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Currently Reading

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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 Appetizers, on June 1st, 2014.


So what makes this bruchetta Sicilian? All I can determine is it’s the cheese – a thin slather of cheese put on the toasted bread before you spoon on the tomato mixture. But whatever it is, this combo makes for some really good tasting bruschetta.

Daughter Sara asked me if I’d make bruschetta for a family gathering at their house. Everybody brought something. Sara made Bolognese sauce, other family members brought fresh pasta, another a salad, another some additional appetizers.

You really can’t make bruschetta ahead of time. You just can’t. Even toasting the bread I thought might make the bread more crisp. And there is a fine line (in my opinion anyway) between having a stovetop_grill_toasterpiece of toasted bread that is golden brown crispy on the outside but still retains softness inside (as this was made) and broil-toasting bread in the oven and the bread becomes little discs of hard crunch (which was not what I wanted). So I took along my handy-dandy stovetop toaster. In Italy it’s called a brustolina. A couple of  years ago Joanne Weir mentioned it on her website, said she had a shipment of them, while they lasted, etc. I bought one and have used it often. In Italy cooks use them for toasting bread (as I did in this case), but also for toasting polenta, and roasting peppers. It’s lightweight and really thin.

What’s a brustolina?

It’s a stovetop, thin, flat metal contraption that toasts bread brilliantly. See photo at left.

The metal underside (perforated) absorbs the heat from the flames, distributes it around that square thing. Then on the top there’s a wire mesh that keeps the food barely above the metal plate and it takes no time to toast things on it. I’ve only used it for toast so far. In case you’re interested, you can buy them from a Philadelphia store for $14.99 plus shipping. As I write this, they say it’s out of stock, but expected in a couple of months.

So anyway, my daughter kindly did the toasting for me while I made the tomato mixture. That part was easy, although you do need to remove all the seeds from the tomatoes (otherwise it gets too messy, oozy) and chop the tomato flesh (with skin is fine) into small dice. I added some fresh minced green onion, dried oregano, salt and pepper and just before ready to spoon it onto the toasts, I added fresh slivers of basil. And don’t even think about doing this unless you have good tasting RIPE tomatoes. I used Kumato – I do love those things. Trader Joe’s carries them and some regular grocery stores do too. They’re a dark brownish-greenish tomato, sort of, and the flesh inside is darker than usual, but it’s a really tasty, juicy tomato.

The inspiration for this recipe came from a cookbook I own called The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, from NPR. She calls her version Sicilian Farmer’s Bruschetta, and I’m assuming the farmer’s part of the name comes from the addition of some kind of country cheese (she calls for sheep’s or cow’s milk ricotta, mozzarella, fresh goat cheese or medium-aged sheep cheese). I had some regular goat cheese, but I grabbed a little tub of Boursin (flavored with garlic and herbs) and I didn’t end up needing the soft goat cheese at all. Her version uses thick-sliced bread, a lot of EVOO, red onion, red pepper flakes and oven roasted canned tomatoes. I just switched several things – I used thinner sliced bread (this was an appetizer, not the meal) – I used the green onion, none of the red pepper (we had kids eating this and didn’t think they’d like it much)very little oil, did scrape a couple of garlic halves across the hot slices of bread (actually Sara did that part), then I spread the cheese on top of the warm toasts and spooned some tomato on top. Done. Served. Do check for seasoning (we ended up adding more salt than I thought it would need, but it did). I used a fresh loaf of sourdough bread that was about 4” in diameter at its widest.

What’s GOOD: the addition of cheese to bruschetta was wonderful, but note, it’s not Parmesan. Certainly using Boursin cheese doesn’t give it an Italian flair, but I improvised and really liked the results. Use ample fresh basil, and very ripe tomatoes. Altogether delish.

What’s NOT: probably the only thing is this must be made at the moment. You could try toasting the bread an hour or so ahead and keeping it in a plastic bag, but then you’d lose the crisp part. The tomato mixture could be made ahead an hour or so – just don’t add the basil until the last.
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Sicilian Bruschetta

Recipe By: Inspired by a Lynne Rosetto Kasper recipe in her book: The Italian Country Table
Serving Size: 8

1/2 loaf French bread
2 cloves garlic — sliced in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil — (a guess)
4 ounces Boursin cheese — herb and garlic
4 medium tomatoes — (I used Kumato)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt — a guess
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 whole green onions — chopped finely
1/3 cup fresh basil — thinly chopped

1. Prepare Bruschetta mixture – slice the tomatoes and remove all the seeds, then chop up the tomatoes into small dice. Add to a bowl with the oregano, salt, pepper, green onions, and adding the basil just before you’re ready to assemble. Taste for seasoning.
2. BREAD: Slice the bread thinly. If the loaf is fairly fat, then you’ll want to cut each slice in half so the bread is handle-able for guests. Toast the bread (I used a stovetop toaster – alternately place all the bread on a flat sheet pan and broil – 6-7 inches away from the element – and watch it carefully – until the edges begin to brown. Turn them over and brown the other side. Do not fully toast the bread – you still want it to be slightly soft in the middle. Do not broil until all the bread is crunchy!
3. As the bread slices are done, using your hand, rub the raw garlic half over the top of the bread, then very lightly drizzle or brush a little bit of olive oil on the bread.
4. ASSEMBLY: Spread each slice with some of the Boursin cheese, then spoon about a tablespoon of the bruschetta mixture on top. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 167 Calories; 9g Fat (46.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 474mg Sodium.

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