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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, Miscellaneous, on July 30th, 2014.


Think condiment. Think Italian chutney maybe? Here it’s a fruity spread for crackers (or, a condiment for grilled pork). By definition, a mostarda is an Italian condiment made of fruit and a mustard-flavored syrup. That’s not exactly what this is (it does contain mustard seeds, but that’s the only relationship is has with “mustard”), but I didn’t name it. Whatever you choose to call it, this stuff is off the charts delicious.

If you’ve been reading my blog in the last couple of weeks, you know that I went camping with some of my family. Maybe I kinda went glamping, because I stayed in the lodge/motel just down the road. And I use the word lodge loosely. The room contained 2 beds and a bathroom. There was no TV, no internet, no cell service, period. There was no lobby, no place for guests to sit around except on an outdoor deck – if you could tolerate the heat. The clock radio was plugged in but didn’t work. The room was dark with minimal lighting available. But, that A/C unit was used every single afternoon and night and I was ever so grateful. And the mattress was actually pretty good. What they did have was a small sort of fast-food counter with minimal eating options and a gift shop. The ice was the big seller there, along with the ice cream bars.

One of the down sides to me being down the road from the campground where the family was, was that my ice chest full of goodies had to be in the hotel room with me up on the 2nd floor (and no, no elevator). The campground had bear boxes (i.e., sturdy thick-gauge stainless steel boxes that mostly elude bears from ripping into them), but all their campsite bear boxes were chock full.  It could not stay in the car for 2 reasons: (1) it was too darned hot – the ice wouldn’t have lasted more than a few hours at the temps we had up there; and (2) they have bears, and everyone is strongly told in no uncertain terms to leave absolutely nothing in the car in the way of food. Bears can break windows and will claw trunk lids if they think they might be able to get into food. As I awkwardly carried this full and very  heavy ice chest toward the lodge, a kind gentleman took pity on me (it wasn’t the kind that rolls on wheels – big mistake on my part) and at least carried it up the one flight of stairs for me. I was extremely grateful. The lodge did provide about a gallon of ice a couple of times a day (they kept track).

The family stayed in tents and slept on cots or air mattresses – in the heat. I had A/C. I was in charge of bringing appetizers for the 3 evenings I’d be with everyone. As I planned what I’d take along on this trip (a 6-hour drive from home) I knew I wanted to make some things ahead of time. And to make it as easy on myself as I could. No, I really couldn’t toast the bread. No, there was no ideal way to heat up anything. Yes, they had camp stoves, but it was highly recommended that I choose cold appetizers to not waste precious propane. SO. I looked for new recipes to try. You’ll read about the Brussels sprout appetizer in a few days.

In order to maximize my time with the family at the campground, I drove 3/4 of the way there and stayed overnight in Tulare (too-LARE-ee) at a very nice, comfortable Hampton Inn. That was the first time in a whole lot of years I’ve stayed by myself in a hotel. It felt strange without my hubby beside me. Be proud of me – I didn’t cry. I felt like it a couple of times but I didn’t. And going into a restaurant that night to eat alone was hard. Very hard. It wasn’t an upscale restaurant – more like a diner – so I didn’t feel uncomfortable exactly. I just missed my DH, big time.

That hotel did have an elevator, so it made carrying the full ice chest to the room a bit easier. For sure, if I ever do this again, I’ll take the much larger on-wheels ice chest. The next morning I got on the road early and made it to the campground by about 11 am. My daughter-in-law, Karen, and her extended family (all there camping too) are foodies. Powell (my son, my step-son actually but I never use the phrase) is too. All the dinner items were brought in vacuum sealed packages, prepared at home. We had coq au vin one night, and Bolognese another night. Carnitas tacos with all the trimmings was on the menu the other night I was there. No desserts, other than s’mores for the 2 children, although Karen had purchased monstrous square marshmallows, which were big enough you could divide them into about 4 portions of s’mores. I didn’t have any – my only indulgence was a dark chocolate kiss (or 2 or 3) I kept chilled in my ice chest and shared with everybody mid-day. And I left them with another package of milk chocolate ones.

mostarda_and_gin_tonicHappy hour started each night about 5, so I would bring from the hotel my chilled stash of food for the evening. This mostarda was on the menu my first night because I’d stopped at a market along the way there that day and bought a still-warm baguette. Of the 4 appetizers I took, this was, by far, the standout. Here at right is my gin and tonic (I’ve taken a recent liking to them – good Bombay gin, Schweppes tonic, and a squeeze from a generous slice of lime – very refreshing in extreme heat!). Do note the uber-colorful plastic tablecloth, the super lightweight trivet I added in for color and a prop for the bread, and the picnic table laden with “stuff.” Wine is generally the beverage of choice with this family, and there was no shortage of it. I should have taken some, but brought the gin instead. A few others shared one with me, and my son Powell, and his brother-in-law Julian made it for me each night I was there.

One of my appetizers won’t grace these pages – nobody liked it much, including me. It was a spiced carrot thing (pureed) with Moroccan flavorings including preserved lemon. I thought it looked good (and had no fat in it at all) but it wasn’t.  Most of it got dumped into the toilet in my lodge room.

Now, after all that lengthy monologue, we’ll get to the mostarda, finally. Pretty much, this is like making jam. You do need to bloom the spices first in the water, vinegar and sugar, then the minced fennel is added, and lastly carefully chopped flesh of the orange. You cook it and cook it. And cook it some more if you prefer orange_fennel_mostarda_simmeringthe texture to be more like marmalade. I did, so it probably simmered on the stovetop for about 35-45 minutes or so (photo at left). I tasted it here and there. My only difficulty was that fennel bulbs and oranges are all different sizes, so the ratio of fruit/fennel to vinegar/sugar was just a touch off (too much vinegar) so I have altered the recipe just slightly. It’s far easier to add more vinegar later if it’s needed (and continue to cook it a bit more too, if you do so) than to have to add more sugar as I did. The orange zest is added at the very last. If you’d prefer, go to the original at Food52  and use Elizabeth Rex’s recipe, although her recipe just says use a small fennel bulb and an orange, so those sizes are certainly open to interpretation. Elizabeth is a line cook in Chicago. She’s a genius with this recipe. Truly. I loved it.

Most of the double batch went camping with me, but I kept back about 1/2 cup and I’m definitely going to use it – Karen and I talked about it at the camp that the mostarda would be delish with a grilled pork chop, or a pork roast. Since this mixture keeps well, and until I have a dinner guest, I’m going to keep it in the frig for doing just that.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the orange is the most prominent, but then you get the savory part (the fennel and the mustard, fennel and coriander seeds) but overall the jam is sweet. Truly, you could eat it on toast for breakfast, but it’s far too lofty for that, I assure you. It would likely be delish piled on top of a block of cream cheese too. I wouldn’t use any kind of a flavored cracker – you want the mostarda flavors to come through, not onion, caraway or Ranch flavorings in a cracker, if you understand my meaning. Use a plain cracker or slice of a baguette. Toasted would be lovely. Altogether delicious. It keeps for awhile too.
What’s NOT: other than the time it takes to mince the fennel, chop up the oranges correctly and simmer it, nothing at all. This is a keeper-recipe for sure.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

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Orange Fennel Mostarda

Recipe By: Adapted just slightly from a Food 52 recipe by Elizabeth Rex
Serving Size: 16

1 small fennel bulb — cut into a small dice (I used more)
2 whole Navel oranges
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar — or more if needed
1/4 cup water

1. Place fennel, spices, sugar, vinegar, and water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Meanwhile, as your saucepot is heating, zest the navel orange. It should yield about 1 teaspoon, but if you get less, that is fine. Set zest aside.
3. Peel the orange as if you were supreming or segmenting it, but instead of segmenting, cut the orange into 4 pieces and remove the middle pithy part, seeds, and hard rind (if any). The membrane between the orange segments is fine. Dice what you have, which should yield about 1 cup. Add to the saucepot, which should have come up to a rapid simmer/boil about now. If the pot started boiling while you were cutting up the orange, that is fine.
4. Once the oranges are in, bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, skimming any foam that appears, then turn down to medium. Simmer until liquid is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup (nearly all of the liquid will be gone by then) and the mustard seeds have plumped up and softened, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside and cool, then stir in reserved orange zest.
5. Note: At this point, there will still be pieces of fresh orange in the mostarda. If you want a more cooked-down, marmalade-ish consistency, bring the orange to a boil with the fennel, and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Taste to see if it needs more sugar or vinegar.
6. Serve with toasted baguette slices or a plain cracker. Don’t use a flavored cracker – you want all the mostarda flavor to shine through to your taste buds. Will keep for up to a month, refrigerated.
Per Serving: 41 Calories; trace Fat (5.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 8mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 5th, 2014:

    How brave, to go camping in the vicinity of bears – no way would I do that! You do live dangerously. I do enjoy the stories that come with your recipes.

    Thank you, Toni. Appreciate that you get a kick out of some of the stories. Bears (the California brown bear, not grizzlies) are not attackers of humans, generally. I suppose if you got in between a mama bear and her cubs, maybe. Generally the bears stay way out of sight during daylight hours – it’s only at night when no one is about, that they’ll come out of hiding and try to find food. Bears are a fact of life in this country – they were here far before we were, so we have to make accommodation for them. I’ve seen bears in the wild, but only from quite a distance away. They usually stay a long way away from humans. . . carolyn t

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