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Currently Reading

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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 Chicken, on March 28th, 2017.


Casseroles are so comforting. This one is especially delicious – made with ground turkey, a bit of corn, tomato puree, oodles of grated cheese, and an unusual bottom “crust.”

I really do love casseroles. I wish they’d come back into fashion. In some circles, they’ve never gone “out.” When I serve them, I always get raves. This one will be a repeater on my menu whenever I feel the urge to make a casserole for friends or family.

Occasionally my evening bible study group gathers for dinner – this one was a potluck, and everyone brought other things to round out the menu. The dish serves 12 – I made two of those pies like you see in the above photo – and every single, solitary bite of it was gone. It served exactly 12, though a couple of my guests went back for seconds.

I don’t remember how or where I acquired this recipe – but it won a chili contest in 1988, so the story goes, and the home cook who made it won $25,000. Does that give you a clue as to how good this is? It’s a Texas recipe, and when the one friend in our group who is from East Texas had some, his wife said, yes, this was very much like a lot of Texas casseroles.

A couple of days ahead of bake-day, I made the meat sauce.  It begins with chopped red onion and red bell pepper, then jalapeno minced up, a bunch of garlic and parsley. The recipe calls for parsley flakes – well, I used fresh. The ground turkey is added in, along with paprika, chili powder, ground cumin, a bay leaf, some dry mustard, a little jot of unsweetened cocoa powder, beef broth and tomato puree (I used tomato sauce). Here, though. is where I veered off the recipe just a little bit – I meant to buy a bottle of Mexican beer at the store – I forgot – and I wasn’t about to make a special trip just for that. It tasted fine without it, I thought. You can use your own judgment – however – if you do add the beer, you’ll need to cook off the fluid so it’s a thick sauce. There’s also some corn in it, a tiny jot of honey too.


There’s the casserole just before I slid it into the oven.

Meanwhile, you “make” the crust. THIS is what intrigued me – the crust. You mix up some crushed saltine crackers, cornmeal, a little vegetable oil, some Jack cheese shredded and a whole cup of water. Once the water is absorbed, this mixture is just plain odd. It’s not really a dough, although the original recipe called it that. You divide it between two deep pie dishes and kind of spread it around as evenly as possible. It gets baked for 15 minutes until golden brown. It cools slightly, then you add a bit of grated Jack cheese on top of the “crust,” then scoop in the hot turkey filling. Lastly, Jack and cheddar cheese is sprinkled all over the top. Into the oven it goes to get hot and the cheese gets a bit golden brown. DO let it rest for about 5-10 minutes before serving – it would burn your mouth!!

With a green salad, this is a complete meal. We had a slaw salad, a veggie-rich green salad, a kale salad and a Jell-O salad – all wonderful with this. The green salad went with it the best, I think. The recipe can easily be halved to serve 6.

What’s GOOD: it’s just a delicious, comforting meal – the turkey mixture is full of flavor, and you can pick up on the different texture of the “crust.” It’s delicious – almost has a tamale pie familiarity, although nothing like the thick cornmeal type casseroles my mother used to make. The crust in this is super-thin. Altogether wonderful and easy to make. Don’t fill the pies until you’re ready to put them in the oven, though. I think it would soften the crust on the bottom.

What’s NOT: can’t think of a thing. It was wonderful.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Deep Dish Turkey Chili Pie

Recipe By: This won a $25,000 chili recipe contest in 1988, by Rosalinda De Leon
Serving Size: 12

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup red onion — diced
1 cup red pepper — diced
1 jalapeño pepper — finely chopped
3 cloves garlic — finely chopped
1 teaspoon parsley flakes — or 3x as much fresh parsley
2 pounds ground turkey
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 2/3 cups beef broth
1 cup tomato purée
3/4 cup beer — Mexican type
12 ounces canned corn — drained
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups saltine crackers — coarsely crushed
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup warm water
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese — divided use
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. FILLING: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, peppers, jalapeño, garlic and parsley flakes; and cook, stirring until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey and cook, stirring until browned.
2. Add the seasonings and cocoa powder. Stir until the meat mixture is evenly coated with spices. Pour in the beef broth, tomato purée and beer, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want most of the liquid to simmer off.
3. Add the corn and honey, and simmer an additional 30–40 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally. While the chili mixture simmers, prepare the cracker pie crusts.
4. CRUST: Heat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch deep-dish pie dishes. Use your hands to combine crushed crackers, cornmeal, vegetable oil, shredded cheese and warm water in a large mixing bowl until a coarse mixture forms. Divide the mixture in half, and then press each half evenly into a pie dish. Bake the crusts 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool briefly on wire racks.
5. Remove bay leaf from chili mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese into each warm pie crust. Divide the chili mixture between the prepared crusts, sprinkle the remaining cheese over pies, and bake 10–15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let stand about 5 minutes before slicing.
Per Serving: 558 Calories; 30g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 1100mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on April 2nd, 2017:

    I wonder what the definition of a casserole is over your side of the pond? Here, it is any kind of stew cooked the oven in a covered casserole dish. Interesting, no?

    Here it’s more a baked dish that contains a combo of protein, vegetables and maybe a carb too. Stew, to me, means gravy, and a casserole is thicker, more sturdy, able to be cut into wedges, squares or spooned without dripping anything. Does that make sense? . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 2nd, 2017:

    That crust is really intriguing. This sounds like just the thing for when the family comes for dinner. I, too enjoy casseroles, but I don’t make them very often. That needs to change!

    My Northern California family will be visiting in a month or so and this will be on the menu while they’re here. They like casseroles! . . . carolyn t

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