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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 easy, Vegetarian, on August 25th, 2017.


My new cheese love. Halloumi. A meal in itself.

More and more, lately, I’m eating vegetarian meals. I’m an omnivore, but I do love vegetables, and I’m quite happy to make a meal of a variety of different veggies. I eat plenty of cheese too. We all need protein in one form or another. When I’m out, I eat chicken and fish, and occasionally I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken which keeps me in meals for several days. If I eat steak, I usually do it at home because I’ve got it down pat. Once in awhile I crave a hunk of beef or a ground beef casserole. Or a pork or lamb chop. I eat a lot of salads, sometimes with some tuna added, hard boiled eggs, or chicken. Oh, and yes, I do crave a hamburger once in awhile too.

If you read my post about the halloumi salad I had (and subsequently made), perhaps you were intrigued. Or maybe you already know halloumi. I knew of it, but had never cooked it. Once I found a package of it (hard to find) it had enough for 2 meals (the little square of cheese was ample for 4 slices). I made the halloumi salad (with watermelon) and enjoyed it very much. But then I still had 2 pieces left. As I stood at my open refrigerator door I spotted the Tomato Jam I’d made a week or so ago. I’ve frozen a dozen packets of it and have about half a cup in the refrigerator. I’ve had it with a little schmear of cream cheese on a cracker. One evening that was my dinner. I suppose you could say that’s a benefit of living alone (or being a widow) that if I don’t want to make a meal, I can always find something easy in the refrigerator like cheese and crackers.

So this particular night, with the 2 slices of halloumi needing to be eaten, I set my frying pan on low, added a bit of grapeseed oil to it and once it reached heat, I added the 2 slices to the pan. While it sizzled gently, I retrieved the tomato jam, sliced up some basil, grabbed a lovely orange heirloom tomato, EVOO, and the bottle of balsamic reduction, salt and pepper.

The cheese took about 4-5 minutes to cook on both sides (see the nice browning on them). This meal was ready in no time flat. I spread a bit of the tomato jam on each slice, topped it all with basil, then drizzled some of the balsamic reduction (syrup) and EVOO on top. Done. Dinner ready in less than 10 minutes. If you want some carbs, add a lovely slice of toasted artisan bread underneath the cheese. Like an open faced sandwich. My next project is to find another source for halloumi!

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make – if you have the cheese on hand – and it was really delish. ‘Tis the season for heirloom tomatoes too. (And you can make an open-faced sandwich with adding a slice of toasted artisan bread.)

What’s NOT: the difficulty of finding halloumi. Otherwise, nothing at all! OH, one other thing – have you ever had cheese that squeaks? This cheese does – not when it’s raw, but once cooked, when you chew it, it squeaks. One of my readers, Toni, mentioned that she’d had halloumi once, one bite, but that was it because the squeak was off-putting for her. It doesn’t bother me.

I’m not writing up a regular “recipe” for this. Here’s an ingredient list to serve 2:

Grilled Halloumi with Tomato Jam

4 slices halloumi cheese (about 1/3” thick)

4 teaspoons grapeseed oil, or EVOO

6 tablespoons tomato jam (or other savory/sweet jam or chutney)

1/2 cup basil leaves, sliced (or very finely minced fresh rosemary or thyme)

8 slices heirloom tomato

balsamic reduction/syrup

EVOO to drizzle on top

salt and pepper to taste


Now, go find some halloumi cheese!

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 25th, 2017:

    Eek, squeaky cheese again! I am surprised that you have difficulty in finding it – it seems that we are awash with it:-

    What I have trouble in sourcing is Caerphilly from my own country of Wales. It used to be ubiquitous. I know that I can buy it online, but the minimum quantities make it uneconomical since I eat very little and, as you know, I have no freezer. I shall continue in my search.

    Yes, more squeaky cheese. I do like it! I can find it, but only at stores that have a fairly large cheese section.
    I think I have had Caerphilly here in the U.S. I’ll have to look next time I’m at a grocery store that has a good imported section. I know I like the cheese – it’s a type of cheddar isn’t it? . . .carolyn t

  2. KJill

    said on August 25th, 2017:

    Love, the squeaky cheese. First ran in to it a few years ago when living in England, so yes Toffeeapple is right, absolutely everywhere there. I have found that Trader Joe’s generally has it and sometimes International Grocery stores if they have a section with Greek/Cypriot foods. That tomato jam and basil combo looks wonderful. I usually make up a salad of greens, tomatoes and cucumbers with an olive oil-lemon-garlic sort of dressing and serve slices of the fried cheese on top. KJill

    Your salad sounds great. And yes, on occasion my TJ’s has it, but maybe there are a lot of Greek folk who live near me who grab it up as soon as it comes in! I have found it at 2 other grocery stores – I just have to drive a little further to go get it. Just had another dinner of it last night. So delish with heirloom tomatoes, some EVOO and a drizzle of honey balsamic vinegar. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on August 29th, 2017:

    All your ideas for using the halloumi sound delicious. When I bought my first package, it was out of curiosity. I knew it was to be fried, but didn’t really have any ideas for using it, and it sat in my fridge for a long time–possibly a couple of years. Finally, after reading some reference to it in a magazine or blog, I just decided to check it out. I opened it, and it was just fine, so I sautéed a piece for breakfast, and I was hooked! Every once in a while I get a craving for it, and then I check the price at my local grocery. Then I look at the price and put it down again. But with you posting about it twice in a short time, I had it in mind when I visited the international grocery store yesterday, and they had it at a much better price, so there’s some in my fridge now, and I can’t wait to try both of your recipes. One thing I’ve learned–the stuff keeps really well, at least unopened!

    Wow, 2 years?? That’s amazing. I’m happy to find someone else who loves it like I do (now). Hope you enjoy the recipes. . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on August 29th, 2017:

    I’m going to have some for lunch. I don’t have watermelon on hand, but I have peaches and heirloom tomatoes, so I’ll use those with the halloumi, arugula and balsamic drizzle. I think there’s a jar of tomato preserves at the back of the fridge, too—
    As for the squeak, I kind of like it. But I can see how it could be bothersome for some.
    I’m pretty sure it was around two years that I had it. I kept finding it when I cleaned out the cheese drawer in my basement fridge and thinking that I needed to find a way to use it, then forgetting it was there. I was in perfect condition when I opened it, and once I did, it took me a few weeks to get around to using it up, and it didn’t suffer in the least. Must be all that salt. The new batch won’t be around that long, I can assure you!
    Do you use a lot of feta? I haven’t been able to find the Greek feta in brine lately, for some reason, even at my international grocery. They have French, Danish, Bulgarian, but no Greek. I tried the Danish, however, and it was amazingly delicious. I recommend it if you should run across some. That one doesn’t keep so well, though. I intend to freeze part of my new package this time.

  5. hddonna

    said on August 29th, 2017:

    When you grilled your halloumi, Carolyn, did it release any fat? The first time I had it, it released quite a bit of fat on the griddle and sizzled to a nice golden brown. This new batch didn’t release any fat at all, and it almost scorched because I didn’t realize it was actually cooking–I was expecting the fat to show me that it was heating up. I caught it before it actually burned, but will lower the heat a bit next time and keep a closer eye on it.

    Yes it releases some fat. Have to cook it low and slow. . . Carolyn t

  6. hddonna

    said on August 31st, 2017:

    Mine didn’t release any fat at all. I had better luck using a grill pan this morning. It got nice grill marks and got soft and melty without burning. The recipe called for marinating the cheese in a tiny bit of olive oil (just a teaspoon for 8 ounces) with cumin and mint. It was then grilled and served on a heated mini-naan with some slice heirloom tomato. It made a very tasty breakfast!

    Sounds delish! . . . Carolyn t

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