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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

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 Chicken, on April 7th, 2017.

chicken_pudding_pea_gravy

This recipe has such an interesting story, I just had to post it. Have leftover chicken? This makes a nice (and different) way to serve it, and get in a bunch of veggies.

Having mentioned before that I’m in P.E.O., a women’s organization, I’ve probably also mentioned that our chapter does very fun small-group fund-raising events. We, as an organization, help an all-women’s college in Missouri (Cottey College). We support a variety of other charitable causes as well, but each year every P.E.O. chapter is asked to donate money to the school. Our chapter’s method is to have small gatherings of our members (everything from a tour of some museum, or historic home, to lunch in someone’s home, or a game with lunch, or a wine-tasting, for example) and our members bid chix_pudd_bakedon attending. The money raised goes to Cottey College (we generally raise about $2000 a year for that). So, all that said, one of my other P.E.O. members (sisters, we call one another) had an event at her house – a lunch and a talk about George Washington (we love it when our events are educational). These gatherings are some of the most fun things we do, IMHO.

Chris searched for some recipes online that would have been in George Washington’s time. She came across this chicken pudding recipe from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. She made the dish according to the online recipe, and served it with a light chicken gravy (not in the original recipe, but she thought it needed something on it). When I quizzed her about the dish, she thought maybe next time she’d spice it up a little more (cooks back in those days didn’t have many herbs and spices – they were quite dear), and she thought some veggies added into it would be a good enhancement.

onion_celery_carrot_medleyThe recipe just sounded so different – a chicken pudding? Really? If you do a search online you’ll find many, all somewhat similar.  I thought veggies in it sounded good too. I added in some onion, celery and carrots, thickened it, then made a chicken gravy as well. BUT, I thought the dish needed something more colorful on top (the carrots in the pudding weren’t all that visible), so at the very last minute, I added in some frozen green peas to the gravy. Voilà.

cream_gravy_peasThe night of the Oscars, I invited 2 friends over. With my remote control in hand (we muted nearly all the acceptance speeches because we didn’t want to hear political vitriol – thankfully there wasn’t much of that this year). Anyway, I set up TV trays, served this with a salad provided by Judy, and later dessert provided by Nancy. We had a fun evening.

What’s GOOD: this is a different way to use up cooked chicken – it helps a small amount go a long way. Even though I used some spices, I think it could be spiced up even more. Thyme and parsley were about it. The gravy is simple enough to do – just be sure to add the peas during the last minute of cooking so they stay bright green. This dish isn’t going to bring “wows” to the dinner table talk – it’s a simple dish. Nice enough, though.

What’s NOT: There are several steps to making this, but none is hard, just time consuming. It probably took about 30-40 minutes to do all the prep and cooking of both parts, pudding and gravy, then about 50 minutes for the pudding to bake. I did most of it ahead of time, left them on the stove and reheated them every half an hour to keep bacteria at bay. Next time I’d make the pudding just before baking it, and make the gravy while the pudding was cooking.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Pudding with Pea Gravy

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from a Colonial Williamsburg recipe, c. 1827
Serving Size: 9

PUDDING:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion — finely minced
1/3 cup celery — finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots — finely diced
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 cups half and half
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken — cut in 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme — crushed between your palms
2 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped
GRAVY:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
11 ounces low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons dried onion — (minced type)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Melt butter, then add the onion, celery and carrots. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the vegetable are soft. Add flour and cook a few minutes over low heat.
3. In a medium bowl beat eggs well, then add half and half and mix well. Add to the pan along with the seasonings. SLOWLY bring this mixture to a simmer and cook briefly until mixture thickens. If you cook it too fast, the eggs will start to scramble in the sauce.
4. Spread chicken in a greased 9″ square baking dish (use glass or ceramic), then pour the pudding part on top.
5. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until set. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
6. GRAVY: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and remaining ingredients (except peas). Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
7. Run cold water over the frozen peas, drain briefly, then add to the gravy and cook for about a minute. Serve pudding on individual plates, and spoon the pea gravy on top. Garnish with additional chopped parsley if desired.
Per Serving: 343 Calories; 24g Fat (61.8% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 183mg Cholesterol; 189mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 7th, 2017:

    This looks like something my family would enjoy. Colonial comfort food! As it happens, my husband and I plan to take our grandchildren and their parents to Colonial Williamsburg after my dulcimer retreat in Sandbridge, VA, this fall, and I want to prepare them by reading to them about it. This gives me the idea to do some food-related activities as well. I’ll look forward to trying this with them.

    How fun, Donna. Just don’t expect something all that exciting – food in that time, I think, was relatively plain! And this dish is a bit on the plain side. Wholesome, different, etc. Let me know what you think . . . carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on April 7th, 2017:

    I enjoy plain, old-fashioned dishes now and then. I don’t know whether the kids will like it, but it will be educational!

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on April 12th, 2017:

    This is what I imagined when I read Chicken Pudding:
    http://www.food-mag.co.uk/chicken-and-bacon-suet-pudding/

    We are fond of suet puddings in England and Wales especially in a cold winter. I quite like your version too though.

    Well, considering that early American settlers were often from England, it stands to reason many similar recipes would have found their way into our culture. . . carolyn t

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