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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 October 6th, 2015.


Caramelized onions stewing in the pan make for a wonderful aroma – add some bourbon and a few other things and it’s a match with a piece of grilled steak or pork chop.

Remember, I was mentioning that my freezer in the garage is kinda full of frozen beef? Mostly steaks. I think this one was a prime ribeye from Costco since it was in a vacuum sealed bag. I can’t remember the last time I grilled a steak – I’ve had steak at my son’s home –  I never order it at a restaurant because I think I can make it better anyway. So, I defrosted a nice big steak – enough for 2 meals for me. It was 4:00 in the afternoon once it was defrosted (I plunged the sealed bag into a big bowl of cold water, put a big wide bowl on top and put a weight in the middle to keep the steak submerged). It took about 2-3 hours and it stayed very cold.  Grilled or sautéed onions with a splash of bourbon were what appealed to me so I researched several recipes online. I went off on a tangent and added a variety of things

I decided not to fire up the outdoor grill, but instead I cooked the steak in my sous vide. It needed a minimum of 2 hours at 131°F, and that was just exactly how much time I had before my approximate dinner time at 6:30. The beauty of the sous vide is that I could have cooked it for 4 hours at 131° and it would have been the same, perfectly cooked medium rare.

Meanwhile, I started making the onions. Sliced them – not paper thin as they kind of come out as a gloopy mess – a little thicker than that. They are gently sautéed in olive oil and butter. It takes awhile for them to sweat off all the liquid, but it’s enhanced with just a teaspoon of brown sugar. Once they began to brown they need more frequent stirring so they don’t burn. Once they get to a dark golden brown you can finish – or you can let them go to a full mahogany color if you’d prefer. By then it had been about 35 minutes and I was ready to eat, so I added in the liquids (Worcestershire sauce, a dash of soy sauce, mustard, and bourbon). It took another 5+ minutes for that liquid to be absorbed and simmered off – I wished I’d left just a smidgen of liquid to drizzle onto the steak, so keep that in mind if you make this.

My sous vide steak was ready to finish – it was fully cooked, but it has a kind of insipid grayish color to the outside when it’s done in the sous vide, so I fired up my stovetop grill and got it smoking hot and plopped that steak on there for about 90 seconds per side – that’s all it needed. I let it sit for about 5 minutes on a cutting board, cut it in half and served it with the onions on top.

What’s GOOD: oh my, yes, it was delicious. Loved the sweet onions – I could have eaten double the amount if they’d been there – I saved half for a 2nd meal. The bourbon flavor was very subtle. Altogether delicious. If you like bourbon, you could add more – I will next time.

What’s NOT: really nothing other than the time it takes to sweat down and caramelize the onions.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14 file (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Caramelized Onion Sauce with Bourbon

Recipe By: My own concoction, but loosely based on several online recipes
Serving Size: 2

1 large yellow onion — peeled, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 clove garlic — smashed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce — reduced sodium
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bourbon

1. Slice onions and add to a skillet in which you have heated the oil and butter. Stir frequently – it will take awhile – about 20 minutes – to get most of the water out of the onions, then they’ll begin to get golden, then darker and darker. Turn down the heat so the onions don’t burn. Once they’ve reached the color you like, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds or so.
2. In a small bowl combine the Worcestershire, soy sauce, Dijon and bourbon. Mash up the mustard so it’s mostly disappeared into the liquid.
3. Add liquid to the pan of onions and cook over low heat until nearly all the fluid has evaporated – about 4-5 minutes. It’s nice to have just a little tiny bit of liquid left to drizzle onto the grilled meat.
4. Pile on top of a piece of grilled steak or pork chop.
Per Serving: 220 Calories; 13g Fat (73.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 338mg Sodium.

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