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Just finished 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 Uncategorized, on May 2nd, 2017.


What a lovely day and lovely event!

Months ago I signed up in my PEO chapter to host an event here at my home. A wine tasting (all wines contributed from my cellar) with food pairing. Two other gals agreed to co-host with me, and it was 2 days ago, on Sunday afternoon. What a nice time we had. Just wonderful food, and about 14 bottles of wine from my cellar. Each person paid $35 apiece (toward a charity within PEO) and the 3 of us coordinated the tasting of a bunch of lovely food. I worked hard at finding the right kind of combination of food to go with each of the wine courses.

As the folks were gathering on my patio, we served Trader Joe’s Secco Peach Bellini (pictured). It’s a very light sparkling wine with a bit of peach puree in it – it’s $4.99 at Trader Joe’s. We had some honey chevre out with crackers to go with that. We also had some delish hummus with pita bread too, although I don’t know that hummus necessarily goes well with peach Bellini, but one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare the home made stuff and really wanted to bring it. It was very good and disappeared quickly enough.

Then we moved on to Chardonnay. Two different bottles were brought out from my cellar, and we had a cute Belgian Endive spear filled with a chicken salad with mango. Perfect with the dry, oaky chardonnay. (I don’t drink chardonnay, but I had two bottles in the cellar. There’s only one more bottle of chard in the cellar.) We also had some spinach turnovers to serve with the Chardonnay.

Next was sherry. I really enjoy Sherry, and hadn’t had any for years! It’s not much of a popular drink. I researched a bit about the bottles I had. Did you know that the dry, fino sherry should be consumed within 2 weeks, once opened? I sure didn’t. But then, I didn’t have any fino anyway. I had medium sherry, 3 different types, and we tried them all. Also had two dulce or sweet sherries too, which also got sampled along with almonds and Manchego cheese and crackers. I asked everyone to roll the wine on their tongues, then take a taste of the Manchego to taste the difference. Same thing with the almonds. Many of my guests were surprised they enjoyed sherry so much. The winner of the evening was Osborne Medium, in case you’re interested. I preferred Savory & James Amontillado (a medium). Most of the bottles I had on hand (all opened) were just fine – they tasted great, even though they’ve been there for years and years. Sweeter sherries have a stable shelf life even once opened. Except for one bottle, all the sherries were imported from Spain.

Next up was both Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I had a few bottles of each in the cellar, so chose the older vintages. Everyone was offered some of both wines to drink with some delicious pea, yogurt and lemon crostini (recipe will be up in a few weeks). I’d made that dish over Easter and felt it was a great success, so I asked one of my co-hostesses to make it. She did. It went really well with both wines.

Then we moved on to reds. My cellar has mostly red wine, so there was a big conundrum as to which ones to choose. I finally decided on pinot noir and cabernet. With the Pinot Noir we served a beautiful platter of home cold smoked salmon with crème fraiche, capers and fresh dill. I served Stephen Ross Pinot Noir (a really wonderful vintner in California). One was a 2004 and the other 2005. Both stellar bottles.

Next was Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of mine, though I think it needs to be drunk with food. I’d not ever sip a Cab before dinner – it’s too heavy and needs food to go with it. With that I grilled some sausages on my nearby grill (Polish sausage and some chicken Italian sausage). I cut them up into small bite-sized pieces and passed them, hot with toothpicks, as folks sipped the wine. And one of my co-hostesses had a friend prepare Tabbouleh, which was really great with the Cab. It was made the way it’s supposed to be – mostly parsley and very little cracked wheat. It was wonderful.

While all that wine and food settled, I went into the kitchen and started on the dessert. The recipe won’t be up here on my blog for awhile (June – I’m that far ahead with posts) but it’s a real winner and super-easy. It was a Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin (find the recipe on Smitten Kitchen if you’re anxious to try it). I asked everyone to save a bit of the red wine in their glasses and we passed a platter of Humboldt Fog. That cheese is just to-die-for, in my opinion, and is such a winner to eat with a complex red wine. Most of my guests had never had Humboldt Fog, and I think everyone was a convert!

Then came the dessert – to serve with after-dinner wines. I had two half-bottles, one a French Sauternes, (a 2001 Chateau Lamothe), and I had a bottle of something called Chocolate Splash. It’s a red wine impregnated with chocolate. It’s very unusual – from Narrow Gate Vineyards, in case you’re interested. With THAT wine we served some milk and dark chocolate, just a bite for each person. The dessert was served with the Sauternes. Both winners – the dessert and that wine. I have about half a cup left of that in the bottle. I’ll enjoy it in coming days.

Lastly, I served coffee. It was a very warm evening and was surprised anyone wanted coffee, but several did! A lovely evening from beginning to end. I expected that some of the bottles I opened might have been “over the hill,” but every bottle was exceptionally good. I’m so glad. I certainly hope that my DH, Dave, happily in heaven, liked the fact that I contributed some of his wine collection to the event.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 2nd, 2017:

    What fun! And what a great way to use some of your DH’s collection. I love learning about wine. I have seen the bottled Bellini at TJ’s and wondered if it was any good. I think I’ll give it a try next time I see it. It’s no overly sweet, I take it? A sherry tasting would be very interesting. I use sherry only in cooking–any time I’ve tasted it otherwise, I haven’t cared for it, mainly because I don’t care for much oak. It’s possible, even likely, that I haven’t tasted anything really good. I would love to find one an affordable one–I like to drink. (Had some Humboldt Fog on a cheese board at a restaurant once, and I agree, it’s marvelous.)

    Sherry comes in about 6 different levels from dry (fino) to cream/sweet. Perhaps you’d like the fino. And yes, I think all sherry is kept in oak barrels, though maybe they do some of it in stainless these days. I don’t really know. The TJ’s bellini is a bit sweet, but it’s very refreshing for a spring or hot summer’s day or evening. For $4.99 you can try it and not worry if you don’t like it, throw it out! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 22nd, 2017:

    Sounds like a fun evening- I would love to try that kind of thing. Whilst I enjoy most wines, I would have no idea of what food would go with it. Well done you.

    Thx, Toni. How was your holiday in Scotland? . . . Carolyn T

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