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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 Desserts, easy, on May 10th, 2014.

tres_leches_cake_slice

If you’ve never had Tres Leches (in Spanish that means 3 milks) cake, you’re really missing something. And I’m just going to say that this one, made from a Nestle boxed mix, is just about as good as any homemade version I’ve ever had. And since it IS a boxed mix, that means it’s super easy. It also means I’m going to go get another box so I can have it on the shelf. (Although, you won’t want to keep sweetened condensed milk – which is in the box – on your pantry shelf for more than a few months as it thickens and darkens.)

My thought was that Tres Leches Cake was Mexican in origin, but when I searched on wikipedia, I found out that it actually may originate from Europe. However, it became popular in Central tres_leches_kitAmerica in the early 1900s (probably when canned milk and sweetened condensed milk proliferated and apparently Carnation and/or other brands included a recipe on the label and since it was distributed throughout Central and South America it became a national dessert in several countries). See the article if you’d like.

Essentially it’s a butter-rich cake (the mix is enough for a 9-inch round cake pan – and do NOT make it in an 8-inch pan – it will never fit) that’s baked, and once it’s cooled for a few minutes you poke jillions of holes all over the cake and pour over it a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and straight milk (some recipes call fortres_leches_cake_inpan heavy cream but the mix suggests whole milk which was plenty rich enough). The milk mixture is not thick, really, and it just fills in all the little holes throughout the cake. It does not sink to the bottom. There at right you can see the cake after it was baked and just after I poured the milk mixture all over it. It sat out on my counter for about 30 minutes while the cake cooled, then into the refrigerator it went. Within about an hour or so every bit of the milk had been absorbed in the cake. Ideally it’s refrigerated for about 4 hours. This is a cake you can NOT leave out on your kitchen counter overnight – all that milk would spoil.

In the photo above left you can see the mix – although the bag with the cake mix I’d already emptied into my mixing bowl. This one is made by Nestle and I found it at my regular supermarket. It contains the cake mix bag, the sweetened condensed milk can (on the left) and a can of evaporated milk (on the right). I also caution you to not use a 9-inch pan that’s shallow. It may fit in a standard 9-inch cake pan, but I happen to have a deeper 9-inch one that was perfect. The cake did shrink some once baked and all the milk mixture did fit in the pan.tres_leches_slice_close

What I want you to notice is that in the photo above, on the plate toward the back of the cake slice you can see just a little bit of the milk/cream. The entire cake is just saturated with the milk, but it doesn’t ooze all over. Just a tiny bit. We had whipped cream with it.

Some recipes you’ll find online have a frosting on top. For me that would be over the top – this cake is very rich and to put frosting on it (unless it was just a whipped cream mixture) would make it too sweet and heavy for me. If you don’t like cake mixes, just do a search for Tres Leches Cake and you’ll find dozens of them to make from scratch. I’ll definitely make this again. I think kids would love this cake.

What’s GOOD: I really, really liked this. Because it’s so moist. It’s also rich and sweet too. It was EASY, which I liked a lot too. Very suitable for guests. For me, the cake has sort-of the texture of bread pudding, but it’s not weight-heavy like bread pudding is. Fabulous.

What’s NOT: I don’t want to know how many calories each slice contains. Just don’t tell me, okay?

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  1. Melynda

    said on May 10th, 2014:

    Years ago I attended a wedding where the wedding cake was tres leches cake. And since wedding cake can often times be dry, this was not. You are right, creamy, sweet and wonderful.

  2. Jennifer

    said on May 26th, 2017:

    The best Tres Leches ever are served in Nicaraguan restaurants (there are plenty throughout South Florida and California). Nicaraguan tres leches is considered the most authentic and original version. While Mexican tres leches is supposed to be an alternative version to the original. Personally, I didn’t like the tres leches that I’ve tried in Mexican restaurants. The Nestle La Lechera tes leches cake kit was amazing. Too bad they have discontinued it.

    I agree about the Nestle cake mix – it was really good. As a matter of fact I’m going to be making the cake today, from a recipe I have posted here on my blog – http://tastingspoons.com/archives/13370 – it’s the real thing. My grandson asked for it, so of course, Grandma will make it! . . . carolyn t

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