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Just finished reading The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

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 Cookies, on March 8th, 2017.

choc_biscotti_

Why, oh why, did I wait so long to try these easy biscotti? They are just wonderful, and maybe even more so if they’re allowed to mellow for a few days. These must be easiest biscotti I’ve ever made.

Farmgirl Susan’s blog was one of the first ones I started following when I began reading blogs back in about 2004. I just loved reading her story about how she and her (then) husband wanted to move from California, got as far as Missouri, their car broke down, and the story starts from there. She shed the husband, found her hunky husband Joe, and has been writing and blogging from the backcountry ever since. She grows a lot of her own produce, barters all kinds of things with neighbors, and doesn’t get to grocery shop very often because they’re a loooong way from a town or city.

choc_biscotti_uprightSusan posted this recipe years ago. And I’m just plain embarrassed to say it’s been sitting in my to-try MasterCook file for years. YEARS! Too bad, cuz these are going to make a more frequent appearance in my house in the future. I rescued one biscotti (I tasted one when I made them) from the bag as I distributed most of them to friends and that one got dunked into my morning latte. OH-SO-GOOD!. Trust me on this one.

choc_biscotti_2nd_bakeSometimes biscotti is a bit persnickety. At least I’ve found them so. You bake them in a flat log the first time around, then you have to cut them into those unique and very recognizable angled flats, and bake them again to get them extra crispy. Often, in my experience, cutting the once-baked logs is problematical – you often break off ends, etc. These, however, were cinchy easy and the knife just cut perfectly. Susan mastered this recipe to a T. The only addition I might make would be nuts, or chocolate chips. But they’re pretty darned perfect just the way they are. Thank you, Susan, for a really great recipe!

What’s GOOD: how easy they are to make. Flavor is fabulous. They keep well. They satisfy a chocoholic’s cravings, they’re relatively low in calorie. Altogether wonderful cookie. Do try them.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about these. They’ll be making a regular appearance in coming months.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Farmgirl Susan’s Easy Chocolate Biscotti

Recipe By: Farmgirl Fare blog, 2005
Serving Size: 36

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate — (4 ounces) or dark chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour — and up to 1/4 cup more if needed
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder — (Susan cautions – make sure it’s fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white — beaten, for glaze (optional)
1 teaspoon espresso powder — (optional) or more, added into dry ingredients

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Melt the butter and chocolate together (I put them in a Pyrex measuring cup and microwave them) and set aside.
2. With an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until lightened, about two minutes.
3. Add the vanilla and chocolate mixture.
4. Mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt (and espresso powder, if using) just until combined. You should have a soft, but not sticky, dough. Add the extra 1/4 cup of flour if dough is too sticky.
5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, form each half into a log that is 3½ inches by 9 inches. Place the logs on a heavy duty baking sheet and brush with egg white if desired. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the tops are set. Update: some readers have said their loaves sliced better when cooked a little less than 25 minutes, so I’ve changed the directions accordingly.
6. Reduce the oven to 275°. Let the logs cool as long as you can (the cooler they are, the easier to cut), and then slice into 1/2-inch thick slices (I use a large serrated knife and push it through the loaves rather than ‘sawing’ the slices). Arrange the slices on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully turn the slices over, and bake for another 20 minutes.
7. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container or freeze.
Per Serving: 89 Calories; 4g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    I want to bake these right now! I think I’ll put some macadamia nuts in them. I find that misting the loaves with water a few minutes before cutting them makes them easier to slice cleanly. I believe the idea came from the King Arthur Flour website. I use a bread knife and do use a sawing motion–will try the straight down push next time. Do you have any hints for cleanly slicing ice box cookie dough? If it has any nuts or other chunks, it’s almost impossible, and although you can push them back together, they are never as pretty.

    These biscotti were the easiest I’ve ever made. This will be my go-to recipe from now on, and yes, nuts in them should be good. Chop them up, however. No, I don’t have any great ideas for chilled cookie dough – sorry. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    About an hour and a half after reading this post, I’m munching on one of the best biscotti I’ve ever had. Commercial chocolate biscotti tend to be hard and tough, but these have a deep, rich, chocolate flavor and still retain a delicate, crumbly, crunchy texture–exactly what I’m looking for in biscotti. I misted the loaves with water when I took them out and was able to slice them easily using both the straight cut down with my chef’s knife and the gentle sawing motion with my Wusthof bread knife. I did chop the macadamia nuts, but they are hard to chop because of their shape, and some pieces remained fairly large. Predictably, they did make slicing a little more difficult, but the slices only broke where a large piece of nut weakened the structure. I actually had a few break when I turned them during the second baking, but they taste just as good! I’d try harder to chop them a bit smaller next time, but I don’t like them too small, either–I want the tooth-feel when I bite down on them. It’s a trade-off, and I find it worth a little breakage. These are amazing, and the recipe is going into my small binder of treasured favorites.
    Thank you for posting this again–I might have missed out on them if you hadn’t.

  3. hddonna

    said on March 8th, 2017:

    Oops. I guess you didn’t post them “again”–the original post was in the Farmgirl blog. So thank you for getting around to trying them and sharing the recipe with us!

  4. hddonna

    said on March 15th, 2017:

    Forgot to mention that I substituted a cup of white whole wheat flour for a cup of the all-purpose. The dough seemed really wet, so I added the extra quarter cup of flour, but that made it a little stiff. I was able to mold it by flattening it on the baking sheet and got normal-looking biscotti anyway, but next time I’d let it rest a while before adding extra flour, especially if using whole wheat as I did. The whole wheat wasn’t noticeable in the finished cookies. Next time I’m going with all whole wheat. You gave yours away, Carolyn—afraid I didn’t follow your example. Am enjoying a few every day, but they do keep exceptionally well, and I am making them last!

    Well, guess what? I made them again a week later, and stuck them all in the freezer. That keeps me from eating these too fast because they are hard as rocks straight out of the 0° freezer. Not to worry – I’ll get my share of them!! . . . carolyn t

  5. Farmgirl Susan

    said on January 20th, 2018:

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying this recipe! 🙂

    I absolutely am – have made them several times, and have some stashed in the freezer right now. Such a good recipe, Susan. . . carolyn t

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