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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, on June 13th, 2015.

berry_cobbler_sublime You know that phrase, OMGosh? Well, this is one of those. SO good. The biscuits, those lovely golden brown rounds you see there, are just beyond tender and tasty. Once you see what’s in them you’ll know why. And the berries? Well, I used mostly blackberries (fresh) and about 1/4  blueberries (also fresh). The only berry you can’t use for this is strawberries, just so you know.

About the only time I bake these days is when I know someone’s coming to visit, and that was the case here. I increased the recipe because I was expecting about 9 people, but then a few people couldn’t come at the last minute, so I had more than enough. I don’t know how well this will freeze – I have a smaller dish of this left over and will try freezing it. I’ll  put a paper towel on top of the biscuits (to absorb any of the ice crystals that form), then seal it with foil.

berry_cobbler_berriesBecause berries are certainly in season at the moment, I used mostly blackberries (so good) and a few blueberries.

There are two steps – one for the berries (tossed with sugar and a little bit of flour) and one for the biscuits (the usual, except that it uses heavy cream as the liquid/fat as well as butter).

The berries go into the baking dish and the biscuits are hand-formed (easy) and placed on top of the berries in about 1/2 inch thick rounds. It should go immediately into the oven so  the biscuits don’t have a chance to become sponges for any juices formed by the berries.

berry_cobbler_to_bakeInto a 375° oven it goes and bakes for about 35-40 minutes. That dish you see above is fairly big (it’s bigger than a regular pie pan/plate) and it took 40 minutes. The smaller one took exactly 35 minutes. The picture at right is the dish just before it went into the oven.

Originally this recipe came from Lindsey Shere’s cookbook, Chez Panisse Desserts, but I found the recipe, adapted somewhat she says, from Orangette blog. The only difference is the choice of berries. Molly Wizenberg used different ones, and as I mentioned, I used mostly blackberries with some blueberries. I’d guess that any combo of berries would work fine here. The recipe IS about the whole dish – the fruit and the biscuits – but I’ll just tell you, those biscuits on top are something else!

What’s GOOD: everything about this was scrumptious. I’ll definitely be going to this recipe if/when I ever make another berry cobbler. I don’t know if it would work with stone fruit – it might. My guests raved about it and so did I.

What’s NOT: nothing. As I said, it’s sublime.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Berry Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts, by Lindsey R. Shere (recipe on Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette blog site)
Serving Size: 6

FRUIT:
4 1/2 cups berries — fresh or frozen [I used mostly fresh blackberries and some blueberries’
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour — or up to 1 1/2 T.
COBBLER-BISCUIT DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — cold
3/4 cup heavy cream
Heavy cream to pour over the top when serving, or vanilla ice cream

NOTES from Molly: This cobbler keeps well at room temperature for about two days. (refrigerating it changes the texture of the topping). Rewarm it gently, if you want, before serving. The original version of this recipe calls for boysenberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Molly made it with roughly 3 cups of blueberries and 1½ cups of raspberries, and she loves the flavor that results. The only berries that don’t work so nicely here are strawberries. The texture gets weird: spongy and slimy. If you’re using frozen berries, she recommends thawing them at least partially, or else they take a little longer to cook.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Toss the berries with the sugar and flour. Use the larger amount of flour if the berries are very juicy. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the cobbler dough. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. [I used my pastry blender for awhile, then used my fingers to break down the remaining little shards of butter.] Add the cream and mix lightly, until the dry ingredients are just moistened. [You can prepare the dry ingredients and butter up to a few days ahead, storing it in the refrigerator. The cream should not be added until you’re ready to bake.]
4. Put the berry mixture into a 1½-quart baking dish. With your hands, scoop up lumps of dough and form into rough patties, 2 to 2½ inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. The dough may be a little sticky, so it helps to moisten my hands with a little water. Arrange the dough patties on top of the berries. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is set and lightly browned and the berry juices bubble thickly around the edges of the dish.
5. Serve warm, with cream to pour over. This is best when still warm, but it’s also good at room temp. [Can also serve with vanilla ice cream.]
Per Serving: 412 Calories; 23g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 72mg Cholesterol; 331mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 13th, 2015:

    Cream biscuits are amazing! I like to use them for strawberry shortcake, and am sure they would make a heavenly cobbler! The summer fruits are finally coming in–hooray!

    I was telling my daughter, today, about this recipe, raving about it. It really was a delicious dessert, and I want to make it again before berries are mostly gone. I loved the blackberry version. . . carolyn t

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