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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 September 22nd, 2017.

green_minestrone1

Just plain vegetable soup, but all green, and with a modicum of Italian seasonings. And good Parmigiano cheese on top.

When I got home from my road trip a week ago, I didn’t crave salads (my usual lament) because I’d had lots of salads on the trip. What I craved was soup. And vegetables. Eating out almost 3 meals a day (a couple of times Cherrie and I had an ice cream cone for lunch when we’d had an ample breakfast) you learn soon enough that most restaurants don’t serve vegetables. A few here and there, but mostly restaurants serve carbs along with protein. We ordered a side veg a couple of times (to share) and often Cherrie and I shared an entire meal (a salad and entrée both) which worked really well. We enjoyed dessert just a couple of times, aside from the aforementioned ice cream cone treat we had twice.

So, once home, a trip to the store gave me all the makings of a green minestrone, a soup I’ve been wanting to make forever.

This soup – I had it once, in northern Italy, at least 25 years ago. I’d gotten a bout of food poisoning, actually, and was really quite sick (from some fresh mozzarella at a roadside diner). I visited a pharmacy and they’d given me something which helped, but they confirmed my food poisoning diagnosis and suggested it would take about 2 weeks to work itself through. About 10 days later, we got to Northern Italy, and I finally thought I could tolerate some soup, and the waiter suggested their green minestrone. Oh my, was it ever delicious. Except for 7-up, toast and yogurt, I’d hardly eaten a thing, so maybe it was my frame of mind, or just that I was feeling slightly better. That soup – that glorious fresh green taste – has stayed with me all these years. I’d researched green minestrone recipes some years back and found a couple, and just hadn’t gotten around to trying either of them. Until now.

green_minestrone2As is usually the case, when I start making soup, I improvise. I used the recipe only as a guide to add my vegetables of choice. Maybe this soup should be titled Green and White Minestrone, because there are lots of white ingredients in it (onion, nearly white carrots, fennel and the mostly white leeks).

parmesan rindsOne thing that’s unique in this recipe is the addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds. You save those, don’t you? I have about 2 years’ worth of them in my cheese bin (probably better to freeze them, but I might never find them again if I did that), and two of them went into this soup. Once they’ve expended their lovely essence to the soup, you scoop them out and throw them away.

I tried to time the vegetables so they’d all be perfectly cooked through (barely). Generally it worked – if you are so inclined, remove the vegetables when they’re nearly done, then add the others, until you have everything to the perfect point of done-ness, then add them back in just long enough to warm through. There’s a little bit of pasta in this soup – you can add however much you’d like. I guessed mostly at the quantities of each item. I like the frozen peas to be bright green – they add a nice fillip to the top of the soup – I always add them almost like a garnish. If you rinse them under the hot water tap, they’ll all defrost and be warmed through.

Once you’ve scooped portions into bowls, add the hot peas, the minced parsley, the grated cheese, and lastly a little drizzle of EVOO. Perfecto!

What’s GOOD: well, if the flavor wasn’t good, I wouldn’t be posting it – I loved all the green veggies, and the broth was extra special because of the Parmesan rinds in it. Just remember – a vegetable-laden soup will be only as good as the broth you cook it in. I use Penzey’s chicken broth concentrate, which I think has tons of good flavor. Altogether good soup. Even though it’s still like summer here in SoCal, I gulped down the hot soup and savored every bite. I love the toppings too.

What’s NOT: hmmm. Lots of chopping and mincing, I suppose, but get someone to help and it’ll be done in no time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Minestrone

Recipe By: Loosely based on several online recipes for this kind of green minestrone
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks — white and pale-green parts only, chopped
2 large fennel bulbs — finely chopped
1/2 large yellow onion — finely chopped
2 celery stalks — thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds zucchini — trimmed, diced
1/2 pound brussels sprouts — cleaned, quartered
12 ounces fresh asparagus — trimmed, chopped
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Parmesan rinds — (for flavoring)
2 small carrots — use yellow, if possible
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1/2 cup pasta — your choice (small)
1 cup frozen peas — defrosted
1 1/2 cups Italian parsley — (lightly packed) very finely minced
Shaved Parmesan (for serving), use ample
A drizzle of EVOO on top

1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook leek, fennel, yellow onion, and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened but not taking on any color, about 5 minutes. Add broth and Parmesan rinds, then add the dried oregano, brussels sprouts, zucchini and carrots; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are not quite tender, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and pasta and cook for about 5 minutes.
2. Taste vegetables to make sure all are tender; season well with salt and pepper. Remove Parmesan rinds and discard. Rinse the frozen peas under hot water and add to the soup, just long enough to warm them.
3. Taste soup for seasoning, scoop 1 1/2 cups per bowl and garnish with fresh parsley and lots of grated Parmesan. Then drizzle the top of the soup with EVOO.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 6g Fat (24.9% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on September 23rd, 2017:

    I like the sound of that – apart from the zucchini!

    I never buy Parmesan since it is sold in large portions and I have no way to store it long term; but I think I would use a small amount of blue cheese which would also make the soup a little creamy.

    I buy a wedge of Parm every few months. I wrap it in a paper towel, tightly, then in a plastic bag. It usually keeps for 2-3 months that way. I do use it enough for that period of time. And when I’m done I save those rinds. You can also freeze it, Toni. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on September 27th, 2017:

    I still have no freezer! Perhaps I shall try your method of refrigerating it.

    Wrap in foil first, then put them in a plastic baggie. Oh – never mind, you were thinking of the cheese itself. Which yes, I do just refrigerate it. Seems to be fine . . c

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