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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 Appetizers, on December 11th, 2015.

cranberry_jalapeno_salsa_appetizer

Are you ready for December entertaining? If you’d like to make a really tasty, cranberry-seasonal appetizer that’s SUPER EASY, try this cranberry salsa that has a bit of kick from jalapeno. Absolutely super.

For Thanksgiving, every year, I make my cranberry relish. It’s a raw relish, and I remember my mother making something similar one year when I was probably a teenager. I took her recipe (cranberries, oranges, sugar) and made a few additions (ground ginger and apple) and that’s been my go-to cranberry relish ever since. Now when I found THIS appetizer recipe, back in 2008, it sounded so similar to that regular raw cranberry relish, but it’s an appetizer. And it has jalapeno chile in it. And cumin. Oh, and cilantro. It’s such an unlikely combination, but it sure does work.

If you’re having a smaller crowd, make half the recipe below – I used the full 12 ounces of cranberries – and I have quite a lot of this.

What’s the best part – how EASY it is to make. First whiz up a medium jalapeno (more if you like spicy) and a couple of green onions – they need to be finely minced. Then add in the fresh cranberries, sugar, cilantro and ground cumin. Whiz that up for 15+ seconds, pulsing, maybe scraping down the sides at least once, and it’s DONE. Scoop out into a container and refrigerate it for at least a few hours, preferably overnight – which gives the sugar a chance to dissolve and the flavors to come together. If you like spice (heat) add 2 jalapenos. When I tasted it – when I made it – I thought whoa – this is going to be too hot, but when it’s spread on a cracker with cream cheese, it totally mellows out the heat. Next time I will be adding more jalapeno to it.

At least 2 hours before you’re ready to serve this take out the 8-ounce block of cream cheese and let it sit out in its package, to soften. Yes, it will be fine – and it will be soft and spreadable when that time is  up. Put it out on a serving plate and nicely spread the salsa on top and add crackers or tortilla chips and you’re done. I happened to have some of Trader Joe’s pumpkin raisin cracker/toasts which were just super with this.

What’s GOOD: everything about this is good – easy, quick, and extremely tasty. I couple of days after I made this and served it, I had it for lunch. That was my lunch – crackers, cheese (protein) and fruit, albeit with sugar added in. I’ll definitely be making this again and again.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything that isn’t great about this appetizer. Make it, okay?

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted very slightly from Cookbook Junkies (blog)
Serving Size: 10

12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium jalapeno chile pepper — chopped (use more if you enjoy the heat)
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
2 green onions — chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
A cilantro leaf or two for garnish
Tortilla chips, crackers or petite toasts for serving

NOTE: make the cranberry salsa the day before, if possible, or at least 6-8 hours ahead so the sugar has time to dissolve and the flavors to meld. If you like spicy food, add more jalapeno. Some recipes call for 2 of them. If you taste the mixture you may think it’s spicy with just one jalapeno, but once you add cream cheese to the bite, you’ll hardly notice the heat from the jalapeno.
1. Allow cream cheese block to sit out at room temp (in the package) for a full 2 hours to soften.
2. SALSA: In a food processor add the jalapeno and green onions first, and whiz those up first so they’re very small. Then add all of the ingredients, except the cream cheese and blend until it’s finely minced, but so the cranberries still have just a little bit of form.
2. You can buy whipped cream cheese, or whip it yourself, or just use fully softened cream cheese and place on the plate.
3. Pour the salsa over the cream cheese and serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or petite toasts.
Per Serving: 157 Calories; 8g Fat (44.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 69mg Sodium.

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