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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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 Salads, on February 16th, 2017.

arugula_salad_peppers_stuffed_mushrooms

This could have been a light meal – it’s just so very tasty – but then I love arugula. This salad has some strips of roasted bell peppers and toasted pine nuts, in addition to the stuffed mushrooms.

Sometimes I have difficulty using up a bag of arugula (and it doesn’t seem to have a long life in the refrigerator, once you open the bag), since I don’t make salad with JUST arugula in it – I put in lots of other stuff. But if I made this salad two days in a row (and I’d have no difficulty eating that up) I’d have used the entire bag. This salad JUST has arugula (as the greens) in it. If you don’t like arugula, use another green, even Romaine or leaf lettuce would be fine too. What makes this salad are two things: the goat-cheese stuffed mushrooms and the delicious mustardy vinaigrette. Well, and the light crunch of the toasted pine nuts. If you don’t want to pay the premium, these days, for pine nuts, use walnuts or hazelnuts. I wouldn’t use pecans, but if you’re a fan of them, go ahead!

The dressing is easy enough to make – just shake it up in a small jar. The nuts do need to be toasted, and the bell peppers (use whatever color you have, but Tarla Fallgatter used both red and  yellow, in the class when she prepared this) need to be cut open, flattened out in one long, wide strip and the seeds and ribs removed and roasted.

The mushrooms are roasted in the oven with a filling of goat cheese, a few red chili flakes, salt, pepper and some fresh basil leaves. Once the mushrooms are stuffed, you sprinkle the tops with Parmesan (it doesn’t need much). They’re baked about 15 minutes and they’re perfect – just barely cooked through and the filling just heated and nicely warm. Then you basically toss the salad together and add the hot mushrooms on the plate and serve. Altogether nice.

What’s GOOD: the flavor is certainly first and foremost – loved the blend of arugula with the mustard and sherry wine vinegar dressing. And the mushrooms – oh gosh – I could have eaten an entire plate of them. Hence, this salad could easily be a light meal if you are willing to eat a meatless salad. Maybe serve a few more mushrooms per person if you did make it a meal. SO SO good.

What’s NOT: there are several steps to making this, but none is difficult or all that time consuming. Even making the goat cheese filling takes about 3 minutes total. Or less. Nothing to complain about at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

SALAD:
4 cups baby arugula
2 whole red bell peppers
1 whole yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons mustard — sweet, spicy type salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
MUSHROOMS:
5 ounces soft goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh basil — minced
18 medium mushroom caps — (stems removed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated

1. VINAIGRETTE: Combine ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously. Set aside.
2. PEPPERS: Core and remove seeds from bell peppers. Toss with olive oil, place skin side up on foil lined baking sheet and broil until peppers are blistered. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove skins and slice peppers and set aside.
3. MUSHROOMS: Mix goat cheese, red chili flakes, salt, pepper and basil together. Toss mushroom caps with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 425°F. Carefully spoon filling into mushrooms and sprinkle lightly with grated Parmesan on top. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
4. SALAD: Toss the bell peppers with vinaigrette to coat. Add arugula and pine nuts and toss again, then divide among plates. Top with stuffed mushrooms and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 334 Calories; 30g Fat (76.5% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 17th, 2017:

    I like all of those ingredients – except for the arugula.

    I made a yellow bell pepper soup recently, it was delicious.

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