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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 Soups, on November 9th, 2016.


Are you tired of my stories? Seems like there always IS one to go along with most of my recipes. This soup is no exception.

The date was probably the early 1990s. My DH (Dear Husband), Dave, and I had been to England (we loved to travel the narrow roads of the countryside – we went there about 8 times and did just that). Once home I was making an effort to prepare more soups – because when we’d stayed with our good friends, Pamela and Jimmy, Pam had served a cold soup course for one of our prodigious meals we had there.

Not that I was planning to serve a soup course with our meals – usually that was just too much food – but on that trip we’d enjoyed soups in many places. And I had vowed to make more. Pamela had served us a cold soup (a cold green pea soup that’s already here on my blog) and my aim was to find some more cold soups to try. I made several over the period of a few weeks, but wasn’t enamored with any of them, particularly. I’d sent a thank you letter to her/them, and in it I asked for more recipes. This was back in the days when all we could do was snail mail, over the pond.

If you haven’t been reading my blog for very long, or you could have forgotten, but these friends, Pamela and Jimmy – we met them in a pub in Ilminster, Somerset, on our very first trip to England together (1981). I’ve told the story before, relating how Pamela introduced me to the art and precision of making a British pot of tea. Each time we visited, Pamela outdid herself preparing a sumptuous meal or two. Often we took them out for a very nice dinner somewhere too. Pamela was a professional cook. She didn’t go to culinary school, but after some early years in the RAF women’s corp, she stayed home to raise hers and Jimmy’s children, and then eventually took a job working for a young, but wealthy couple who owned a very large and lovely manor house some miles away. Pamela cooked for them 2-4 days a week, preparing meals they could reheat on other nights when she wasn’t there. She did all the cooking when they entertained, and especially when they had hunting parties. She regaled us with interesting stories about all of that. One year Dave and I got a tour of the manor house when the owners were away (on the Continent, you see). It was pretty gorgeous, including the Laura Ashley-decorated bedrooms. At the time, Laura Ashley was just the “in” thing, and this house had it in spades. The home was filled with incredible artwork spanning many generations of the family. And it had a dining room table that would seat easily about 24 with no problem whatsoever.

Anyway, back to my story, I’d sent the note to Pamela about more recipes for cold soups. Some months went by, and then I got a lovely envelope chock full longhand recipes, not written in a recipe format. I think she sent me about five, and 3 of them were for a cold watercress soup. Whatever was going on in my life right then, I set the pages aside and they were eventually filed in my pocket folder for SOUPS. And I promptly forgot about them. How rude of me!!

It’s now 20+ years later, and as I mentioned lately, I’ve been working on weeding through all of my old recipe clippings, etc. I’m done with the project now – thank goodness – it was a huge job. I threw out about 95% of them. Out went all the cheesecake recipes (it’s not at the top of my list; it was Dave’s favorite – he probably shed a tear as I tossed them in the trash – but hey, he’s in heaven and enjoying cheesecake every day). Out went nearly all the beet recipes – too much trouble. Out went most of the labor intensive recipes I used to think would be fun. And when I got to the SOUPS folder, there were Pam’s recipes. Oh my goodness. Pam and Jimmy are both gone now, so I can’t call to tell her that I really did appreciate her sending me the recipe, oh so long ago.

watercress_bunchSo here I am, making the soup that Pamela designated as her “favorite” watercress soup. She didn’t say why it was her favorite one – maybe because of the texture – silky – or because it was good either hot or cold. I bought good, fat bunches of watercress – I will only buy the real, full-grown stuff – not the ones that are very young leaves with a root ball. The flavors haven’t developed at all in that variety. One of my local markets almost always has watercress.

First I sweated some leeks and onion, then added one potato, chicken broth (or you could use vegetable broth), the watercress tops (not the thick stems) and cooked with a lid on, until the potatoes were tender. I added milk and half and half although the recipe indicated  using milk alone. Salt and pepper were added and I whizzed this up in my Vitamix blender, which gave it the smoothest, silky texture. I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into it so I had a small bowl of it for lunch. Thank you, Pamela, for this old recipe.

What’s GOOD: the watercress flavor is subtle. By that I don’t mean that it was unidentifiable. It was watercress soup for sure, and it had the most wonderful texture, which is why I’ve renamed this soup as Silky Watercress Soup. It is similar in consistency to vichyssoise, but not as thick, by a long shot. It’s probably the one potato in it; and probably the power of my Vitamix blender. The soup can be diluted a bit more with milk if desired. It could be a main dish soup (probably to serve 3) or a smaller bowl to serve 6, along with a half sandwich or a salad. Just don’t overpower the delicacy of the soup with a strong flavored side dish. A winner of a recipe, and I’m so grateful I ran across this old recipe. More to come.

What’s NOT: gee, not a thing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Silky Watercress Soup

Recipe By: From my English friend, Pamela James
Serving Size: 5

1 1/2 ounces butter
2 large leeks — cleaned, thinly sliced
1 large onion — chopped
8 ounces potato — peeled, diced
2 bunches watercress — about 4-5 cups, chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk — or use some half and half
salt and pepper to taste
croutons for garnish

1. Melt butter in large saute pan; add leeks and onions; cook for 5 minutes without browning. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Remove larger stalks from the watercress and roughly chop leaves. Add to pan with stock and salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Sieve mixture or puree in a blender until smooth.
5. Stir in milk; heat until it’s just below a simmer. Pour into bowls and garnish with a little swirl of cream and croutons.
6. May be served hot or chilled (chill for several hours).
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 13th, 2016:

    I’ll never tire of your stories, Carolyn. They are what makes your blog such a pleasure to read.
    I’d love to try this soup, but decent watercress is a rarity at my market, and when I do see it, the bunches are small–I doubt that two would be enough for this recipe; it would probably take at least 4. Now, the state park where I hike has a stream just full of watercress, all off limits! So frustrating!

    Thank you, Donna. When days go by and nobody leaves a comment I wonder if anyone is still reading my blog. Statistics online say otherwise, but for whatever reason, my readers don’t leave comments. Even when they cook my recipes! Sorry about the lack of watercress. Do you get watercress in the summer? . . .carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 14th, 2016:

    I really don’t know when they have watercress at my store, as I don’t look for it often. I believe it used to be more of a staple years ago, but last time I wanted some, they didn’t have it, and I haven’t noticed any lately. I know the produce manager, and he’s always willing to try to get things in for me, so I ought to discuss it with him. He’s been trying to get me some savoy cabbage for two years now with no luck, though. He once called a guy he knows in California who can usually get anything for him, and the guy said he’d send him some right away, but it didn’t come.
    I am sure it is discouraging when you don’t get any comments.
    By the way, I did make your artichoke toasts for my dulcimer picnic, and it went over very well.

    I guess, living in California, we tend to take it for granted that we can get everything, year ’round. Whole Foods probably has the best selection of fruits and vegetables of anyone, but it’s one of my local chain grocery stores that carries watercress. The produce guy told me awhile back that he orders it because there is a loyal following at that store only, for watercress. So I make sure to buy it now and then. And gee whiz, we have savoy cabbage all the time. So sorry you don’t. We also have a lot of produce from Mexico, though I tend not to buy it during the months when it really isn’t in season. . . carolyn t

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