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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 Salads, on April 17th, 2018.

spinach_salad_artichoke_hearts_raisins

This is the kind of salad you could make as dinner if you’re inclined to do that. It’s got lots of good stuff in it. You could easily add some chicken if you want some protein.

Usually I’m not a big fan of spinach salad. Spinach served and eaten raw makes my teeth squeak. Anyone else notice that about spinach? But this one didn’t both me much that way – maybe because it was baby spinach? I have no idea why. Maybe because there is sugar in the dressing? Who knows. In any case, this is a really delicious salad, one it’s definitely worth the time to make.

There are a few things that are unique about this – the sweet/sour salad dressing is made with powdered sugar. Why? Tarla Fallgatter told us at the cooking class when she prepared this, that it’s because it dissolves easily. Yes. For sure it would. Did she use that method in other salad dressings? No. And the second thing is the use of grilled artichoke hearts (if you have Trader Joe’s near you, they’re bottled, marinated in the veggie section). And for me, the golden raisins just “made” this salad. This salad is one that Tarla said she’s been making for years, decades maybe, but had never shared at a cooking class before. She doesn’t always use bacon, but she did for the class. I love bacon, so liked that too.

The dressing is mostly normal ingredients, although you don’t usually see ground ginger in a sweetened vinaigrette kind of dressing. I like it a lot. This salad would be great to make to take somewhere, as you could have everything prepped ahead of time, including the dressing, and it’s just a matter of opening up 2 packages of baby spinach, adding it all together and you’ve got salad.

What’s GOOD: loved the dressing. Loved the golden raisins and the artichoke hearts and the crunch of nuts. Everything about this salad was delish.

What’s NOT: Not much . . . I thought this was a super salad.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spinach Salad with Artichoke Hearts, Mushrooms and Pecans

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

DRESSING:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
SALAD:
5 sliced thick-sliced bacon
12 ounces baby spinach — (two bags)
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons sesame seeds — toasted
6 ounces artichoke hearts — sliced (grilled, if you can find them)
8 ounces fresh mushrooms — thinly sliced
1/4 cup pecans — toasted

1. BACON: Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and roast bacon for approximately 10 minutes, until golden. Remove, drain, cool and crumble.
2. Whisk dressing ingredients together and set aside.
3. Place spinach into a large salad bowl first, then add all the other salad ingredients including the crumbled bacon. Add dressing to coat, tasting as you add (don’t use too much). Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 346 Calories; 28g Fat (69.9% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 332mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 18th, 2018:

    Hmmm. Maybe I’ll make this to take to the dulcimer club picnic this Sunday!

    It’s very different, Donna. I really liked it – a lot. Don’t cut up the mushrooms ahead of time, though. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 23rd, 2018:

    This went over very well at our dulcimer club picnic. We ended up with six salads, three of them spinach, all delicious, but this one stood out because it was so unusual. I liked it because it had a subtle sweetness from the dressing and the raisins, crunch from the seeds and nuts, savoriness and saltiness from the bacon, and a touch of the unexpected from the grilled artichokes, all of which complemented the earthy spinach and mushrooms. Bearing in mind your advice about the mushrooms, I held off prepping them as long as I could, but had to slice them a couple of hours ahead. They were just fine, though–I didn’t notice any discoloration. After I made it, it struck me that there are no alliums of any kind–that’s quite unusual in my experience. I wondered if I’d miss them, but this was perfectly satisfying without–good to have in my repertoire, as I have a new friend who can’t eat onions. I’m glad Tarla shared it and you passed it on, as without your commentary, I’m not sure this would have gotten more than a passing glance from me–I’d have thought it a bit odd with the combination of mushrooms and artichokes with raisins. When you endorse a recipe, I’ve found I can trust your judgment.

    Awww, Donna! Thank you. I’m so happy it was a hit at your event. I think this would make a great side salad for a barbecue – carbs and greens all in one dish. . . carolynt

  3. hddonna

    said on April 23rd, 2018:

    I would consider this very low carb. The only things I would have to count against my carb allowance would be the raisins and the dressing, because of the added sugar. I couldn’t begin to eat as much as a sixth of the recipe, so I doubt if the carb count would be very high. (My dietician told me I didn’t have to keep track of the low-carb vegetables, so I consider the spinach and mushrooms “free.”) Trouble is, I crave starchy foods so would still want a small potato or some bread with this.

    I understand! I’ve just ordered a book, after listening to a doctor give a talk about it (his book). It’s kind of revolutionary ideas about dieting, all of it relating to the state of our intestinal tract, and the kinds of food we put into our bodies. Book is called Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution. I’m only 30 pages into it, but it’s really different stuff, backed up by studies all over the world. About limiting just about any white food (although that’s not the focus), and almost no grains at all. And no sugars, of course. He limits dairy (except yogurt), and limits meat also, but tells you to load up on veggies, but only some kinds of veggies. Haven’t gotten to the nitty-gritty yet. . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on April 24th, 2018:

    You’ll have to let me know what you think when you’ve finished the book. Studies notwithstanding, I doubt if I have what it takes to follow so many stringent guidelines. Don’t you think Michael Pollan says it well; “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”? (Not sure if that’s an exact quote, but close enough, I think.) Fortunately, though I love my carbs and it’s a constant struggle to resist them, I also love vegetables and don’t care for sweet beverages, so that’s a start. A deep interest in food–being a “foodie”, I suppose–makes it difficult, but loving to cook and enjoying new foods and lots of variety helps a lot. (My most recent cookbook is Ottolenghi’s “Sweet,” of all things! Am now trying to resist baking from it!)
    I’ve also just started “The Tuscan Child,” which I see you’ve reviewed over to the left.

    Yes, I liked Tuscan Child – kind of different, in some respects than some WWII history. As for the diet book, so far he’s recommending eating mostly raw food, but cooked is okay too (raw is his choice) and he makes either lunch or dinner a salad with lots of veggies. And he recommends tricking our genes by skipping a meal on a regular basis, but not the same meal and not the same day of the week. I don’t know if I’ll go that far. Salad dressings are fine as long as they’re made with EVOO (and he has a few other oils that are okay, but definitely not corn oil). He recommends nuts and seeds as snacks. Some fruit meet his “okay” but not all. My yogurt breakfast fits fine in the diet, but all foods with sugar, flour, grains are out. And he doesn’t okay dairy in coffee. I don’t think I can go there – he says soy half and half is fine, or almond milk. Not for me. He’s fine with almost all meat in small quantities, and as you progress on his 3-part plan, you reduce the amount of animal protein. And he recommends a pre-biotic, a product that he sells. He used to recommend some brand name pre-biotic, but they upped the price, so he decided to produce his own. It’s a long explanation about how/why we aren’t supplying our gut/intestinal tracts with the right kind of protection. Everything he says makes good sense. He doesn’t like most veggies in the nightshade family, although in the book bell peppers are okay and onions. Not eggplant, though. Have only read another 20+ pages of the book. Too many other things needed doing today. . . .carolyn t

  5. hddonna

    said on April 25th, 2018:

    Sounds much too drastic for me!

    Yes, I understand the sentiment. I’m trying it out. I never seem to stick to diets for very long; which is my problem! And this diet isn’t the greatest for a food blog writer!! And I’m certainly not changing my blog emphasis to eating more vegetarian, or raw food! So I’ll just see how it goes. If it works, then I’ll have some motivation to stick with it. . . carolyn t

  6. Toffeeapple

    said on April 25th, 2018:

    Like you, I dislike raw Spinach and, in particular, the baby stuff. Real Spinach is a big, gutsy leaf with a good flavour and I enjoy eating that.

    I am not so sure of the wisdom of using powdered sugar and imagine that honey would be a good and wholesome alternative, I would like that on real Spinach I think.

    Well, it probably would not matter, either way about the sugar/honey. It certainly wouldn’t use much honey, since it’s more concentrated. . . carolyn t

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