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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 Salad Dressings, on May 13th, 2017.

green_goddess_dressing_spoon

A winner of a recipe from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.

You’ve read here before that I record all the TV shows from America’s Test Kitchen and from Cook’s Country. I’m not sure which one discussed this recipe, but it’s credited to C.C. (the magazine) in April of 2006. Here on my blog I have another version of Green Goddess that is supposedly from the source, a hotel in San Francisco. But, the folks at ATK wanted to make it even better, and now that I’ve made it myself, I agree, this version is just wonderful. And much better than the other one.

What’s different? Well, first off, you soak dried tarragon (not fresh) in some water and lemon juice for 15 minutes. That obviously brings out the tarragon flavor. I think I like dried tarragon better than fresh anyway. I have a very hard time growing tarragon here – perhaps our summers are too hot. Don’t know . . . so what I have is French tarragon. Then you mix the tarragon concoction with mayo, a little bit of sour cream, fresh parsley, garlic, and one full sized, good-quality anchovy fillet that’s rinsed and blotted with a paper towel. This is whizzed up in the blender. Now, I also added the chives to the blender – in the recipe it said to add them after whizzing in the blender. Then I tasted it for salt and pepper (didn’t think it needed either) and let it chill. Right out of the blender it didn’t wow me at all, but several hours later, after melding the flavors, I thought it was delish.

green_goddess_in_saladAccording to the recipe, the dressing only keeps for 24 hours. I wasn’t sure why that would be – after 2 days (so I was a whole day past it’s use by date) I made one last salad for myself to use it up, and what I noticed was that the garlic had overpowered the dressing – that kind of sharp, not-so-good hot taste. As a family of one, I would not make this size (to serve 8) as I’d never be able to use it up. So keep that in mind when you make it – only make enough to use in 24 hours!

What’s GOOD: the tarragon flavor, which is part of what makes Green Goddess a Green Goddess, is perfect – just the right amount. The anchovy fillet is not noticeable at all – kind of like in Caesar dressing – it’s a good umami flavor. It’s a lovely green color. Rich. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: only that you’re supposed to use it up within 24 hours.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Goddess Dressing

Recipe By: Cook’s Country
Serving Size: 8

2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh parsley — roughly chopped
1 medium clove garlic — chopped
1 anchovy fillet — rinsed and dried
1/4 cup chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine the tarragon, lemon juice, and water. Allow those ingredients to sit for 15 minutes.
2. Using a blender, process the tarragon mixture, mayonnaise, sour cream, parsley, garlic and anchovies until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the blender jar as necessary.
3. Transfer to bowl, stir in the chives, season with salt and pepper. Chill about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
4. Can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator up to 1 day. (After 24 hours the garlic overpowers the flavors.)
Per Serving: 168 Calories; 19g Fat (96.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 141mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on May 31st, 2017:

    I like the idea of this but I don’t understand why the recipe calls for dried Tarragon since I have always found the fresh, French variety to have a great deal of flavour. It is the Russian sort that is less flavourful.

    Perhaps you could add a little ‘Lazy Garlic’ in each serving of the dressing to save getting the overpowering taste of it?

    I think when I read the article about this version, the chefs at ATK felt that the dried tarragon added more flavor. Where I live, I have a hard time growing tarragon. I can buy it at the store, but it’s very expensive for a few, tiny sprigs, and it doesn’t keep long. You could certainly use fresh. And, definitely, if you don’t like fresh garlic, use powdered or some other kind. . . carolyn t

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