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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 Cookies, Desserts, on December 19th, 2016.


Did you know there’s a somewhat different way to make cream cheese brownies? Neither did I, but they’re really, really good. Yes, better than the old recipe.

I’ve long been a fan of cream cheese brownies. Not that I make them all that often – it’s been a couple of years. But I watched a show on America’s Test Kitchen awhile back and they talked about some of the inherent problems that existed with the old-style ones. What’s new about these: (1) unsweetened chocolate provides a more bold chocolate flavor; (2) sour cream added some tang to the cream cheese layer; (3) a more cakey batter doesn’t allow the brownies to get soggy or dense; (4) no more dry edges because the cream cheese layer is spread all over the chocolate batter, then a reserved portion of chocolate is dolloped on top before the whole pan is swirled and baked.

cc_brownies_slingThe chefs at ATK felt that the two batters didn’t complement one another, so they set out making a bunch of changes. And it works. No question about that. I’ll be making these again and again. They also recommend preparing heavy-duty foil slings (both directions) in and out of the 8×8 pan. See photo above.

You prepare a chocolate batter. You make a cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and flour (very little) mixture that comprises the cream cheese layer, so to speak. cc_brownies_choc_batterThere on the right you can see the chocolate batter which was poured into the pan first. About 1/2 cup was reserved and set aside to dollop on top later.

cc_brownies_ch_layerAt left, see how you gently spread the cream cheese layer on top of the chocolate batter. You spread it almost out to the edges. THEN, you use that reserved chocolate batter (that needs to be heated in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to heat it up and make it more liquid) and you either pour or scoop it all over and around the top. Then you use a regular knife to swirl it – they tell you to do about 10-12 strokes. I did a zigzag patterncc_brownies_baked_swirled, going one way, then the other. I ended up with the photo at right of the finished pan.

The brownies are baked at 325°F. for about 35-40 minutes. Mine took the full 40 minutes and you need to stick your cake tester or toothpick into the chocolate portion, not the cream cheese part (it’s still retains a bit of a soft texture).

Once baked, you leave the brownies in the pan (in the slings) for an hour before removing them. If you do it too soon they won’t remain flat and stable (solid) on the bottom and the whole pan full would bend with the sling. I removed them after an hour or so, laid the foil edges over the top and let it sit overnight. They were still warm when I went to bed, so I left them out. They recommend you keep these refrigerated (because of the sour cream), but I think I’d let them come to room temp before serving.

What’s GOOD: these cream cheese brownies are really wonderful. I loved the more intense chocolate flavor. The cream cheese layer was a bit more stable (with the added flour) so the brownies weren’t dense at all, more cakey altogether. Loved these. As I mentioned, this is going to replace my old recipe, and yes, I’ll be making them again.

What’s NOT: nothing really. The foil slings take a bit of fussing with, to get them right, but they’re not difficult.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

New Cream Cheese Brownies

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 16

4 ounces cream cheese — cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour — (3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate — chopped fine
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar — (8 3/4 ounces)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. FOR THE CREAM CHEESE FILLING: Microwave cream cheese until soft, 20 to 30 seconds. Add sour cream, sugar, and flour and whisk to combine. Set aside.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.
3. FOR THE BROWNIE BATTER: Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in bowl and set aside. Microwave chocolate and butter in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Add melted chocolate mixture (do not clean bowl) and whisk until incorporated. Add flour mixture and fold to combine.
5. Transfer 1/2 cup batter to bowl used to melt chocolate. Spread remaining batter in prepared pan. Spread cream cheese filling evenly over batter.
6. Microwave bowl of reserved batter until warm and pourable, 10 to 20 seconds. Using spoon, dollop softened batter over cream cheese filling, 6 to 8 dollops. Using knife, swirl batter through cream cheese filling, making marbled pattern, 10 to 12 strokes, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 1 hour.
8. Using foil overhang, lift brownies out of pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Per Serving : 225 Calories; 14g Fat (54.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 21st, 2016:

    Gosh, I had no idea that such a thing existed. Fudgy chocolate Brownies is all I know!

    Several years ago I posted the recipe for the “old” ones that I knew from the 1970s. These are different – good different. They’re a lighter cake-type brownie. . . carolyn t

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