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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 Pork, on September 14th, 2017.


Ever done pizza on a grill? I did once years ago. It’s easy, really. This one has leeks on it, and that makes a difference – leeks just add a depth of flavor to things.

As much as I love pizza, I know it’s not exactly a healthy meal. I really do eat few bread-type carbs. I seem to make up for the calories in other ways – I don’t do this to diet. I know a lot about diabetes since my DH was a Type 1. And it was only in his last 25 years, I’d guess, that doctors figured out that blood sugar was directly related to carb consumption (whether they be bread, potatoes, rice, fruit or sugar or any kind). I began preparing a low-carb diet for us starting way back then, but even more so once we both retired. Dave loved pizza too, but he couldn’t stop eating it if is was put in front of him, so we kind of banned it from our menu. Ready-made pizza (like frozen from the grocery store) has never been all that great tasting – once in awhile I succumb getting a thin crust one. So that leaves making it from scratch.

Here on my blog I have one favorite pizza – I’ve mentioned it before – it’s one our daughter Sara introduced us to when she was visiting one weekend (when she was in college). There are other pizza recipes on my blog (just type in “pizza” in the search box top left), but this one, Pizza with Chicken, Red Onion, Pesto & Olives, is one I’ve returned to many times over the years. My mouth is watering as I type.

But I digress . . . pizza isn’t something I make much as a widow – I have my DH’s problem of not being able to stop eating it. But this pizza I’m writing about today, was really good. Really easy and worth the trouble to make your own dough. It’s from a cooking class with Susan V a few weeks ago. She made the dough earlier in the morning, so it had had a chance to do one rising before all the students arrived for the class.

She punched it down and let it rest another hour or so, then began working with it. She used cornmeal underneath the dough so it wouldn’t stick and used a pizza peel very successfully. Susan doesn’t like Trader Joe’s pizza dough – she says it sticks and she simply can’t roll it out. So she chooses to make her own, always.

Meanwhile, she sliced the tomatoes (I’d slice them thinner than you see in the photo above) and set them in a colander to drain. You don’t want lots of juices – save them, though, and put them in something else as the juice of tomatoes contain a lot of flavor. Add it to soup or a stew, or even a salad dressing. The leeks are sautéed in a little oil and cooked for 15-20 minutes until they’re very soft. You remove them, then sauté the pancetta until the pieces get lightly brown on the edges. Drain them on a paper towel and set aside.

bbq_pizza_doughThis recipe makes 2 pizzas – enough for 4-5 people, unless they’re really hungry. Susan divided the pizza dough in half and rolled them out to about 12” rounds, I’d say. Onto the peel it went and she placed both on the heated grill (medium-high). She cooked them until the TOP of the dough began to puff up – it gets these lovely little peaks and valleys. That took about 2 minutes! She brought them inside, turned them over (see photo) and patted them down, to break the puffy peaks underneath. She only cooked them on one side up to this point. Then she put all the toppings on to cooked side (leeks, pancetta, mozzarella, olive oil and lots of sliced basil, and lastly the sliced tomatoes). Back to the barbecue for only a few minutes (max 3-4). It doesn’t cook anything on top (the toppings) but merely cooks the dough on the other side and heats up everything and melts the cheese. Remove, slice immediately, and serve.

What’s GOOD: everything about this pizza was good. I wanted more (my downfall when it comes to pizza) than the one slice I got. It looks like fun making it – get your family involved – they can use their own selection of toppings. It’s easy (except for the 2 risings of the dough which takes awhile).

What’s NOT: just that making your own dough takes awhile. Nothing about this was difficult, though.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Barbecued Pizza with Tomatoes, Basil, Leeks, Pancetta & Mozzarella

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan V, 2017
Serving Size: 6

2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks — rinsed well, thinly sliced, drained well
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound pancetta — diced (could substitute bacon)
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese — shredded
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil — sliced

1. Slice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet and saute the leeks, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
3. In same skillet cook the pancetta until it’s crisp and slightly brown. Drain on paper towels.
4. DOUGH: In a small bowl sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Let stand for about 10 minutes until it looks creamy and foamy on top. Stir to dissolve all the yeast.
5. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse briefly. With motor running add olive oil and gradually pour in the yeast mixture. Process for about one minute to knead the dough. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about an hour.
6. Punch down the dough and knead briefly on a floured surface. Return dough to the bowl, cover again and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 30-45 minutes.
7. Divide dough in half. (If possible, allow dough to sit on your board for about 10 minutes to rest – it will make it easier to roll out. Pat or roll each piece into a 9″ round shape on a floured board. Brush the tops of both pizzas with olive oil. Place rounds on a pizza peel and transfer to a medium-high heated barbecue grill. Place pizza over direct heat (BUT, watch it like a hawk!) and cook until the dough begins to puff in places and the bottom is showing brown on the edges. Don’t overdo it!! Remove pizza from the grill and close lid on the grill to retain heat. Back in the kitchen, gently press down on the puffed-up parts of the dough, then turn grilled dough over (so the uncooked side is on top). Brush top with more olive oil. Divide the leeks between the two crusts, sprinkle each with about 3/4 cup of shredded Mozzarella. Divide and arrange the pancetta on both, then overlap tomato slices. Sprinkle top with basil.
8. Place pizzas back on the grill and cook for just a few minutes – only until the cheese is melted. Watch very carefully so they don’t burn. Remove from the grill, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 34g Fat (47.9% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 1695mg Sodium.

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