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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 Cookies, on October 22nd, 2016.


The cutest, tastiest little buggers. Easy peasy to make.

As I mentioned a few days ago, my friend Cherrie and on a quest to make some different cookies for our annual cookie marathon we usually do in early December. This was a recipe I’d cut out of the Los Angeles Times – I had an old, yellowed clipping. It did require a trip to the grocery store for vanilla wafers; not something I stock in my pantry! I learned something on the journey . . . the recipe called for 12 ounces (a box) of the cookies. Those boxes are now 11 ounces, not 12. Lots of foods are now packaged in smaller quantities – I suppose it’s to avoid having to raise prices. I haven’t altered the recipe because of the loss of one ounce – they seemed to turn out okay. I wasn’t going to buy another box, and I assumed the cookie would survive that minor change.

Anyway, the ingredients are all whizzed up in the food processor – the cookies, Dutch processed cocoa (I used King Arthur’s Double Dutch Dark Cocoa) pecans, dark corn syrup, and the Port wine. The powdered sugar is used to coat the balls after you make them. I think Cherrie counted them – we got 47 balls. THAT would account for lack of the extra ounce of cookies. The balls are small – they’re rich – and when you taste them it takes just a few seconds to feel the warmth from the wine.

The original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. I’m sure at one time I had a bottle of that, but it’s been drunk in the past. I wasn’t about to make a trip to the wine store for that, so I substituted an aged Port instead. Do NOT use California Port – it’s a far cry and a poor substitute for a real, Portuguese Port. Many years ago I visited Portugal and learned to savor the many types of Port. If you visit Porto, the northern Portuguese port, you’ll likely visit the port lodges that sit right on the wharves on the south side of the Duoro River as it moseys out into the Atlantic Ocean. You’re in for a treat if you ever go there. On the same trip I also visited Madeira (it belongs to Portugal, but it’s located off the northwestern coast of Africa) and came to REALLY appreciate Madeira. I prefer it to Port any day, but Port was what was called for here, so I used some Taylor Fladgate aged Port for it.

Cherrie rolled these little guys into balls, dipped them in the powdered sugar and set them on a rack to “dry” and then we packaged them up. We both really liked them. I’d definitely make these again. An adult cookie, I suppose, but there’s not much Port in them, so even if a teenager or younger child ate one, I doubt they’d notice anything except the warmth in the tummy.

What’s GOOD: the overall flavor is very nice. The Port is subtle; so is the chocolate, actually. Maybe as they sit and “age” the flavors will be more pronounced. They won’t last that long, I don’t believe! They shouldn’t be frozen as the powdered sugar would disappear – though I suppose you could re-sugar them if you did.

What’s NOT: well, I suppose it’s not a very good family cookie. I’m not certain children would really like it anyway. I don’t know . . .

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Port Balls (Cookies)

Recipe By: Los Angeles Times, from many years ago
Serving Size: 48

11 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 cup pecans
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup port wine — use good quality
1/2 cup powdered sugar

NOTES: Original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. That may be hard to find, so use any other good quality, but heavy-duty port wine. Do not use California Port. Original recipe also called for 12 ounces of vanilla wafers, but current boxes contain 11 ounces. Recipe seems fine with that quantity.
1. In a food processor, whirl vanilla wafers until they are fine crumbs, then add cocoa powder and pecans until the mixture is uniformly fine. Add corn syrup and port and whirl until blended.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar. Set on a rack to dry. Transfer to an airtight container. Will keep for a couple of weeks. Do not freeze.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 3g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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