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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 Appetizers, on December 3rd, 2017.

lentil_hummus

Not exactly the prettiest of colors, but the flavors are great. And healthy.

Wanting a simple appetizer that wasn’t rich, cheesy, or full of fat, I found this recipe in my to-try file, that came from Food & Wine. Made with lentils. It called for green lentils – I didn’t have any – nor did I remember ever seeing them at any of my local markets. I guess you can mail-order them. I used brown lentils, which, of course, made the finished product . . . well, BROWN. Do doctor up the top with a drizzle of olive oil and paprika to make it look a little bit better. The recipe indicated serving with red pepper strips (didn’t have any) or fennel strips (had them, but didn’t take the time) so I served it with crackers (pita chip type).

It’s made in the food processor. I actually took liberties with this – I bought a small package of already-cooked lentils (TJ’s carries them). I know . . . lentils are cinchy easy to make. But that was the way it was that day. So since I didn’t make them from scratch, I added a little sprinkle of powdered bay leaf in the mix. This part’s not in the recipe below, since I assume you’ll just make up a batch of fresh lentils for this. I was into saving time since I was having dinner guests and didn’t begin cooking dinner until 3 pm, and they were arriving at 6. I was into speedy. I made a sheet pan dinner (chicken, sweet potatoes, bacon, red onions, big chunks of sourdough croutons) which, when served, I plopped, in the pan, right in the middle of my dining room table. Easy for serving firsts and seconds. Everybody wanted more croutons and red onions.

The hummus is whizzed up in the food processor (so easy) with fresh lemon juice, EVOO, garlic, ground cumin, fresh cilantro, salt, tahini, cayenne – and I added a bit of water because I used the already-cooked type lentils (they’re on the dry side) –  you could add some of the cooking liquid if your mixture is too stiff. Taste it for seasonings – adding more salt or lemon juice or cumin. Into a container it went and chilled for a couple of hours (allowed the garlic to mellow a little bit) and it was ready to serve. That recipe is coming up next, I think.

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make. As I’m writing this it’s the next day and I’ve just dipped a couple of crackers into it – it’s very tasty – healthy too. It will keep for a few days, so you could definitely make this ahead.

What’s NOT: don’t love the brown color, but the taste will shine through that little down side. If possible, try to find green lentils!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lentil Tahini Hummus

Recipe By: Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe
Serving Size: 7

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup lentils — about 6 ounces * (see note)
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 garlic cloves — coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon
Salt — or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sweet paprika for sprinkling on top
Pita chips, sliced fennel and red bell pepper strips, for serving

NOTE: If you can find green lentils, good – use them. The finished hummus will have a more greenish tint rather than brown, which isn’t quite as appetizing.
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken stock, lentils and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30+ minutes. If using green lentils, they take a bit longer to cook, up to 45 minutes. Uncover and boil the lentils over high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and let the lentils cool slightly.
2. Transfer the cooked lentils to a food processor. Add the chopped garlic, tahini, olive oil, ground cumin, cayenne, salt, cilantro and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Scrape the hummus into a bowl. Garnish the hummus with paprika and some extra cilantro. Serve the lentil hummus warm or at room temperature with pita chips and vegetable crudités.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 9g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 92mg Sodium.

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  1. Jan

    said on December 4th, 2017:

    Green lentils are readily available here in Houston, so I am definitely going to try this. I like tasty and easy.

    Since I made this a couple of weeks ago I saw some green lentils at one of my markets, so I think I just didn’t look hard enough! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 5th, 2017:

    I had never thought of making it with lentils! Thank you, this is going to become a favourite dish for me.

    My guests didn’t eat very much of it (not because it wasn’t good . . . don’t know why), so I ended up eating it as my lunch for several days with thin crackers. . . carolyn t

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