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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 Desserts, on September 17th, 2016.

aunt_dollys_lemon_boxmix_cake_whole

Surely there are countless other recipes – similar to this one – that abound on the ‘net – or have been passed from one person to another. Likely this one is much like the others, but it’s gosh-darned good!

It’s been awhile back and my friend Gloria gave me this recipe, from her beloved Aunt Dolly. Sometimes Gloria and I exchange recipes – this time she had jotted down a recipe on a 3×5 card and handed it to me. I remember she said, “oh, this is my Aunt Dolly’s recipe, so I left her name on it.”

aunt_dollys_lemon_boxmix_cake_cut

Anyway, this is one of those box mix cakes that uses lemon Jell-O. Did I have any? Nope! Had to make a trip to the store for that. But I had lemons (my favorite Meyer tree is still producing, and has another 10-12 on its branches), which are a necessity here. The cake mix and dry Jell-o are mixed up with eggs, water and canola oil. Into a greased bundt cake pan it goes and bakes for about 40-45 minutes.

kailey_making_lemoncakeMy grandson’s girlfriend Mary’s daughter Kailey made the cake with me. She’d never made one before, but she was swimming in the pool when it was time to take it out of the oven, so I did that part. During the last 2-3 minutes the cake was in the oven, I mixed up the drizzle (powdered sugar lemon zest and juice) and it’s slathered onto the HOT fork-poked cake. Perhaps that’s a bit different? Not sure, but the drizzle soaks right down into the cake. Once cool it’s unmolded and it’s ready to serve. We had vanilla ice cream with it. Thank you, Kailey, for helping me with the cake!

What’s GOOD: this cake is SO tender. I know that’s what I loved about it when I had it before. Plus, I love lemon juice in most anything. You can’t tell from the photo, but the drizzle soaks into the cake about 1/3 of the way, and maybe a little bit on the outside too, so those bites with the drizzle are particularly lemony. It took no time at all to mix it up.

What’s NOT: really nothing unless you’re averse to cake mixes. With a big meal to put on the table for my family, I needed to do something really easy for one part of the meal. This cake was it.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Aunt Dolly’s Lemon Cake Mix Cake

Serving Size: 12

1 package yellow cake mix — (not with pudding in it)
3 ounces Jell-O gelatin — lemon flavored
4 large eggs
3/4 cup cold water
3/4 cup canola oil
DRIZZLE:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Zest and juice of 2 lemons

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a large bundt cake pan.
2. Combine cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and using an electric mixer, mix well for at least 5 minutes.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and place cake in the middle of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until you can see the cake pull away from the sides and/or a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
4. Meanwhile, during the last 5 minutes or so of baking, prepare the DRIZZLE: in a small bowl combine the powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until you have a thick, yet fluid mixture. Use a fork to poke holes (carefully) all over the cake (still in the pan). The cake will absorb it all. Allow to cool, then unmold the cake onto a platter.
5. Cut slices and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 415 Calories; 20g Fat (43.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 72mg Cholesterol; 333mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 22nd, 2016:

    I don’t think we get anything like Jello over here, at least I have never noticed it. When I do a drizzle cake, the juice, zest and sugar are gently heated in a pan and poured over the hot, punctured cake. When it cools, it makes a slight crunch on the top of the cake.

    I like the picture of Kailey being busy.

    Seriously, no Jell-O? It’s flavored (and sugared) gelatin. You probably knew what it was when you lived here? And yes, the drizzle is just like you mentioned. . . carolyn t

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