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Just finished another great book, 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 Miscellaneous, on June 18th, 2015.

No credit is due here to my invention or my years of kitchen skills. I read it all over at Serious Eats, a blog that’s been in existence for about as long as mine has (8 years). The difference is that one of their contributors is a restaurant chef (and I’m not), and she just set out to share her years of experience in a restaurant kitchen. So I took her advice.

Never again will I put cold eggs in a pan of cold water, cover them and bring them up to temp and simmer for awhile. Never again will I bring the eggs out of the refrigerator to let them “warm up” a little on the kitchen counter. Never again will I put eggs in their shell IN water in a pan. Never again will I just guess at how long they need to cook – 15 minutes? 20 minutes? Nope. Never again will I rap the just ice-chilled egg (in the shell) onto my sink side to “break” the air bubble at the flatter end, that membrane inside, hoping the cold water will circulate around in there and make it easier to peel (because that’s what my mother taught me to do). Never again will I try to peel them when they’re just newly chilled in ice water. And lastly, never will I try to make them in a pressure cooker (I never have, but just thought I’d add that in since Kenji mentioned it also).

breville_risotto_cooker_acting_as_a_steamerIf you’re curious about all-things-hard-boiled-eggs, then you must go read the extensive and very scientific blog post over at Serious Eats. And if you want to read the short version, with just the recipe, then do this one.

cold_eggs_ready_for_steamingWhat I WILL be doing is what Kenji taught me – to cook them exactly 12 minutes in the steamer insert of a pan. I did it in my risotto cooker (pictured above right, set on the sauté function so I could keep the water boiling), which is just like doing them in a steamer insert of any old pan set you have and doing them on the stovetop. And after exactly 12 minutes, I’ll be plunging that steamer insert full of hot, just hard-cooked eggs eggs_steaminginto a big bowl of extra-cold ice water (with ice cubes) to bring the temperature down right away quick. And I will be chilling them for a few hours, or even overnight in the refrigerator before trying to peel them.

Here’s the short course:

1. Bring about an inch of water to a boil, in a covered pan for which you have a steamer insert. Place the steamer insert inside while it’s heating up.

2. Once the water is boiling solidly, add the cold (right out of the frig) eggs to the steamer insert and cover again.

3. Set the timer for 12 minutes.eggs_chilling_ice_water

4. Meanwhile, get out a big, deep bowl large enough to contain the steamer insert and fill it with cold water and with lots of ice cubes.

5. After the 12 minutes, remove the steamer insert with eggs inside and plop them down, altogether, into that icy water. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

6. Remove eggs and refrigerate for at least several hours or overnight if possible.

Kenji does say, and I think rightly so, there probably is no 100% perfect way to hard cook eggs – you’ll have an occasional failure, but this method, which is new to me, worked like an absolute charm. But all the credit is Kenji’s!

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

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 18th, 2015:

    This is an amazing technique. Not only does it work beautifully, but it saves time, since you don’t have to bring a whole potful of water to a boil. Do you like soft-boiled eggs? I do, and I had been searching for decades for a method that would yield consistent results. A year or two ago, America’s Test Kitchen Radio reported on their recommended method for making soft-cooked eggs–steaming! That was the first I’d heard of steaming eggs in the shell. In this case, the eggs were put directly into a saucepan with a half inch of boiling water, covered, cooked exactly six and a half minutes, then drained and held under cold running water for thirty seconds. I discovered that for me, setting the timer for 6 minutes instead of six and a half resulted in my ideal soft-cooked egg. This has worked consistently for me ever since. It doesn’t even seem to matter what size the eggs are–I get farm eggs, and they are all sizes, but six minutes still works perfectly. I decided to try the same method for making hard-cooked eggs, and found that 11 or 12 minutes worked well. I do cool them in ice water, but I don’t chill them overnight unless I am making extra–I rarely know the day before that I will be wanting hard-boiled eggs! Still, they have been easy to peel for the most part. I’ll definitely try the day-before method next time I actually have time to plan ahead, though.

    I’ve now used up my first batch of 7 eggs that I made about 10 days ago (when I wrote up the post) and every single, solitary egg peeled perfectly. It was magical! Ready for my next batch. . . carolyn t

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