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Just finished another great book, The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

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 and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. 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-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.


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 11th, 2017.


Thrilled with the results of this home made mushroom soup without a speck of cream.

Sometime recently I ordered mushroom soup at a restaurant, and expected it to be a nice little cup with mushrooms swimming in it AND in a creamy broth. Nope. It had no cream in it, and wow, was it good. So I promised myself I’d try to replicate it at home. Couldn’t be that hard, right? I found several recipes, but settled on one from the New York Times, that actually was a pureed soup. That I didn’t want, but I stuck with their recipe for the most part.

The secret to making this is layering lots of flavors – all things complementary to soup, of course. Like shallots, leeks, onions. I bought crimini mushrooms, regular button mushrooms, plus some shiitake. And to help with layering, I used some dried mushrooms. Once I found them at my local market, I had a several choices. Mostly they contained oyster mushrooms and chanterelle. Those were fine – they’re in a tiny little clamshell box. They got soaked in hot water for 30 minutes before I began. Most recipes tell you to use the soaking liquid, but on this little box from Melissa’s Produce, it said NOT to use the water, so I discarded it. Sometimes that mushroom water can taste a little off.

What I have in my refrigerator is a plastic one-pound tub of mushroom concentrate (broth, like chicken broth concentrate). And oh, was it perfect for this. If you can find it in your stores, please use it. Mine is from “Custom Culinary” in Oswego IL. Here’s the link at Amazon for it: Custom Culinary Gold Label Vegan Mushroom Base, 1 Pound. I’ve had mine for at least a year or more and it’s shown no degradation of quality at all.

Chopping up all the fresh mushrooms took awhile, but the 3 different kinds added different texture. One little surprise ingredient is a jot of soy sauce, and I just KNOW it added great flavor. You don’t taste it – there’s not enough in there to do that, but it’s good umami flavor. I simmered the soup for about 45 minutes, cooled it and packaged it up for freezing and left one container for eating. As of tonight, I’ve had it for 3 meals. I just LOVE the flavor of it – love the leeks, the broth, and the tooth of the mushrooms themselves. The original called for a Parmesan rind, but I didn’t bother, although I do have one in my refrigerator. For me, this soup doesn’t need cheese! But a nice piece of toast with some melted Parm on top would be a great little topper for this soup. And, of course, you could drizzle in a little bit of sour cream or cream if you wanted to. I’m amazed at the calorie count (low, really low).

What’s GOOD: for sure the super-over-the-top mushroom flavor. Might be from the mushroom base – don’t know for sure. Love the meatiness of the mushrooms and there were lots in this soup. Freezes well. A keeper.

What’s NOT: you’ll likely have to go shopping for some of the ingredients (leeks, maybe shallots, and the mushroom base, the dried mushrooms and maybe all the varieties of fresh mushrooms too).

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mushroom Soup without Cream

Recipe By: Adapted from a New York Times recipe
Serving Size: 6

1/2 ounce dried mushrooms — prefer porcini, or a mixture of dried mushroom types
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion — chopped
2 medium shallots — peeled, chopped
1 large leek — white and light green part only, sliced lengthwise, then chopped, rinsed well
Salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms — (white and cremini) sliced
4 ounces shiitake mushroom — stems discarded, sliced
5 cups low sodium chicken broth — or mushroom stock or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme — crushed between your palms
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry — to taste (optional) (1 to 2)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)

NOTE: I use Custom Culinary Mushroom Base – for the recipe to serve 6 I used a heaping tablespoon (plus the water, of course) in lieu of the low sodium chicken broth. It’s available from Amazon.
1. Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl or pyrex measuring cup and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms and discard the water. (Some chefs use the hydrating water, but most dried mushroom packages recommend discarding the water as it often has “off” flavors.) Chop up the rehydrated mushrooms in small pieces and set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, shallots and leek and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender and, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not brown. Add fresh and reconstituted mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to sweat and smell fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add the broth, bay leaf, thyme, soy sauce and salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
4. If desired, you may blend the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust salt, and add pepper and the sherry, if using. Add the extra half cup of stock and heat through, stirring. If the soup seems too thick, thin out a little more but remember to taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in espresso cups or in bowls, garnishing each serving with chopped Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 215 Calories; 7g Fat (26.7% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 792mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 13th, 2017:

    I never use cream in anything, to me it will always mask the flavour of whatever you put it on, I hate the stuff. I do love a good mushroom soup though and this one looks good but I would be unable to buy the mushroom base that you have so would rely on a mushroom ketchup.

    Does mushroom ketchup have a lot of tomato product in it? If so I probably wouldn’t try it. Just use more mushrooms, I guess! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 15th, 2017:

    No there are no tomatoes in a mushroom ketchup here is a recipe:

    It is an intensley umami flavoured sauce.

    That recipe sounds very interesting, though kind of brown-ugly. It probably tastes good though. . . carolyn

  3. hddonna

    said on December 15th, 2017:

    Carolyn, when I read this the other day, I had to immediately go to Amazon and order some of that mushroom base! Then I came back and wrote a long comment. Apparently I never clicked on “submit”, because when I came back yesterday, there was no sign of it, even awaiting moderation. This soup sounds fabulous! Can’t wait to try it. I would think the base would be handy to have around for a lot of uses.

    No, I don’t think I did receive a comment from you about it. But you have now. You’ll love this soup – I want to make it again really soon. And yes, the soup base is useful for many other things – soups of other types and stew type things. I do hope you enjoy it. Let me know . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on February 1st, 2018:

    Well, I finally got to the international market where I could buy loads of mushrooms of various types, and I made your soup last week. It was marvelous. The first day, I served it as you show in the post and we enjoyed it that way. The second day, I pureed it until very smooth. The next day, I pureed some and added a little cream (I do love cream; I don’t care if they say it blunts the flavors, I like the flavor of the cream itself and think it blends very well with mushrooms.) The fourth time I served it chunky again and drizzled a little cream in to garnish. I loved it in all its iterations. And there was enough left for two or three servings, so I froze that for another day. It was a big investment in mushrooms, but they certainly go a long way!

    I’m so glad you liked it. I may have to make it again soon – I think actually I have one ziploc bag of it in my freezer, so maybe I’ll have that one day soon. . . carolyn t

  5. hddonna

    said on February 1st, 2018:

    Oh–and I think the mushroom base is excellent. I’ve used it several times to boost the mushroom flavor in various dishes.

    Yes, I agree – it’s really good and worth the $$ to buy it. . . carolyn t

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