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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 Cookies, on October 14th, 2017.

choc_chip_cookies_fireball

Have I mentioned that I like Fireball? So when I saw a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with bourbon in it, well, my mind just said, use Fireball (or Tennessee Fire) instead.

A few nights a week I pour myself a little bit of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee Fire (a bourbon like Fireball) over ice, and add a little splash of Rumchata. It’s my drink of choice lately. Even more than having wine. I sit down in my family room and listen to news. Or I watch a recorded episode of Tiny House Hunters, The Incredible Dr. Pol, maybe Nova, or CBS’s Sunday Morning (a favorite). I have 2 DVRs (one in my family room, the other in my study upstairs – the room where I always watched TV when my DH was alive). He and I had different tastes in TV viewing. I recently had that room remodeled (was called “the office,” but now, because of what I’ve done, I’ve renamed it “the study”).

study_library_wall

That’s my new bookcase all along one wall. There is red grass cloth wallpaper behind all the shelves and the lamps. And you can see all the cat accessories on the floor. I think I mentioned that I gave away about 400 books a few months ago because this room was going to be re-done. And that is about the only place I can now store books. And Darci has told me I may NOT stack any books horizontally on top of books. Sigh. That means I can’t buy very many more books.

If you’re new to my blog, you may not know that I have always wanted my very own library, maybe looking something like a room at Downton Abbey, with a rail and ladder. Dreams. Where I could read Faulkner, Yeats, War and Peace, and definitely the Bible. Alas, that kind of room is not in my future.

But this one was attainable. Darci, my decorator, designed the wall’s profile, although I saw the lamp (they’re wall mounted, with a half-shade on the front) in the Bay Area about 2 years ago and sent her a photo of it and said “I want those somewhere in my house.” She designed the wall around the lamps. I now have 4 of them, 2 in that bookcase and 2 on the opposite wall, where I have 2 very comfy chairs. The floor is hard wood now, and there’s a gray area rug kind of centered. A mirror is going on the back corner behind the table lamp, and I haven’t hung much art in this room yet. My kitty cat spends lots of time in this room with me, lounging on the carpet, sharpening his claws on the cardboard box scratcher, or dragging his toys around. Since he’s blind, he hasn’t discovered the shelf up above – he could reach it if I taught him, but I don’t want to. I’d like him to stay off of it!

study_window_chairs

That’s the opposite wall, with the view window looking northwest. The shades have a remote control (LOVE that) so I can lower them if the reflections outside are too much for TV watching. I sit in the left chair with my feet propped up on the ottoman. I’m there many evenings. The drapes (long overdue because the fabric came from Europe) have just been installed. Kitty (Angel) perches on the top of the chairs, or even on the top of my desk chair. He sleeps often on the desk chair at night as he leaves furry evidence behind!

study_desk_wall

And lastly, there’s my desk. It was a regular closet in this room. Had the doors removed and the space framed in properly. The back is grass cloth wallpaper, and they’re both the same color (above shelves and at desk level) but the fluorescent lighting underneath turns red a bit blue! The top one looks orange, but it’s not. Photography doesn’t always make colors true. When I’m working there, my kitten cat thinks he HAS to be up on the desk with me, getting into any kind of mischief he can find. Like cables behind the monitor, a pen or pencil to bat around, or book corners to chew on. The file drawer on the right (below) I can open and he loves to slink in behind the files and lay on top of a stack of empty file folders I have there.

How did I get off on this tangent, I ask you? Well, onward, and back to these cookies. I hadn’t made any cookies in ages, and having seen the recipe at Bake of Break, I began, but I did make two changes. I used the Tennessee Fire instead of regular bourbon and I substituted walnuts for the pecans. Otherwise I followed Jennifer’s recipe. They certainly satisfy my craving for choc chip cookies (they live in my freezer and I eat them straight from there), and the flavor is lovely. You can’t taste the bourbon (there’s not enough to do that) but there IS a little elusive taste. Perhaps it’s the cinnamon (which is part of the Fireball profile), but it’s not noticeable either. Very nice recipe.

What’s GOOD: there’s hardly any chocolate chip cookie out there that I don’t like – except store-bought. This one is very good! And will keep me in cookies for a few more weeks. Yes, I’ll make them again, and I might add just a tad more Tennessee Fire.

What’s NOT: nary a thing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fireball Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts

Recipe By: Adapted from Bake or Break
Serving Size: 48

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter — softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons Fireball whiskey — or Tennessee Fire
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts — chopped

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the bourbon and vanilla.
3. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
4. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Or, you can make them immediately.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
6. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared pans (use a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop). Bake, one pan at a time, 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are browned. Refrigerate the remaining dough between batches.
7. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the pans. Then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
Per Serving: 134 Calories; 8g Fat (49.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 77mg Sodium.

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  1. janet

    said on October 15th, 2017:

    I love Longmire. I will definitely read this book. I was born in Casper Wyoming so when I watched it on TV I thought that might have been a view my parents saw. They had to drive about 60 miles or so from the oil camp they lived in to get to the hospital. I laughed at myself when I reseearched the locations and none are shot in wyoming. All is shot in parts of New Mexico.

    I like the idea of fireball in cookies. Maybe I’ll try throwing some into bacon onion jam instead of balsalmic.
    Janet

    I’m a fan of Wyoming and Montana (not that I’d want to live there in the winters), so I, too, laughed when I heard Longmire was filmed outside of Santa Fe, NM. Crazy, huh! . . .carolyn t

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