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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

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 Vegetarian, on October 29th, 2013.

eggplant_parmesan

To say that my husband was in food ecstasy when I made this is almost an understatement. He swooned. Hmm – do men swoon? Well, for sure he purred! Eggplant Parmesan is one of his all-time favorite meals. And I haven’t made it in years because the usual method uses SO much oil to fry the eggplant. Not any more, with this recipe. It’s a keeper.

When we dine out at an Italian restaurant, my DH almost always orders Eggplant Parmesan. He adores it, and no matter how big the portion, he eats it all. A few times over the 30+ years of our marriage I’ve made it at home, and just cringed at all the oil the eggplant soaks up during the browning/frying process. And how heavy it tasted when you eat it – from all that oil. Eggplant is like a sponge!

Then I read this recipe over at Food52. It struck a chord for me. The raw eggplant first gets lightly floured and baked – then you use the slightly dried planks to layer the casserole. You also simmer down (reduce) a tomato type sauce until it’s thick. And of course there’s Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese AND some fresh Mozzie.

I will give you a heads-up here – it takes a bit of time to make this. A lot more than I’d anticipated, at least. I should have used 2 of my big baking sheets to roast the eggplant – but still, you’ll have to make at least 2 batches of eggplant to roast/dry out in the oven.

roasted_eggplant_planksAfter baking the eggplant slices, this (at left) is what I got. Maybe the two on the left toward the top you can see how “crisp” they are, sticking out sideways as they are. That’s why I call them PLANKS. There is still some moisture in them, but not much. They’re not dry like toast or chips. But a good bit of the water in the eggplant has been baked out of them, so they totally hold their shape. They need to bake at least 30 minutes (15 minutes per side), and you want them to get just a bit golden brown.

Meanwhile, I made the sauce – it’s nothing but good canned tomatoes (use San Marzano brand if you can), some shallot and a bit of herbs (I added the herbs – they weren’t in the original recipe). You need to simmer the tomatoes over a relatively low heat – once it gets thick it’s going to sputter out and all over, so I used a mesh cover. It won’t reduce if you leave a lid on the pan as the point is to evaporate the extra water in the tomatoes.

eggplant_parmesan_layeringNow you can see the casserole as I began to layer it. I’d made the sauce while the eggplant was baking. I pulled out a big wide casserole dish and put a bit of sauce in the bottom so the eggplant wouldn’t stick. I layered in some eggplant first (the Food52 contributor says press the pieces in like a jigsaw puzzle), then some little globs of sauce that I spread around some, some Parmesan, then a new layer. In one of the middle layers you’ll use the mozzarella. I used more Parmigiano-Reggiano than the recipe called for – and I like an ample amount on the top.

Outside of Italy, until the other day, I’d never had [water] buffalo-milk Mozzarella. My guess is that most restaurants don’t use it. I’d never cooked with it for sure. Why? I don’t know – just cuz I’ve thought that the cow’s milk mozzie was good enough. Well, I’m here to tell you, there is a HUGE difference between cow’s milk mozzie and buffalo-milk mozzie. buffalo_mil_mozzarellaTrue mozzie is made with the milk from water buffalo, but then, you all knew that already, right? And it has a wholly different taste. Whereas cow’s milk mozzie is bland, this stuff is positively umami in every way. I bought an 8-ounce little tub of it at Trader Joe’s, and it was a couple dollars more than the cow’s milk version. It was one big ball, which I sliced as thinly as I could. I took a taste. Oh my! It was full-flavored, broad, deep. Wonderful. It’s a bit sour – kind of like the difference between cow cheese and goat cheese. But the umami – it’s there – like you get in balsamic vinegar, anchovies, chiles, mushrooms.

Buffalo-Milk Mozzarella

Just trust me on this one – buy the real thing if you make this – you’ll be amazed at the depth of flavor.

The umami flavor aspect is kind of like the difference between cottage cheese and goat cheese. Or white bread and wheat grain. Or instant oatmeal and steel cut.

So, when you make this, do go to the extra trouble to find and buy buffalo-milk mozzarella. Truly it makes a difference. And I suggest you taste it. I may never use cow’s milk mozzie again. It’s that good.

If I make this again – oh yes, I WILL be doing that – I’ll be sure to have at least 6 layers of eggplant. eggplant_parmesan_casseroleI managed to have just 4 (because one of the eggplants we bought was spoiled – couldn’t tell from looking at the skin), so I made do with 2 pounds of eggplant (6 small servings). It was a little bit on the thin side (see picture at top). Not that it made any difference in the taste.  There at left you can see the casserole just before I stuck it in the oven. Not all that exciting looking, but wait until you taste it!

What’s GOOD: Oh my goodness, where do I start. Taste, texture, even the eggplant itself. The umami is all over the place. Worth the trouble. Make extra – you’ll be SO glad to have left overs!
What’s NOT: As I mentioned, it takes some time to make. Allow over an hour to prep the eggplant (unless you have 2 ovens – I do, but I used only one, so it took longer, of course), and at least another 30 minutes to do the rest of the prep. Baking will take about 30-40 minutes, plus some resting time (or you’ll burn your mouth big-time). So, that’s over 2 hours. Not a dish you can make after work unless you have other helping hands.

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Eggplant Parmesan with Buffalo-Milk Mozzarella

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Food52, from Nancy Jo, a contributor
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds eggplant — (Choose the large globe variety. Make sure they are firm and smooth. Also choose male eggplants. They have fewer seeds and have a rounder, smoother bottom)
1 cup flour — (about)
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil — approximately (drizzled on eggplant)
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 pound buffalo-milk mozzarella — sliced
TOMATO SAUCE:
56 ounces canned tomatoes — (28 ounce cans) San Marzano brand preferred – add another can if you want extra sauce left over. Use whole, peeled tomatoes. [I used Muir Glen diced]
3 cloves garlic — thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Notes: You will need the full 3 pounds of eggplant to make this – don’t skimp. Ideally, you want enough eggplant for about 6 layers. You’ll be surprised at how thin the eggplant becomes once it bakes. Part of the secret to this recipe is cooking down the tomato sauce – it’s almost like a paste, but not quite – that way the casserole doesn’t ooze juice through the baking process. You’ll have a lot of concentrated tomato (umami) flavor by doing it this way. If you can’t buy buffalo-milk mozzarella, use regular cow’s milk type, but it just won’t taste as good!
1. Peel the eggplant and slice long ways into 1/4 inch slices.
2. Lightly sprinkle each layer with salt and place into a colander, overlapping and salting as you go. Each slice should be salted. After you fill the colander, place a plate on top and weight it with a heavy pan or a tea kettle filled with water. Let the eggplant sweat for 30 minutes or more. If you’re concerned about using salt, just stack the slices without salt, but weight it down. You’ll still get the eggplant to drain some. Dry it off before proceeding.
3. While the eggplant sweats, make the sauce.
4. SAUCE: Coat the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic and let it cook until is sizzles (do not brown the garlic). Add the canned whole tomatoes and their juice. Stir and chop coarsely using a potato masher or two knives chopping crossways. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by almost half. [I used Muir Glen diced tomatoes.] Add dried oregano and taste for salt and pepper [I didn’t think it needed any].
5. Remove the eggplant from the colander and thoroughly swipe and pat dry each slice with paper towels.
6. Heat the oven to 450°F. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet or two with olive oil. [I used a piece of parchment paper and drizzled the oil on one side of each eggplant slice.]
7. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off any excess. Place on the baking sheets and drizzle each slice with olive oil. Bake until brown on one side (about 15 minutes or so) and turn over and brown the other side. Repeat until you have cooked all the eggplant. The eggplant will be moderately dry – not burned – not exactly browned – but like a plank.
8. Using a 7×11 baking dish (ceramic or earthenware, or stainless is okay too), spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and layer the eggplant until it completely covers the bottom (it’s like a puzzle!).
9. Sprinkle generously with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of sauce and then the eggplant. Continue to build the layers until you are about two layers from the top, then add a single layer of sliced mozzarella. Finish with a couple more layers of eggplant, sauce, and parmesan. Finish the top with parmesan – a bit more than you’ve sprinkled on any of the layers.
10. Bake in the upper third of a 400°F oven. Check after about 20 minutes. You may find that it throws off more liquid as it bakes. If so, press down on the eggplant and draw off any excess liquid. Cook for another 15 minutes or so or until the casserole is bubbling well all around the edges and a little bit in the middle. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
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Per Serving: 328 Calories; 14g Fat (35.9% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 771mg Sodium.

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  1. Diana Campos

    said on November 15th, 2013:

    I made this in the morning without baking and popped it in the oven in the evening. It tasted great! Thank you for your post.

    You’re so welcome. I’m happy to HAVE the recipe as I’ll be making it again and again. . . carolyn t

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