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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 Cookies, Desserts, on June 30th, 2015.

breadfarms_grahams

Can I just tell you that you have to make these and leave it at that? No, you probably won’t believe me, will you? I don’t use that kind of forceful declaration very often. Well, just believe me, okay?

Often I’m led down a cooking path by the description of a recipe. Maybe it’s something unusual about it – or in it – that piques my interest. Other times it’s because there’s such an interesting background story about it. Or maybe it’s a homegrown recipe from way back. In this case, it’s Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette blog, cookbook fame, and her husband’s restaurant Delancey fame too. I’ve always admired Molly’s writing – she has a gift of building up a great story and I was following her long before she became famous. I read her blog and liked it. This recipe came from her column in Saveur.

And I got hooked on it because of the story. She and her family were on a drive in Washington, and her daughter was hungry. So was everyone in the car and most of the stores were closed in Edison. They found Breadfarm was about to close – they grabbed some things and dived into the bags as they stood in the parking lot. What emanated from them all were ooohs and aaahs. But it was the little package of freshly baked graham crackers that made the biggest impression. They were gone before she arrived home. And, because you’re Molly Wizenberg, you obviously can pick up the phone and tell the people at Breadfarm that you want to feature them and their recipe in an article in Saveur.

I’m ever so glad she did. Normally I’d probably not make home made graham crackers. Crackers, in grahams_closeupgeneral, are a lot of work, and one meal, usually, and they’re gone. But Molly just made this graham cracker/cookie sound so divine that there just wasn’t anything to do but make these. First, however, I had to go shopping. I don’t stock whole wheat flour much – it turns rancid so quickly (the remainder is in the freezer for now). And I certainly had never used whole wheat pastry flour. Had to go to two stores before I found those items. It also uses wheat bran – another thing I don’t keep on hand because it doesn’t keep all that long, either.

Fortunately I read and re-read the recipe before I began to make them. Making these requires several visits to the freezer as the precious little graham cracker cargo are chilled and slightly frozen before baking. I was home anyway, so I was certain to make these at a time when I would have no distractions.

My kitchen freezer is very full. (Actually, this is a mini form of hoarding, I think – I can’t seem to ever get my freezer to some manageable amount of fullness – it’s always chock full.) So I had to slide the cookie sheets with the rolled out cookies/crackers on parchment into my garage freezer (yes, there is room there). It required 2 visits to the freezer, and technically they were supposed to have a 3rd visit, but I did a shortcut on that one.

The batter is easy enough to make – you cream the butter, sugar (she calls for cane sugar, I used moscovado) and honey for awhile, then add the dry ingredients in 3 separate additions and continue mixing until it pulls away from the workbowl using the stand mixer. The batter is divided in half and pressed into a 1-inch thick rectangle on parchment. A 2nd piece of parchment goes on top and a rolling rolled_perforatedpin is used to squeeze down the dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  The recipe says to keep the dough in its rectangular shape. Well, I couldn’t do that – I was handling it too much, so I just lived with the results of an oval shape and re-rolled the scraps. Some time was spent in the freezer, then you poke the crackers with a fork and either perforate the dough into squares, or in my case, I used a square cookie cutter, which worked just fine. Back into the freezer they go, so they’re cold-cold before you bake them. They are separated and placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. And they’re baked.

And I remind you – you have to make these. They’re just SO good. They’d be loverly with cheese as an after-dinner course. I’m serving them with my lemon velvet gelato on Father’s Day – this won’t post until a week or so later.

What’s GOOD: the taste. Oh my yes, they taste wonderful. And although you will have spent more time than usual making a batch of these, you’ll be glad you did, if you can make the time to do it. They make a very nice snack, or a straight-out cookie. And maybe you’ll think it’s not so bad because it’s almost all whole wheat flours.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever is bad about the cookie/cracker. It just takes a bit of time to make. And they’re a little bit fussy – trying to get the dough flat and square as you roll it out – you don’t want them to be thicker on one side than the other, not only would they not bake evenly, but they’d look funny.

printer-friendly PDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Breadfarm’s Graham Crackers _ SAVEUR

Recipe By: From Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, and Saveur, 2015
Serving Size: 48

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon wheat bran — plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter — softened
2/3 cup unrefined cane sugar — or turbinado sugar [I used moscovado]
2 tablespoons honey

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the flours with the wheat bran, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and honey on medium speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is creamy, 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches, stopping as needed to scrape down the bowl, until the flour is fully incorporated.
3. Continue beating until the dough comes together around the paddle, pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
4. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and gather into a ball. Halve the dough ball and place each half on a 12” x 16” sheet of parchment paper. Pat each half into a 1”-thick rectangle and then cover with another sheet of parchment paper, lining it up with the first. Using a rolling pin, roll each dough half between the sheets of parchment to an even thickness of 1/8”, maintaining its rectangular shape [this was very difficult to do, so I made do with a big oval shape]. Carefully transfer the two dough halves, still between the parchment sheets, onto two baking sheets and freeze for 30 minutes.
5. Remove each sheet from the freezer, and transfer the parchment-wrapped dough sheets to a clean work surface. Remove the top sheet of parchment from each, and working quickly, use a fork or skewer to prick the dough sheets at roughly 1-inch intervals. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, score the dough into 2-inch squares. Trim the scraps, and reserve to use for re-rolling and making more cookies. Return the pricked and scored dough sheets, still in single, large sheets, to the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, until very firm.
6. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and heat to 350°. Remove the chilled dough sheets from the freezer, and invert each onto a clean work surface. Peel away and discard the parchment paper and, working quickly, separate the dough sheets along the score lines, into individual squares. Place the squares onto three parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Chill the squares on the baking sheets for 15 minutes.
7. Bake the squares for 14 minutes, until golden at the edges; rotate the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. [I didn’t quite get 48 cookie/crackers out of my batch – probably because they were just a bit thicker than the 1/8 inch suggested – it’s hard to measure!]
Per Serving: 69 Calories; 4g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 46mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 30th, 2015:

    These caught my eye, too, and have been lurking in the far corners of my brain since I saw the article. They were in danger of getting lost, so I’m glad you brought them up. I was a bit shocked at the price–$10 for a little bag of graham crackers in the photo with the article (looks like maybe 20 squares max). The fact that they are labor intensive as well as being a high quality artisan product no doubt accounts for that, but it’s still more than I could justify paying. I’m glad to know they are worth the trouble to make them yourself. Thanks for the reminder!

    Yup, they really are worth it – as long as you can make the time. I was SO utterly sad when I had the last one a few days ago. Since I have pounds of specialty flour now, I guess I’ll have to make them again! . . . carolyn t

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