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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 Appetizers, on September 11th, 2007.

What is more American, really, than beef meatballs? Not much, except maybe hamburgers and hot dogs. Seems like in years past, as in the 1970’s, every party you went to, hostesses served meatballs. Then they seemed to go out of vogue. I served so many of the darned things, I was tired of the usual currant jelly and mustard combination for the sauce. Remember those guys? I even had a copper chafing dish (a hand-me-down from my mother) that I used for them.

These days you never see chafing dishes except brought in by caterers. They really were functional, but they took up SO much space to store. People seemed to move to more casual entertaining. I sure did. After years of not using the chafing dish I finally gave it away. I have a cupboard in our garage that I’ve usurped for big serving things (my big coffee pot, for one), but my DH really thinks ALL the shelves in the garage belong to him, so I have to fight for shelf space. Just like the vendors in grocery stores fight for one more can width of space for their products. Visibility. Visibility.

Last year, prior to our kitchen remodel, I ordered a 2-burner hot plate to use in our temporary kitchen. It’s a very attractive thing – found it on one of the shopping channels. It worked wonderfully well during our construction phase, but it’s now stored away in the laundry room. But WITH the hot plate came two equally attractive round cooking pots. They are nothing extraordinary. I had to go look up the brand – Command Performance Gold. Made in China. Hmmm. No wonder the set was such a bargain. But they look very nice. They are stainless steel with a gold band around the middle, gold handles and glass lids. You can cook in them too, although I’m sure they’re not up the standards of All-Clad or Calphalon. But they’ve served me well.

So, when we had a kitchen warming party after our kitchen was completed, I used the 2-burner hot plate for two of the dishes I was serving. The butternut squash soup with jalapeno and ginger, that is one of my favorite recipes now, went in the larger pot, and the meatballs went into the smaller pot, to be refilled from a big pot in the oven keeping things warm. I made lots of the meatballs.

Normally I’d make my own meatballs, but we had about 30 people coming, and just didn’t have time, so I did something I rarely do – I went to Trader Joe’s and used their -cooked mini-meatballs in their frozen cases. What a Godsend they were. And they are delicious. I suppose they have some filler in them, but it’s not pronounced. It made the compiling of this dish a snap. Really, I mean it. It couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes prep time to get ready. The sauce needs to be cooked a little bit, but not much. Then the whole batch went in the oven (or a crock pot would work just fine too) to be warmed through. How easy is that?

Everybody seemed to like meatballs. I had 4 pounds of them, and they were all gone. What does that tell you? You need to make these the next time you have a party. They are sweet – because of the cranberry sauce and the bottled chili sauce – so I don’t think they’d make a very good sauce for pasta, for instance. But they taste just fine as leftovers with a vegetable and green salad.

This recipe came from a Cape Cod cookbook: Mystic Seaport: A New England Table. The book was published by the Mystic Seaport Museum and much of the book contains fried things, particularly fish items, but this recipe jumped out at me, especially for the holidays, since it uses cranberries. The book is already out of print at online bookstores, but is available online at the Museum (click the link above). I found the book in an independent bookstore somewhere several years ago. I’ll be making this again and again. Try it.
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Cape Cod Meatballs Piquant

Recipe from Mystic Seaport: A New England Table
Servings: 36
NOTES: If you want to simplify this, buy ready-made, pre-cooked, frozen (mini) meatballs at Trader Joe’s. Put together the sauce, add the defrosted meatballs and heat in the oven for about an hour at 250°, then serve as above. This recipe assumes each person will eat two meatballs. These are on the sweet side, obviously.

2 pounds ground beef
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup water
1 cup bread crumbs
1 small onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
16 ounces cranberry sauce — use sauce, not cranberry jelly
12 ounces chili sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons parsley — minced

1. Meatballs: combine beef, eggs, water, bread crumbs, onion, salt and pepper. Shape into walnut sized balls and set aside.
2. Sauce: In a large Dutch oven or deep saucepan, combine remaining ingredients (except parsley). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until cranberry sauce has melted. Add meatballs and simmer for 45 minutes, gently stirring to make sure none stick. Serve hot in a chafing dish sprinkled with parsley. Or, if you use the Trader Joe’s pre-cooked meatballs, you can heat these in a crock pot for several hours. They just have to be heated through.
Per Serving: 119 Calories; 7g Fat (54.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 33mg Cholesterol; 142mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on September 11th, 2007:

    Do you just read the comments and delete them? I can’t imagine not having any comments ever.

    These meatballs look delicious. I will try them soon. Thanks. I enjoy your daily read. Jancd

  2. Carolyn T

    said on September 11th, 2007:

    Thank you! No, I don’t delete any comments, except one that was spam. I do have occasional comments, but certainly not very many! Glad you’re enjoying reading my blog.

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