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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 Fish, Salads, on May 24th, 2016.


Is there much of anything more French cuisine than a Niçoise salad? I think not.

Recently, a good friend, Joanne (who used to be an employee of mine, way long ago), invited me to come visit her at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Those of you not familiar with the Los Angeles region might not have heard of it – it’s a 20+ mile long coastline south of L.A. that’s right on the Pacific Ocean – and about 90 minutes or so from my home further south. The area is big and encompasses several miles inland and is a world apart from the bustling city of L.A. It had been years since I’d been there. Wayfarer’s Chapel is there – a place that’s entertained many weddings. Once upon a time I attended a wedding there – so beautiful. See photo below.

But I was just there to visit with Joanne and her husband Larry this time. It was a beautiful Southern California spring day – warm in the sunshine, but still almost cold without a light jacket. When you drive to Palos Verdes, it’s all city for the approach to the crest of the hills, and then you arrive at the top and it’s suddenly all residential, meandering, curving streets, even some open land, which is hard to come by in our part of the state of California. They live on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s ever so peaceful there – no city noises, and no city to view, either. Just the ocean.

When Joanne came to work for the ad agency I owned with my business partner, she was a brand new bride. This was back in the 1980’s. They’d moved from Brooklyn to California where Larry had taken a new position. They’d moved into a small home and she was so happy to set up housekeeping, and to decorate her house. Joanne says that I was her inspiration to learn to cook (she says she didn’t know a thing about cooking when she got married), and indeed, I recall we used to talk a lot about recipes, restaurants, cooking techniques, etc. And probably where to source some ingredients now and then. I‘m sure I shared recipes with her. Her husband is Lebanese by heritage, and he grew up with his mother making lots of ethnic dishes. Joanne brought one joanne_hparticular salad to some of our potluck lunches we had – her recipe is already here on my blog, a Syrian Pita Bread Salad that I posted way back in 2008. I haven’t made that salad in awhile – it’s SO good – very lemony, and delicious with the crunch of toasted pita chips.

Joanne prepared a gorgeous lunch – this salad (recipe below), a fougasse (a yeasted savory bread) and an apple cake. You’ll have the other two recipes within the next week or so. At right is Joanne in her lovely kitchen. Joanne and her family spent many years living abroad – first in Amsterdam, then for several years in Paris, and most recently they lived for 4-5 years outside of Geneva. Their 3 children grew up attending private schools, and learned French for sure. Their twin boys have just graduated from college here in the U.S., and their daughter is attending a university here in California. Larry is retired (gosh, does that make me feel OLD since they were young newlyweds when I first met them!) and enjoying it. Since their children were born Joanne has been a stay-at-home mom.

As Joanne put together the lunch salad, the Niçoise (that’s pronounced nee-SWAZZ), we talked. She mentioned that here in the U.S. sometimes restaurants will serve a Niçoise with seared ahi. Well, that is absolutely a no-no to the French purist, from whence this comes. It’s canned tuna. Period. The components of the salad must be prepared ahead – the green beans must be cooked al dente, the salad leaves cleaned and dried, the dressing prepared and allowed to sit for just a little while, the tomatoes chopped, the potatoes (a waxy type only) cooked and cut, eggs hard boiled, peeled and cut, all artfully arranged either on a large platter for everyone to help themselves, or on individual plates as Joanne did this day. She lightly dressed the lettuce with a bit of the dressing, and passed a pitcher of the dressing at the table. Ideally you’ll have Niçoise olives – they’re a black somewhat bitter olive, but so traditional in this salad. Capers are usually added too, just sprinkled on top. The salad is so satisfying – all good-for-you things. The dressing is piquant and so-very-French (it’s a French shallot vinaigrette) that will keep for a few days.

The recipe came from one of Joanne’s favorite cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Joanne has prepared many of the recipes in that cookbook and had raves for each and every one. I own the cookbook too – I don’t remember if I’ve shared any of the recipes from it or not. It’s a beautiful cookbook – almost worthy of a coffee table book, but it’s a practical and entertaining guide to many homespun recipes, the kind the French would eat any normal day, not necessarily for entertaining. I love to read Dorie’s headnotes – the stories she writes about the origin of the recipe or about the ingredients.

What’s GOOD: all the mix of ingredients are sublime – the potatoes even, the tuna mixes with everything, and the dressing just brings it all together. It’s a keeper of a recipe for sure. (Thank you, Joanne.)

What’s NOT: the only thing is the time it takes to prepare some of the ingredients – cooking the potatoes, the eggs and the beans and giving them time to chill. The dressing is easy enough, though. Try to prep the potatoes, eggs and beans the day before.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Salade Niçoise

Recipe By: Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

12 small potatoes — scrubbed
2 cups haricot verts — green beans
4 hard-boiled eggs
8 ounces canned tuna — packed in oil, drained
5 cups salad greens
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes — or regular tomatoes cut into chunks
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1/4 cup capers — drained and patted dry
8 small anchovy fillets — rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons wine vinegar — red, white or sherry
1 shallot — finely minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few pinches sea salt
fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Cook until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 10 – 20 minutes. Scoop them out of the pot and put them in a bowl to cool.
2. Blanch the green beans in the potato water until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, then pat dry.
3. Make the vinaigrette: Add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper to a small glass measuring cup or jar and let sit 10 – 15 minutes to mellow the shallot. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly.
4. Assemble the salad, on one large platter, or individual plates: salad greens, halved potatoes, green beans, halved eggs, tuna, tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies and drizzle with the shallot vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 22g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 813mg Sodium.

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  1. soozzie

    said on May 24th, 2016:

    The canned tuna used in France and Italy is of a much higher quality than we find in American grocery stores. Often it is whole cuts from the tuna belly — tender, rich, fatty, and not as fishy and fibrous as American canned tuna. There are a couple of Italian brands that appear occasionally in the US, but even these are not really what stars in the traditional “salade”. I think this is why Americans often default to seared tuna or other protein. So keep a look out for the real deal, and your salad will be elevated to new heights!

    I have an Italian deli nearby that has shelves stacked with all kinds of canned goods from the old country. I think I’ve seen tuna there – I’ll be sure to look for it. Thanks for the info. . . carolyn t

  2. Madonna

    said on May 24th, 2016:

    This is such a delicious salad. I found really good tuna at Wholesome Choice on Culver and Michelson. It spoils you- it is difficult to eat any other tuna once you have had “good tuna”. 🙂
    Are you talking about canned tuna? What brand did you buy? . . . carolyn t

  3. Madonna

    said on May 25th, 2016:

    Tonnino Tuna Fillet in Olive Oil, 6.7 Ounce. It comes in a jar.

    THANK you, Madonna. I’ll look for it!!! . . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on May 27th, 2016:

    I have never had this salad without it being ‘composed’ that is to say, not separate ingredients on a plate, always mixed, at least it is in France. Not that I would eat it nowadays, I simply cannot stand the smell of the Tuna even though I used to love it. Life is strange, no?

    I can’t imagine not liking tuna anymore, but then I don’t drink hardly any wine anymore, myself. Never thought that would happen. . . carolyn t

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