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Just finished reading The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 Desserts, on March 16th, 2018.

pie_crust_w_cornstarch

One might think there couldn’t be anything “new” regarding pie crusts. But lo, behold, there is a pie crust that’s very easy, has a bunch of butter, but also cornstarch. Amazing.

If someone had given me a recipe for a new pie crust, well, maybe I’d have smiled, said thank you, and promptly set it aside and not even looked at it. But this one, oh gosh, what a mistake to not try it! This one came from Christopher Kimball, from his new venture, Milk Street. And there was a very big write-up about it in the magazine, so I input the recipe into my MasterCook software and didn’t think about it for awhile. I don’t make many pies.

But the other day, needing a dessert for my weekly bible study group, I was going through to-try recipes, and it just so happened I had rhubarb in the refrigerator. That led to a recipe, and that led to my needing a pie crust.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile (it’s been nearly 11  years now I’ve been blogging) you likely have gone to my recipe index. It’s prodigious. I’m not bragging, truly I’m not. But sometimes when I’m actually writing in the additions to the index, I’m kind of blown away by how MANY recipes I have on this site. And I was particularly amazed at how many cakes are there. Obviously I love baking. And I use any occasion as an excuse to try something new. Occasionally I go back to a tried and true recipe (like my mother’s Crisp Apple Pudding that I made recently and used both apples and pears) but because I write a blog, well, one must keep truckin’ and try new recipes.

My next post will be the pie filling part – but today we’re just talkin’ about the crust. I’m not often lured into making pie crusts. They just seem like so much work. More work than I want to do. I’m not fond of making a pre-baked crust – more work with digging out the pie weights, getting them cleanly out of the shell, etc. In this case the sour cream-rhubarb filling was put into the raw crust and baked together (easier!).

The crust isn’t difficult, although you do have to briefly cook the cornstarch with water in the microwave until it’s hot and set. It gets cooled some, then stuffed in the freezer for 10 minutes to cool off. Then it’s added to the usual dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt) in the food processor and pulsed until that mixture is smooth. Then you add the sour cream (only 2 tablespoons) and 10 tablespoons of butter. Once pulsed for a bit, it all comes together into a ball. It’s flattened into a 4-inch flat disk, wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for an hour (or longer). I was on a time schedule, so I did 60 minutes.pie_crust_w_cornstarch_sideview

But now, the crust – when I took it out of the refrigerator and began rolling it, it had a definite texture difference. It was supple and soft and the amount was perfect for my 9-inch pie plate. It didn’t roll out into that magical perfect circle that one would like (darn) but when I patched the dough in a couple of places, it adhered and was very easy to finish rolling. I rolled it up onto the rolling pin and gently let it down into the dish. It was easy to move, because, of course, I hadn’t centered it correctly, but the dough allowed me to do that without tearing or stretching it. Yea! I trimmed some of the edges off, then folded the 1/2 inch outer edges under and crimped with my fingers and the crust was DONE! It was easier than I thought. I didn’t freeze the dough-filled plate (as you would do if you wanted to blind bake it) and the finished pie was just fine – not overly browned even though I baked the pie at a different temperature than the suggested for a blind bake.

And oh, my. Is this crust tender! Even those tall, thick finger-crimped edges were as tender as could be. Sometimes when you make a wet kind of pie filling (like the sour cream rhubarb one I did) it makes the bottom crust soggy. Not this one. Why, I don’t know. I may just be making this pie crust anytime I need one in the future. The recipe says to make two and freeze one of the disks, which would be a great idea – just use within a month, though. You can also make the dough a couple of days ahead and keep chilled.

What’s GOOD: everything about this crust is a good thing! Easy to make. Easy to roll out. Easy to get into the pie plate. Baked perfectly. Bottom crust stayed a crust and wasn’t soggy. Easy to cut and get out of the pie dish too. Sometimes that first slice is a bummer. Not with this one, anyway. A day later when I had a leftover slice that had been refrigerated, the bottom crust was still firm and not soggy, and the chilled crust was tasty and flaky. Truly, this pie crust is a bit of a miracle for me!

What’s NOT: nothing at all – just one extra step to cook the cornstarch and water before starting and cooling it in the freezer for 10 minutes. You should chill the dough, too, so do plan a few hours ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Single-Crust Pie Dough with Cornstarch

Recipe By: Milk Street, 2016
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
159 grams all purpose flour — (equals 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons butter — WITH SALT, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons sour cream

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the water and cornstarch. Microwave until set, 30 to 40 seconds, stirring halfway through. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.
2. Once the cornstarch mixture has chilled, in a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt and process until mixed, about 5 seconds. Add the chilled cornstarch mixture and pulse until uniformly ground, about 5 pulses.
3. Add the butter and sour cream and process until the dough comes together and begins to collect around the blade, 20 to 30 seconds.
4. Pat the dough into a 4-inch disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours.
5. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle position.
6. On a well-floured counter, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle.
7. Hang the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan. Gently ease the dough into the pan by lifting the edges while pressing down into the corners of the pan.
8. Trim the edges, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then tuck the overhang under itself so the dough is flush with the rim of the pan.
9. Crimp the dough with your fingers or the tines of a fork, then chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
10. To blind bake, line the chilled crust with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until the edges are light golden brown, about 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
11. Remove the foil and weights and bake until the bottom of the crust just begins to color, another 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 1 hour before filling.
12. Once baked and cooled, the crust can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Tip: Don’t skip the sour cream; it’s key for a tender crust. And don’t skimp on the pie weights; use enough to come 3/4 of the way up the sides.
Per Serving: 214 Calories; 15g Fat (64.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 216mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 18th, 2018:

    This will be fun to try–very unusual! And sour cream rhubarb sounds great. My grandma’s recipe for rhubarb pie–a custard one with meringue–is still my go-to, but I like to try other versions, too–I’ve got recipes for honey rhubarb, orange rhubarb, and rhubarb raisin pies. Also a rhubarb dessert that is more like a cream pie in a 13 by 9 pan, with a cup of cream in the filling. Can’t wait to see your recipe with sour cream.

    It’ll be “up” on the blog in a few days . . . . carolyn

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on March 21st, 2018:

    I wonder why the cornstarch has to be cooked before using, it sounds quite odd doesn’t it?

    It probably explained it in the article, but I don’t remember – other than thinking it needs to be a viscous liquid, not dry, because dry cornstarch doesn’t act like much until it encounters liquid. Just a guess . . . carolyn t

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