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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 Appetizers, on February 14th, 2009.


This recipe has been collecting dust for years. And years. And years. My notes say I got it from a MasterCook message board, but after sleuthing on the internet about it, it seems this recipe originated from the California Table Grape Commission. I found this version at a website called Taste of Home, posted by someone named chefly.

I was getting a head start on all the food prep for tonight, so made this a couple of days ahead. And because I wanted to see what it tasted like before the big evening, we had a few as a snack (actually our lunch). The only caveat I’d tell you is that you don’t want to add the pine nuts or grapes until you’re about ready to assemble these. No soggy nuts or grape juice oozing, thank you. I made the cheese mixture sans grapes and nuts, and just added them at the last minute. Do bring the cheese mixture to room temperature, though, as you’ll never get it to spread otherwise. The mixture gets spread on a baguette slice and is baked or broiled. Watch them carefully, though, as they’ll burn easily.

The combination of fresh grapes in this cheese spread is masterful. You’ll like the texture change. The original recipe said to cut the grapes in half. That’s not enough – they need to be cut in quarters. But that really doesn’t take long if you have a very sharp knife. Once spread on the baguette slices and baked, the cheesy mixture is just sublime. Melts in your mouth. The gorgonzola is not overpowering (really). The grapes are what make this, so don’t eliminate them.

The nuts can be baked for 7 minutes or so to toast them, or toss them around in a nonstick skillet for even less time, which is what I did. Let the crostini cool just a minute or two before serving so people don’t burn the roofs of their mouths. I sprinkled a tiny bit of Italian parsley on top just for decoration. I’ve added it to the recipe.
printer-friendly PDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click to open MC – 14 includes photo)

Gorgonzola, Grape and Nut Crostini

Recipe: California Table Grape Commission
Servings: 15 (about 2 each)
Serving Ideas: Can also be served cold on toasted baguette slices.

1 small baguette — thinly sliced (about 30 slices)
Olive oil
4 ounces cream cheese — at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese — crumbled, or other blue cheese type
2 tablespoons green onion — finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper — to taste
1 cup red grapes — seedless, quartered
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — finely minced (garnish)

1. Preheat broiler and adjust rack so that it is about 4 inches from heat source. Brush one side of each bread piece lightly with olive oil. Place bread on baking sheet with oil-side up and broil until lightly toasted, watching carefully so as not to burn. Remove sheet from oven and set aside.
2. Beat together cream cheese, mayonnaise, Gorgonzola cheese, and green onions; season with salt and pepper. Fold in grapes and pine nuts. Spread generously (about 1 tablespoon) of mixture onto untoasted side of each bread piece, spreading clear out to edges, and replace on baking sheet, cheese-side up. Broil until cheese mixture is heated and lightly browned, about 3 minutes, watching carefully, again, so as not to burn. Wait just a minute or two, then serve with Italian parsley sprinkled on top. To toast pine nuts, bake on cookie sheet in oven preheated to 350ºF until lightly browned, about seven minutes.
Per Serving (2 per person): 225 Calories; 14g Fat (54.1% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 24mg Cholesterol; 448mg Sodium.

A year ago: Orzo Carbonara

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  1. mikky

    said on February 15th, 2009:

    this looks like a perfect appetizer… 🙂

  2. Lori

    said on February 16th, 2009:

    Yum! I love cranberries and gorgonzola, I bet the grapes taste wonderful, too!

  3. Shelly

    said on February 16th, 2009:

    wow, you have a fabulous blog. This recipe looks delicous!

  4. Hallie

    said on February 16th, 2009:

    What a fabulous flavor combination!

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