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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 Breads, on November 29th, 2007.


Sometimes my DH doesn’t give me much notice that the guys are coming to our home the next morning for Bible Study. He knew two weeks ago but neglected to tell me. So, yesterday afternoon about 3:00 he just happened to mention it in passing. I said, when were you going to tell me about this, dearest? He said, well, I just did [big, apologetic grin].

So, wanting to do something new (the guys have had all of my regular repertoire of morning coffee cakes more than once) I swiftly turned to my latest favorite baking book, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My House to Yours. I do love that book. Not wanting to make a trip to the grocery store, I actually found several “Morning Cakes” I could make, but settled on this one.


Out came all the ingredients and this pulled together fairly quickly. I liked the crumb topping – it’s a bit different – well, similar to others – but different because of the orange zest – and the espresso powder in it. Oops, I opened my jar of espresso powder that’s been languishing in the pantry for at least a year without any use, and uh, it’s a solid mass. Oh, da–! Usually I’ll just make some very strong espresso instead to substitute in a recipe, but this was in a dry topping, so I couldn’t do that. What to do? I had no instant coffee (we don’t drink the stuff). So, out came the Dutch-process cocoa. It worked just fine, although I suppose Dorie might not like my substitution. She obviously was going for a cardamom and coffee pairing here. The batter is hand mixed, which gives the finished cake a little bit of irregular texture – not a bad thing. It’s not like a dessert cake that’s beat with a mixer until totally smooth.

The coffeecake/crumb cake was very nice. This isn’t a wow kind of cake – just good home made flavors, perfect with a hot cup of coffee. Luckily there were leftovers, so when the boys come next week I’ll pop it in the oven for a little re-heat.
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Cardamom Crumb Cake

Recipe: Dorie Greenspan – Baking: From My House to Yours
Servings: 9
NOTES : This cake is best served warm the day it’s baked. If you must make it ahead, freeze it. Defrost and reheat in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes to warm it.

CRUMB TOPPING:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup walnuts — coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest — finely grated
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules — preferably espresso [or cocoa]
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
CAKE BATTER DRY INGREDIENTS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules — preferably espresso [or cocoa]
2/3 cup sugar
CAKE BATTER WET INGREDIENTS:
2 tablespoons orange zest — finely grated
8 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup espresso coffee — cooled
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 and arrange rack in center of oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet.
2. CRUMBS: Put all the ingredients except butter in a bowl and toss them together with a spatula just to blend. Add the butter, in small little pieces, and using your fingers or spatula, mix everything together until you’ve got crumbs of different sizes. It’s nice to have a few big pieces, so don’t overdo it. Set the crumbs aside (up to 3 days ahead).
3. CAKE: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom and espresso powder in a large bowl. Turn the dry ingredients out onto a sheet of waxed paper, and put the sugar and zest in the bowl. Rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong, then return the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to blend.
4. Put the remaining ingredients in another bowl and whisk them to blend. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir – DON’T BEAT – to mix. Stir ONLY until you’ve got an evenly moistened batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and top with a thick, even layer of the crumbs. Pat the crumbs ever so gently into the top of the batter.
5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake has risen (it will crown the pan), the crumbs are golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Transfer to a rack to cool in the pan, before serving warm or at room temperature.
7. You can unmold the cake if you want to, but you’ll lose some of the crumbs when you turn it over. I prefer to cut the cake in the pan, taking care not to nick the surface of the pan with my knife. Use a silicone spatula if possible.
Per Serving: 422 Calories; 21g Fat (44.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 90mg Cholesterol; 195mg Sodium.

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