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Currently Reading

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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 Beef, on November 3rd, 2016.

Image result for beef burritos

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned beef burrito. Laden with cheese and in a thickened chili and tomato spiced sauce inside and out. And mostly done in a slow cooker! Photo:

Since I’ve been working on this project of ridding myself of hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of recipe clippings and notes that date back to the 1960s, I’ve uncovered a bunch of recipes that I have made in the past, but they’ve laid dormant in these old files for a long time. A really long time.

In this case, the reason is simple. I have lived in California for ages. I was born and raised here in the 40s and 50s and went to college in the 60s, left for some years, then returned here in the mid-1970s. Lucky for me, Mexican restaurants abound in my neck of the woods. Excellent ones, as a matter of fact, because we have a heavy Mexican population, and many of them have opened cafes, walk-up counters, fast-food joints and sit-down restaurants. Most people who live in SoCal love-love Mexican food.

But during a 10-year span from the mid-60’s to mid-70s I lived in various places around the U.S. and had little or no access to Mexican food. So I had to improvise. If there were Mexican restaurants in those places, the food bore little resemblance or taste to what we were used to from living here.

Creating this recipe offered my family a taste of (California) home, and usually there was enough for my then family of 3 to have at least one or two additional meals of leftovers. Back in the days when I entertained quite frugally, this recipe also provided an inexpensive meal (then, not now since beef of any kind is pricey) rounded out with a big green salad, an appetizer and dessert.

Some Mexican restaurants (in fact, most) make beef burritos or beef enchiladas with ground beef. It’s easier, I’m sure. But back in the day, all I knew was shredded beef, so that’s what I created. If your family likes beef, then try this recipe.

The meat isn’t even browned – you just add all the beef chunks to a slow cooker, toss it around with the herbs and spices, a package of chili mix, and a little flour, then add beef broth. Let it slow cook for 8 hours (high) or 12 hours (low). If you can, make this the day before and shred the meat while it’s lukewarm and chill overnight with the sauce.

Before baking, reheat the meat and sauce together, shred the cheese, have a baking dish handy and start assembling. It’s pretty easy to do. You can freeze these, but because the tortillas are bathed in sauce, they tend to get really soggy if you freeze them. I’d suggest assembling them, freezing them dry (individually, on foil on a flat sheet), then defrost, heat the sauce to bathe the top, add cheese and proceed from there.

You can also make these as beef enchiladas, just use corn tortillas, use less filling and only put cheese on the top as they bake, with no cheese inside. I’d suggest not adding beans to the chili, either. I always made these as burritos, as I recall.

What’s GOOD: it makes a bunch. It’s easy in the slow cooker. You’ll have leftovers. Assembly is very easy, though don’t do it ahead of time because the sauce makes the tortillas soggy if you do so. Just add the sauce before baking, then cheese. Delicious.

What’s NOT:  you have to plan ahead to do this, but it can be made the same day you slow cook the beef.

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

Texas Chili Burritos

Recipe By: My own recipe I created in the 1970s
Serving Size: 12

3 pounds chuck roast — 1″ cubes
3 cloves garlic — chopped
4 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
26 ounces low sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
15 ounces canned pinto beans — drained (or more if desired)
12 large flour tortillas — 12″ or larger
3 cups jack cheese — shredded (or a mixture of jack and cheddar) or more if needed
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cilantro — chopped
1 lime — wedges (optional)

NOTES: True Texas chili doesn’t contain beans, yet I adapted the recipe for chili to make burritos instead. I left in the Texas attribute just because it began as Texas chili.
1. Add meat, garlic, spices, flour, salt and pepper to a slow cooker. Stir so all the meat is covered with the spices. Then add beef broth. Cook on low heat for 12 hours, or on high for 8 hours, or until meat is falling-apart tender. During the last hour, add the beans. When cooked, remove all the meat from the slow cooker, and place on a large sheet pan or platter to cool. Cool the sauce too. If time permits, shred the meat while it’s lukewarm (it’s easier then, than when it’s chilled). Refrigerate overnight if time permits.
2. Shred the meat if you haven’t done so when the meat was cooling, heat the meat and the sauce together until it’s heated through.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. One at a time, heat each flour tortilla in the microwave for 10-15 seconds until it’s very warm and pliable. Place it on a large flat surface. Scoop about 1/2 cup or more of the meat/bean mixture into the center, add some shredded cheese and roll the edge closest to you over the meat, fold in the two sides, then snugly roll the burrito until it’s a nice cylinder.
5. In a large baking dish pour a little bit of the sauce (not meat) into the dish and add the burritos, fitted like snug sardines. Spoon some of the sauce (without meat if possible) over the top and add more grated cheese on top.
6. Bake casserole for about 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the burritos are hot throughout.
7. Serve a burrito onto a heated plate and garnish with sour cream, cilantro and a lime wedge, if desired.
Per Serving: 581 Calories; 28g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 778mg Sodium.

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