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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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Desserts, on January 20th, 2018.

instant_pot_7-in_1

So, maybe many of YOU asked for this little gem for Christmas. No, it’s a big sized kitchen gem.  Or maybe you already have one. I was late to the parade because I already have a pressure cooker (2, actually); a slow cooker (1); and rice cooker (1); and a Breville multi-cooker (1). But the idea of doing more one-dish meals interested me, plus I particularly liked the suggestion that I could get rid of all of those other kitchen appliances. The only thing this new I.P doesn’t have is a risotto function. I did see a recipe for risotto, so will have to try it and see if it does it as well as the Breville. If so, I’ll get rid of that also.

Daughter Sara wants my pressure cookers, so I’ll be happy to give them to her. Don’t know if she has a rice cooker, but I’ll take that along too, when I see her next. I may keep my slow cooker only because it’s a really big one and perhaps I’ll be sorry to not have that for some large function in the future.

Image result for sunbeam electric skilletSome years ago I bought a new electric skillet. Those of us of a certain age will remember the old 1960s era electric skillet as a kind of a one-dish frying pan, but it plugged into the wall, had 4 legs on it, was square shaped. Anyway, my original one died (photo at right, from ebay), so bought a new fangled one, but found that I almost never used it. And it was a good one – Cuisinart, I believe. Anyway, I gave that to my granddaughter Sabrina (the one attending Clemson Univ.) and she’s already used it in her dorm room to make chicken tortilla soup. She was so proud to tell me that she was really happy with the results. Being a Southern California girl, she really misses Mexican food, a regular staple for almost anyone who lives in this neck of the woods.

Out of the box, the IP suggests running it through a test pressure cooker run. I did that. No problem. I’ve also subscribed on FB to the IP page, and have been reading recipes from there. And it was there that I saw the link to an IP rice pudding at PressureCookingToday.  Also in amongst my received Christmas gifts was a cookbook for the I.P. (Henceforth I’ll just call it the IP).

My cousin Gary (who lives in Santa Clara and has been spending Christmas with me for decades) was here over the holidays, and on day 3 of his visit he came down with a very bad cold. And he was sick with it for the entire remainder of his 8-day visit. Poor guy! He didn’t get to participate in any of the usual family Christmas festivities. We drove to San Diego to have a get-together with daughter Sara and her family on December 23rd, and it was while he was there that he realized he was coming down with the cold. He went into their guest room and slept the rest of that day’s visit. Sara and the family (and me) all made home made tamales that afternoon (my job was to spread masa onto the damp corn husks). We made 124, and I have 6 tamales in my freezer, waiting for an occasion to steam them. The tamale recipe belongs to my daughter’s mother-in-law, Jean, and I don’t know that she would share the recipe, but there are plenty of them out there on the ‘net if you’re interested. Sara’s family always makes (1) pork in a mild red sauce and (2) cheese and jalapeno.

IP_arborio_rice_puddingAnyway, all that to say that Gary has been sick enough to not even feel up to preparing any food for himself, so I’ve been feeding him meals throughout his illness. And I asked him how he felt about rice pudding. He said “yum.” So, that was my first dish in my new IP.

As I’ve learned with the brief amount of time I’ve had my IP, there’s a special lingo to IP cooking. If you’re really preparing and providing a recipe (as below) you start off with the quick list of cooking. In this case it’s the following:

  • Total time – 20 minutes
  • 2-4 minutes prep
  • 3 minutes pressure cook high
  • 10 minutes slow release, then quick release
  • About 7-8 minutes sauté

IP_arborio_rice_pudding_top_viewThat how you inform a reader how much time is required and what functions you’ll be using on the IP. Adding rice (Arborio, the kind you use for risotto), water and salt to the IP, it’s pressure cooked on high for 3 minutes. Then you turn off the IP and let it just sit – it’s not on, but still under pressure. This allows the rice (I’m guessing) to continue to cook very slowly – and to develop that extra special creaminess that accompanies anything with Arborio rice. Then you release the pressure (and remove lid, of course), stir in sugar and milk, stir, turn IP to the sauté function, then mix up 2 eggs and 1/2 cup milk and whisk well. Pour it through a sieve into the IP and allow the pudding to just come to a boil (that took about 5-7 minutes I’m guessing) and it’s done. Add raisins if desired. And vanilla. Stir and pour into individual ramekins or into a large storage bowl. Allow to cool to room temp and serve. It’s best warm, but it’s also yummy once chilled.

Now, I’ll grant you, making rice pudding isn’t exactly gourmet cooking!! BUT, in this case, the use of Arborio rice makes for a really creamy consistency. I think more creamy than regular rice.

What’s GOOD: the overall flavor – I think the amount of sugar – rice – milk ratio is absolutely spot-on. And the texture is so smooth and creamy. Loved it. This will be my new go-to rice pudding. Rich tasting. I did use whole milk – no cream.

What’s NOT: not a single thing. A keeper.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Instant Pot Arborio Rice Pudding

Recipe By: Pressure Cooking Today
Serving Size: 8 (1/2 cup servings)

1 cup Arborio rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk — divided use
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup raisins

IP Instructions:
* Total time – about 20 minutes
* Prep time – about 5 minutes or less
* Pressure cook high – 3 minutes
* Slow release 10 minutes, then quick release
* 8-10 minutes saute
1. In instant pot, combine rice, water, and salt. Lock the lid in place and select High Pressure and 3 minutes cook time.
2. When beep sounds, turn off pressure cooker and use a natural pressure release for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, release any remaining pressure with a quick pressure release.
3. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and sugar to rice in pressure cooking pot; stir to combine.
4. In a small mixing bowl, whisk eggs with remaining 1/2 cup milk and vanilla. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into pot. Select sauté and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to boil. Turn off pot. Remove pan and set on counter to cool. Stir in raisins.
5. Pudding will thicken as it cools. Serve warm or pour into serving dishes and chill. Serve topped with whipped cream, and a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired. Makes eight 1/2-cup servings.
Per Serving: 230 Calories; 3g Fat (13.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 61mg Cholesterol; 121mg Sodium.

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