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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 easy, Fish, Grilling, on January 19th, 2014.

cedar_planked_salmon_mustard_brownsugar

Are you looking for a super-easy dinner with salmon? You’ve come to the right recipe – this one’s so simple – as long as you’re willing to do the cedar-plank thing on the grill.

Not taking a lot of time to hunt for a recipe this time, I just googled “cedar plank salmon.” The #1 recipe came from the Food Network. It’s a Steven Raichlen recipe, but from what I read, Bobbie Flay must have had him on his BBQ show and prepared this dish. What convinced me was the 5-star rating. I read through some of them – a few people didn’t like the quantity of mustard or thought it was bitter. My thought is that they used cheap Dijon. If you use the real stuff, particularly the Maille brand, there won’t be any bitterness. I did reduce the quantity of both mustard and brown sugar, and we were ooohing and aaahing as we ate it.

First we soaked a cedar plank (one worked for the portion we were grilling, but you might need 2) for about 2 hours in cold water. Then the plank itself went onto a medium-hot grill for about 4 minutes. That gave it time to steam-out most of the water, but got the plank super-hot. Then my DH salmon_mustard_sugarturned the plank over and carefully placed the lightly slathered and brown sugared salmon fillet (pictured at left with the slather and sugar ready for grilling) on top of the plank. The lid was closed, the heat reduced just slightly, and 10 minutes later the salmon had reached 135°F and it came off. When Dave lifted the lid the last time (he checked the temp of the fish twice) a big plume of smoke engulfed him and burned his sinuses a little. He had a honkin’ headache for the rest of the evening, poor guy. Beware of that, my friends! He said the plank was slightly in flames too, but it didn’t reach the fish. Obviously, you toss the plank once it’s used. You could also do this in the oven, I suppose, but not with the cedar plank – unless you do it at a lower temp. You don’t want that kind of smoke swirling around in your oven.

The salmon needed nothing else – perhaps I could have served it with a little wedge of lemon – but it truly didn’t need it. It was a tiny bit crispy along the edges (from the brown sugar) and the mustard added just a lovely character to the fish. It was perfectly done, juicy, flaky. Delicious.

What’s GOOD: rip-roaring easy and tasty. That’s about all I can say, it should be enough for you to try this super-simple recipe. Good enough for guests too. I haven’t tried oven roasting this, but it should be easy to do that if you don’t want to cedar plank it.
What’s NOT: nada, nothing!
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Files: MasterCook 5+ or MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cedar Planked Salmon with Dijon and Brown Sugar

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Steven Raichlen recipe, via the Food Network
Serving Size: 4

one cedar plank (6 by 14 inches)
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Soak the cedar plank(s) under water for 2 hours or more.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high. Place the cedar plank on the grill, cover and allow to pre-heat for about 4 minutes.
3. In the kitchen, spread the salmon fillets with a coating of Dijon, then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly on top. Do this just before you’re ready to grill – otherwise the sugar will begin to melt off the fish, even sitting at room temp.
4. When the cedar plank is super-hot, carefully turn the plank over with tongs and place the fish on top/center of the plank. Close lid, reduce heat just slightly (you don’t want the plank to burn, if at all possible). Depending on the thickness of the fish, cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 135° (use an instant-read thermometer). If the edges of the plank start to catch fire, have a spray bottle of water handy and carefully spray the wood (not the salmon) and perhaps lower the heat slightly. Remove from grill and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 231 Calories; 6g Fat (25.5% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 258mg Sodium.

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