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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 Desserts, on October 2nd, 2007.

Before they’re all gone, I wanted to have just a few more peaches. We didn’t eat them out of hand in the first couple of days, so I decided to try a new recipe for Peach Cobbler. Now, I like cobbler in nearly every form imaginable. Apple probably is my favorite, but lots of other fruits can stand in and make me happy.

But, it was a week or so ago I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, and she wrote up a detailed post about marrying a southern gent, and how she’s collected cobbler recipes for a long time. She liked some things about one recipe, but other things about another. Finally, she found one with the right texture, worked with it and subsequently came up with her own version combining all of the recipes from a bunch of “southern ladies,” she said. With that write-up (kind of like the home kitchen answer to the Cook’s Illustrated treatises on recipes), I had to try it. I don’t think I had quite enough peaches, but she mentioned that the recipe is forgiving that way. I’ve simplified the directions just a little bit and hope I haven’t changed the recipe significantly.

Her blog has an error about the amount of cinnamon (one teaspoon vs. one tablespoon), so I just had to improvise and use my best judgment. She doesn’t have an email address to contact her, and somebody else posted a comment asking about the error, but she hasn’t answered or fixed it yet. So, that’s why I had to just make a management decision. That meant using 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Which is a lot. Plus, I couldn’t find the pecans in my freezer, so used walnuts instead. Pecans would certainly be more southern, but there are very few nuts in this dessert anyway.

Peabody mentioned that before she married her southern gent, what she knew about peach cobbler was just peaches, some kind of topping, then bake. But this has a kind of cake to it, and the peach slices slide down into it somewhat. I really liked the edges of the cake – a little bit crunchy, then with the smooth, moist cobber and peaches in the middle. I’d suggest each serving get a little bit of the edges (less peaches there).

Now, I must interject here, that I do like cinnamon. A lot, actually. But I’m very particular about what I use. No store bought for me. (You can, this is just picky me who thinks she knows a lot more about cinnamon than the average cook. I really may not know more, but I know what I like and don’t like, that’s all.) I buy my cinnamon from Penzey’s. Have for years. Cassia cinnamon is what you usually find in the grocery stores. But I’ll tell you, Penzey’s cassia is one strong cinnamon. I use their Indonesian Korintje Cassia mostly. A few years ago I bought their Vietnamese cinnamon, which I believe Penzey’s says is the highest quality and the “best.” I didn’t care for it at all. I also have Ceylon cinnamon from Penzey’s too, which has citrus overtones, but is less strong tasting than cassia. In this cobbler I used the Indonesian Korintje Cassia because I knew the cinnamon taste would be a welcome highlight. If cinnamon is going to be a minor flavor, I use the Ceylon. Otherwise, it’s the Korintje type. And because Penzey’s cinnamon is so much stronger tasting than store-bought, I reduced the amount called for in the recipe – by about 1/5 I’d guess. If using regular cinnamon, just use the full tablespoon. Oh, and by the way, Penzey’s does have some stores around the country. Mostly they’re in the northeast, but there’s now a store here in California, in Torrance. Thanks to my friend Cathy for that tidbit. Next time I’m driving that direction I’ll definitely stop in there.

My recovering foot was so tired by the time I got this made I didn’t take time to whip any heavy cream, so I just drizzled it with the heavy cream instead. It was fine. More than fine. Delicious, in fact. I’d make this again, no question.
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Southern Peach Cobbler

Recipe: adapted a little from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (blog)
Servings: 8

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon (or less, to suit your taste)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups peaches — peeled, sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar — packed
1/4 cup chopped nuts — pecans or walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Place butter in an 8×8 pan and put into the oven until it’s completely melted. If it happens to get brown (not burned, mind you) that’s fine too. That takes about 4-5 minutes. Remove from oven while you gather the other ingredients.
3. In a medium sized bowl combine the 3 T. of sugar and the cinnamon. Stir until they’re thoroughly mixed. Then add: the one cup of sugar, flour, baking powder. Stir until combined, then add the milk. Stir until it’s thoroughly mixed with no streaks of flour showing. Spoon the batter on top of the melted better but do NOT stir it in. Just scoop in and make it as even as possible.
4. Place the sliced peaches on top as evenly as possible.
5. Combine the brown sugar and nuts and sprinkle that over the top.
6. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top turns a golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Per Serving: 363 Calories; 15g Fat (35.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 199mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on February 24th, 2008:

    This recipe for cobbler sounds wonderful. As soon as I have company over that doesn’t mind nuts in their food, I’m making this for dessert. Thank you for sharing! Mrs.Gordon in Phx,AZ

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