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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 Soups, on February 20th, 2015.

cheddar_ale_soup_shallots_bacon

What’s more comforting than a hot, steaming bowl of creamy soup? This one would be right at home in a British pub. Some beer cheese soups are more broth-oriented. This one’s milk and cream with broth also, but it’s loaded with flavor from the onion, carrots, celery and shallots – oh, and how could I forget? The bacon! Of course, the bacon flavors everything. So does the ale. Make it you must.

Once in awhile I crave this kind of soup. It’s been awhile since I had beer cheese soup (years, actually), but when I saw this recipe in my to-try collection the other day, I decided it really needed to be made. Next month I’m hosting a tea for a group of lady friends – not a “real” afternoon tea kind of thing – this one’s a soup, scones, dessert and tea kind of lunch meal. And I thought since I’m going to teach these ladies how to make a proper pot of tea (that’s part of the event – it’s a fund-raiser – and I thought they all ought to know how to make a traditional pot of tea), I might as well make the menu a bit more British inspired. I’ll have to make this soup again when it’s time. This batch I’ll probably eat up in the next few days. It’s SO good.

Many years ago I wrote up an entire post about making a proper pot of tea – a “praw-per” tea, the British way. My dear friend Pamela (and her late husband Jimmy) befriended us, my DH and me, in a pub one evening in Ilminster, a small town in SW England, and we became friends. This was waaaay back in 1981. We stayed with them many times over the years, and on one occasion Pamela taught me how to make tea. She had a particular blend of tea that she combined herself. Her belief is that you must have some portion of a tea combo a smoky tea – like Lapsang souchong. [By the way, did you know that Lapsang Souchong is the oldest tea known and that it’s smoked over pine wood?] I’m not so crazy about smoky tea, and never all by itself. Pamela’s personal mixture was: 1/4 smoky tea, 1/4 English Breakfast, and 1/2 Darjeeling. That combination I like, though, so I may have to buy some of those varieties for my tea event – just so I can have everyone taste it. My guess is that most Americans (without a Chinese background or a very strong interest in tea) hardly know about smoky teas. I have all of those teas in my stash, but haven’t used any of them in years and years. Some websites say tea should be thrown out in 2 years, but some people have used tea more than 20 years old and they thought it was fine. A taste test will need to be done.

Pamela and Jimmy were very particular about their tea, so over the years I learned more and more about it. In years past when I had a lot of trouble sleeping, if I woke up in the middle of the night and would decide I had to get up, not just toss and turn, I’d quietly pitter-patter to the kitchen, bundled up in a warm robe and fuzzy slippers, light a fire in the fireplace sometimes, and I’d make a pot of tea, in the Pamela fashion. I might read, or watch TV, or sometimes I’d play games on my computer. I don’t think Pamela ever had Earl Grey (she would frown terribly at the thought, I’m sure, but it’s probably my favorite). She didn’t like floral-flavored teas. On one trip to England I bought some Lady Grey tea, which is a take-off on Earl Gray, but a little less bergamot (I think), the bergamot being the addition that makes Earl Grey distinctly different. For my event I’ll probably serve 3 kinds of tea, the above mix, Earl Grey and maybe an herbal tea for those who don’t like black tea or caffeine.

Well, I got sidetracked talking about tea. Let’s get back to the soup. With me – as I write this anyway – still wearing my special boot – I thought this soup would be easy to make. Well, it wasn’t hard really, but it sure took more time than I’d anticipated, so my foot was aching by the time I was done. I should have done the vegetable prep earlier in the day, but as it was, I was up and down about an hour. I used my Vitamix to puree it. First I tried my immersion blender, and should have done it BEFORE I added the cheese. It stuck to the immersion blender, which took a brush to remove once I got to cleaning it. I gave up on the immersion blender because it wasn’t doing a good job. Anyway, whatever you do, make it really smooth. After 6-8 minutes of using it the immersion blender, there were still lots of pieces of things in the pot, so the regular blender was the way to go.

The original recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, but I altered it some, adding some things, and taking out some things. Bacon was my addition (oh, and a good one). I didn’t add the paprika called for, nor did I add cayenne. Could have, I guess. Another recipe suggested a couple tablespoons of sherry at the end, but mine was plenty ale-tasting already and I didn’t think it needed sherry. I think I added an extra carrot – no biggie. I purchased an 18-ounce bottle of ale – I had to carefully peruse the shelves for an ale, not just a beer. According to the write-up about the recipe, it’s the hops in the beer that’s needed, so I found one that said the hops were prominent. I’m not sure I’d do that part again – but then, I’m not a beer drinker. If you are, then by all means go for the hops-forward style.

What’s GOOD: well, the flavors first and foremost. You definitely taste the beer/ale, the cheddar and the BACON. Loved that part for sure. I used some sharp American cheddar and some Irish sharp cheddar (both white cheeses, not yellow, otherwise you’d end up with a very orange colored soup). You need to cook it long enough to get the booziness out of the soup, then add the dairy at the last. Altogether delicious. Don’t know that it will freeze – it might separate if you did that. So plan accordingly. The other things that make the soup are the garnishes – the bacon and crispy shallots. The soup doesn’t have any texture once you puree it, of course, so the bacon and shallots add a bit of that. You could also serve it with some croutons. That, too, would be a nice addition.

What’s NOT: nothing really – just plan about an hour of prep and cooking, then the pureeing, then the cheese and reheating. Have everything else all ready once you start the puree process. Or make it earlier in the day and reheat. That would work fine too.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cheddar and Ale Soup with Crispy Shallots and Bacon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe
Serving Size: 6

3 pieces thick-sliced bacon — finely chopped
4 whole shallots — thinly sliced
1 pound white potatoes — (if using red potatoes, peel them)
1 whole yellow onion
2 stalks celery
3 whole carrots — peeled
1 clove garlic — minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces beer — ale, hops forward style
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
12 ounces Cheddar cheese — shredded (sharp, white – not yellow cheese)

NOTES: If you use a lighter style beer it won’t have the punch as much as if you use a hops-forward ale. Next time I might use a lighter style than the imported ale I purchased. Your choice! The original recipe called for more flour and less fluid, but I thought it was too thick, so have cut back on flour and added more milk in this recipe.
1. In a frying pan over medium heat, render bacon until cooked through and light golden. Remove to paper towel, but retain fat in the pan. Add the shallots to the bacon grease and cook, stirring once or twice, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes; chop the onion, celery and carrots and add to the pan along with the garlic. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, until the onion, celery and carrots have softened and the potatoes are almost tender, 7-10 minutes.
3. In a jar combine the milk and all-purpose flour then shake until combined with no lumps, then slowly add to the soup mixture, along with the heavy cream and the beer/ale, stirring as you do so. Bring to a simmer and cook until mixture returns to a simmer, whisking frequently. Add salt, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Allow soup to cook, keeping it still just below a simmer, if possible (it may separate if you actually boil it). Cook for 5-10 minutes maximum.
4. Puree the soup in batches in a stand blender. You can use an immersion blender, but it won’t get it completely smooth and it will take a long time. Reheat just until steaming. Add in the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese has just melted, 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasonings (salt) and add more broth or milk if you think it’s too thick. It thickens up as it cools.
5. Garnish with the crispy shallots and bacon and serve at once. If you want to be especially fancy, add some croutons on top too.
Per Serving: 511 Calories; 33g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 880mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on February 21st, 2015:

    This sounds perfect for a winter’s evening in front of the fire. I don’t care for hoppy beers, so I have to decide whether to go for something I like or use up an IPA we never seem to want to drink. Maybe something with a touch of bitterness but not as much as an IPA. I have an Old Speckled Hen imported British ale which I find drinkable but a bit more bitter than I really care for. Perhaps that would be the way to go.

    Well, I don’t drink beer at all, so I was kind of lost when it came to choosing something. The soup ended up with a bit of bitterness to it, so I thinned it out with more chicken broth and a little bit of milk. As it sat in the refrigerator it also seemed to mellow a bit. Hope you enjoy it. . . carolyn

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on February 24th, 2015:

    I have never heard of a beer and cheese soup! I don’t think you’d see it on a pub menu either, it sounds far too radical, they mostly stick to plain old vegetable soup, the most exciting being Leek and Potato. This sounds rather good though I must say.

    Hmmm. Well, I thought I’d read that this was (or used to be) pub fare, but I could be wrong! . . . carolyn

  3. hddonna

    said on February 27th, 2015:

    I made this for supper tonight, and it was just marvelous. I was going to use the Old Speckled Hen ale but I chickened out (pun intended), as it is really a bit too bitter for my taste. I decided to follow the rule of thumb about wine–don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t like to drink. We aren’t big fans of bitterness, so I went with one I love, Blue Moon’s Saison/Flanders-Style Farmhouse Red. It isn’t hoppy, but it does have “hints of white pepper and a tart finish”, and with the extra sharp cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard, the soup had plenty of zip. I also used all whole milk and omitted the cream–I figured there was enough fat with all that cheese. I did add a dash of cayenne. This was the best cheese soup I’ve ever had. The bacon was a good idea. We had the spinach, roasted apple and candied pecan salad with it, the one you posted in December. It’s a perfect salad for winter and went very well with the cheesy soup.

    Oh, I’m so glad you liked it. Next time I make it (in another week or so for my tea event) I’m going to use a much lighter beer, probably not even an ale. Your meal sounds wonderful! . . . carolyn t

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