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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 December 7th, 2017.

sweet_potato_chix_peanut_butter_soup

 Lots of flavors going on in this soup and it’s easy to make. The toppings? Chopped peanuts and chopped cilantro plus a drizzle of cream. I’m SO glad I have leftovers.

Back about 9 years ago I posted this soup and hadn’t made it in the interim. I’d attended a birthday party back then, for my friend Cherrie (I think it was when she turned 50) and her friend Robin (the hostess) served the previous version of this soup. There was no particular reason that I forgot about it – except that when you run a food blog, as I’ve mentioned here before, you always need to be trying NEW soups, not old ones. However, I was entertaining a group of women for an event at my house (10 of us) and didn’t want risk to be a factor – I needed a tried and true recipe. I did make a few changes to the soup, though, so it is slightly different than the old recipe. The friends came to watch a movie (A Man Called Ove) and to have lunch and dessert.

The soup – – it starts out with sweet potatoes. You could use either kind (yellow or orange) but I chose the orange because of color only. The potatoes are coated in peanut oil and roasted. The original recipe called for a boat load of oven-roasted Roma tomatoes – I decided to change that – I used San Marzano canned tomatoes which should be just as good. There’s onion, garlic, curry powder and cayenne in it too, plus chicken broth and coconut milk. And chicken pieces, and peanut butter (a lot, actually, but this recipe makes a lot of soup) plus the toppings. I wanted to have a bit more texture to the soup (because you blend the soup to smooth without the chicken). So, I bought a pound of butternut squash and roasted it in the oven, even broiled them at the last minute to get some lovely caramelization on them, chopped them up and those are kind of hidden underneath the little pile of nuts and cilantro in the picture.

As with most soups, they’re so much better the next day, so I did that and merely had to re-heat the soup and prepare the toppings and I was ready to serve it to my friends. The drizzle of cream wasn’t in the original (you could use a drizzle of coconut milk if you wanted to be more authentic). You don’t taste the peanut butter, which is surprising since there was 3/4 cup of it in the soup. I’ve added my new photo to the old post since the photo I had before wasn’t all that great. Boy, I’ve come a long way taking photos for my blog!

What’s GOOD: uhmmmm, this soup is so delish. Love the smooth texture, but also the toppings – the crunch of the peanuts particularly. You could easily make this vegetarian if you want to, by using vegetable broth and no chicken. The soup itself is thick (hearty). You could try different toppings if you prefer to. Freezes well.

What’s NOT: there are a variety of steps to make this – roasting the sweet potatoes and the butternut squash (ideally do those at the same time, or use only sweet potatoes and no butternut squash). I have a good Vitamix blender which did a really good job of smoothing out the soup, but you could use an immersion blender too.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Senegalese Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup with Chicken

Recipe By: Originally from Emeril Lagasse, but adapted
Serving Size: 10

1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes — yellow or orange
12 ounces butternut squash — (approximate) seeded, peeled, cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup peanut oil — divided uses
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves — minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper — (use more if you’d like)
1 1/2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
28 ounces canned tomatoes — San Marzano type
3/4 cup peanut butter — smooth type
20 ounces coconut milk — use full fat
2 teaspoons salt — or more to taste
3/4 teaspoon white pepper — or more to taste
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
GARNISH:
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro — minced
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
10 tablespoons heavy cream — or coconut milk

NOTE: the butternut squash is used as a garnish, not to be pureed into the soup.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a large bowl place the sweet potatoes that have been cut into large chunks. Use a small part of the oil to coat the pieces and pour out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Do the same with the butternut squash on a separate baking sheet.
3. Roast the sweet potatoes and butternut squash for about 45-50 minutes until they’re just fork tender. Remove and set aside to cool. Remove skins from the sweet potatoes and discard.
4. In a large pot, use the remaining oil and heat it until it begins to shimmer. Add the curry powder and gently saute it for 30-45 seconds while the oil bubbles. Do not burn. Add the chopped onion and stir frequently as the onion softens, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, then the chicken broth. As it heats to a simmer, add the peanut butter and stir well, breaking up the pieces. Add the coconut milk, canned tomatoes and the reserved sweet potatoes and bring soup to a full simmer, reduce heat, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Puree soup in a blender until smooth, or use an immersion blender in the soup pot.
5. CHICKEN: Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. Coat with peanut oil, salt and pepper and bake them for about 10 minutes at 350°F. You can use the same baking sheet you used for the sweet potatoes. Do not overcook – you want them to be just barely cooked through. Remove and cool. Add to the soup, or keep them separate and add a portioned amount to each bowl.
6. BUTTERNUT SQUASH: Even though you’ve cooked the butternut squash, it’s nice to have the small pieces caramelize. Just before serving, chop the squash into small bite-sized pieces and place on the same parchment-lined baking sheet and broil them until the edges have begun to brown.
7. TOPPINGS: Prepare the minced cilantro and peanuts. When serving, scoop about 1 1/2 cups of soup into a wide bowl, add the caramelized butternut squash pieces, chicken (if you didn’t add it into the soup before), chopped peanuts and cilantro. Use a soup spoon and drizzle a tablespoon of cream or coconut milk around each serving.
Per Serving: 628 Calories; 40g Fat (55.0% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 86mg Cholesterol; 1043mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 8th, 2017:

    Oh dear, you know why I won’t be trying this one…

    Are the fires lessening over there? We don’t hear about it on our news (all about Brexit right now) any more. Most of the UK has some snow but we have gorgeous blue skies and sunshine!

    I saw ISS twice today, I love watching it go over but don’t know why it appeals to me so much.

    The fires are still raging in many places, none near me, thank goodness. So many homes lost, animals (mostly horses) killed by smoke or fire, and over 10,000 people evacuated in one fire alone north of Los Angeles. Two good friends of mine nearly lost their homes in the last 2 days. Both are okay, thankfully. Everyone has the TV on, watching the local stations who are covering the fires 24/7. So far there has been no loss of human life, mostly because people do evacuate when the officials tell them to – not delaying as some do, waiting until the fires are much closer. I’m okay – nothing near me or even distantly near me. I did have to evacuate about 6 weeks ago (don’t know if I mentioned it here on my blog or not) when fires started very near me. Some homes burned and the fires destroyed tens of thousands of acres of national forest and a beautiful park not too far from me, one that is used every day by hundreds of people who do active walking. Thanks for asking. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 13th, 2017:

    Thanks for the update. It must be a constant worry for those concerned. Are the lost homes covered by insurance?

    If you own a home and have a mortgage on the home, you have to carry insurance on the dwelling. However, some insurance has a very high deductible to be paid by the owner (first) before any insurance money can be paid. But there is a lot of bureaucratic red tape that has to happen first – assessors, adjusters, and likely a myriad of customer service calls, piles of forms, etc. before they do anything. Often outbuildings (like stables, for instance) aren’t covered. All of the thoroughbred racing horses that were lost probably had insurance on them, but it’s never enough to replace a race horse! I’m certain many of the people who lost their homes didn’t carry sufficient insurance, if they carried it at all. I heard on the radio yesterday that 49,000 people have been evacuated because of these recent firestorms. The one near Santa Barbara is still raging, and is only 25% contained (not good!). . . c

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on December 15th, 2017:

    So more than a double worry in that case. I feel so very sorry for those people affected.

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