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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 Soups, on October 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_sq_soup_thai_flavors

Do you like Thai food? I sure do, yet I don’t have it often. There’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near me that serves very authentic (I think) Thai food with whatever degree of heat you can handle.

In this little Thai restaurant the husband works the front, and the wife does a lot of the cooking. I need to go there more often. I love their Pad Thai, probably the most common American Thai restaurant specialty. Lots of carbs, however.

So, I digress . . . I had decided to make some more yellow squash (cold) soup, and when I began I wanted to use up some fresh ginger I had, semi-withering in a kitchen counter bowl. With that, my mind turned to the Thai green curry paste I have in my refrigerator. Love the flavor it adds to things. So rather than repeat what I’d made before, I decided to make this version a little Asian. A little Thai.

The soup was so easy to make – onion in oil, added the squash, some garlic, Thai green curry paste, the fresh ginger, then some chicken broth (or you could use coconut milk) and I let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash was super-tender. Cooled it on my countertop for a little bit, then whizzed it up in my Vitamix blender until smooth. I added in some salt, pepper, lemon juice and sour cream. That was chilled down overnight and as I’m writing this I had it for my lunch today, that little bowl up top. Actually I had 2 bowls of it. It was so refreshing for a hot summer day. It’s still summer where I live in SoCalifornia.

You could use any kind of garnishes – cilantro is a must, however, then you could add toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Or no seeds at all. Whatever floats your boat. The sour cream adds a lovely silkiness to the soup. You could add milk, or soy milk instead. Or some Greek yogurt too. Any of the above. This soup is versatile. I like just a little bit of texture to the soup, but not much. Use your own judgment about that too. If you’d like to, cut off the stems of the cilantro and add those into the soup at the beginning. It will add flavor without the green from the leaves. I didn’t think of it, or I would have! Altogether lovely soup. The curry paste doesn’t add enough flavor that you can distinguish curry (honest) and the ginger adds just a tiny bit of flavor AND a tiny bit of heat. Or maybe the heat was from the green curry paste. I’m not sure. Altogether good, though.

What’s GOOD: this soup is so easy to make, though it’s best if it’s refrigerated overnight. It will meld the flavors and get it plenty cold. Use your own choice of garnishes. This is not a thick, heavy soup at all – probably wouldn’t satisfy for a dinner, but it was fine for my lunch with a cookie afterwards. Low calorie, even with the sour cream. This soup isn’t going to knock your socks off with flavor – by that I mean the soup is subtle, mild, as you’d expect using yellow squash.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. You could serve this warm, but if you do, make sure you do NOT bring the soup to a boil – the sour cream will separate and make the soup curdle. Not attractive!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Yellow Squash Soup with Thai Flavors

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion — chopped
3 pounds yellow squash — chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves — minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — diced
5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1/2 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup cilantro — minced
1/2 cup sunflower seeds — or pumpkin seeds (optional)

1. Saute onion in olive oil for 3-5 minutes until onion has softened. Add squash, garlic, green curry paste, fresh ginger and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.
2. Set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. Add sour cream and lemon juice, then pour the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Taste again for more salt or pepper, then pour 1 1/2 cups (each serving) into a bowl and garnish with cilantro and seeds, if desired. If serving warm, do not boil the soup or the sour cream or yogurt will separate and curdle.
Per Serving: 238 Calories; 16g Fat (58.4% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 657mg Sodium.

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