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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 Soups, on January 22nd, 2017.


Can’t quite believe I’m posting yet another tomato soup recipe. But yes, I am, and is it ever good. And contains no cream or dairy at all, but you’d never know it.

One of my favorite recipes is a tomato soup I learned at a cooking class about 10-12 years ago. It’s on my list of FAVS, called Cream of Tomato Soup. Just typing those words makes my mouth water. Guess I need to make some soon. But maybe I’ll make THIS one instead, as it was almost as tasty and has no cream in it but is loaded with flavor.

This one came from a cooking class with a French chef, and it’s one of her favorites, made with roasted Roma tomatoes. The day of this particular class, the chef, Caroline, couldn’t find good looking Romas, so she used on-the-vine tomatoes instead, and they were delicious. This time of year it’s hard to find really red-ripe tomatoes, so Caroline was disappointed in the orange-y color of the soup – she blamed it on the under ripe color of the tomatoes. The quartered tomatoes and a red bell pepper are tossed with olive oil and roasted 45 minutes. Meanwhile, you cook a yellow onion in EVOO and add the roasted tomato mixture to it, along with some chicken (or vegetable) stock. It’s pureed in the blender and reheated. If you like a really silky consistency, put the soup through a strainer or a Chinois to remove all the pulp and other stuff – I probably wouldn’t bother as I like texture.

If you have ready-made pesto, use it – chef Caroline diluted some store-bought with just a tiny bit of water so it would drizzle. Done. Easy. She served the soup with little French bread croutons with melted goat cheese on top – it was just an easy accompaniment to the soup to help round out the course.

What’s GOOD: how delicious the soup is – it must be the roasting that gives it so much flavor – it’s easy to make. Just be sure to buy good tomatoes.

What’s NOT: not a thing – a delicious soup – but if you can’t find good tomatoes, skip making this until you can.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Coulis

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, Chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds Roma tomatoes — (ripe) stemmed, quartered
1 whole red bell pepper — stemmed, seeded, cut in 1″ squares
5 large garlic cloves — peeled, smashed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Ground black pepper — to taste
1/4 cup EVOO — (for tomatoes)
2 tablespoons EVOO — (for onion)
1 large sweet onion — peeled, chopped
2 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
PESTO COULIS: (optional)
1 tablespoon pesto sauce — store bought is fine
1 tablespoon water — or more if needed

NOTE: If Roma tomatoes aren’t nicely red and ripe, substitute on-the-vine tomatoes.
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On the parchment, toss the tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic, with salt, pepper and the larger quantity of olive oil.
3. In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the smaller quantity of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Add the roasted tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Cool slightly, then puree soup in a blender, in batches so it doesn’t overflow. Press through a sieve if you’d prefer it that way. Adjust seasonings.
5. In a small bowl combine the pesto and water – if the pesto is particularly thick, it may need more water to make it somewhat runny. Drizzle on top of the hot soup.
OPTIONAL: toast baguette slices lightly brushed with olive oil, then top with a little spread of soft goat cheese. Bake or broil just until golden and serve alongside the soup.
Per Serving: 206 Calories; 16g Fat (65.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 22nd, 2017:

    I think you might successfully substitute good quality canned tomatoes if you can’t get decent fresh ones. I know that we have some cans of excellent provenance.

    I make a similar soup, without the roasting, using tomatoes, red bell pepper and red onion. In fact, the red peppers come from a jar of Gaea flame roasted, I love the flavour of these.

    I agree with you, Toni. Especially if the tomatoes are from Italy. We have large cans of really delicious Roma and San Marzano types. I think the latter are just great, and I’d be happy to substitute. Your soup sounds lovely. We don’t have that brand (Gaea is a brand, right?) here in the U.S. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 23rd, 2017:

    Am always ready to try another tomato soup recipe. I like the idea of the roasted red pepper–and roasting the tomatoes. When I make tomato soup, it’s usually on the spur of the moment. Either I remember seeing a recipe recently, or I check one of my cookbooks, and I haven’t made one with roasted tomatoes only because there’s no time to do that. Guess I’ll have to plan ahead to give this one a try.

    This was a very nice soup, and truly, I don’t know if you didn’t roast them, would they change in flavor all that much. My blogging friend Toni, who commented here on this recipe, suggested canned tomatoes are equally flavorful, and I agree with her. Unless you made a batch with roasting and one using canned, good quality tomatoes for the other, whether there would be all that much difference between them. I’m too lazy to do that! . . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on January 24th, 2017:

    How about canned fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen?

    Yes, those should be JUST as good, don’t you think? . . .carolyn t

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