on October 25th, 2013:

    I am always tempted by those recipes but we have an artisan baker in town now so I don’t feel the need so much when the bakery sells good bread at a decent price. Perhaps I shall, one day?

    If we had a great bakery for this kind of bread, I’d be buying it also. We have plenty of bakeries, but none that make the kind of artisinal bread I prefer. If I drive 15-20 miles I can usually find good bread, but I dislike going that far JUST to get that. And actually, making this bread was SO easy, so I’ll likely do it again. Not immediately, though. . . .carolyn t

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