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Just finished 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 January 12th, 2008.

Can you just leap through your screen and take a bite of this tart? Double dare you to ever find anything more heavenly than your mouth full of this creamy, buttery, chocolatey and raspberry concoction. Sinfully delicious.

This is another delectable item on the menu at the luncheon I attended the other day. The hostess, Robin, outdid herself with this spectacular dessert. The buttery short almond pastry, almost like a light cookie crust filled with chocolate, some currant jelly, topped with fresh raspberries, chocolate shavings, powdered sugar and draped with some real whipped cream. Oh my. So very good. Robin retrieved her recipe from a 1993 Bon Appetit issue to show us. I wrote down the title, and was fortunate to find it on the internet. This isn’t a quick little number that you can whip out in an hour. There are a number of steps, chilling, baking, watching, more chilling, etc. But, it was definitely worth it. We gobbled up the tart – which said it served 12 – but with several of us taking tiny slivers of seconds, it left just one piece. So, I’d say this probably serves 9-10 rather than 12. If I made this, I’d probably offer a bit more whipped cream. But, however you count the slices, you need to have some of this. Now.
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Raspberry Almond Truffle Tart

Recipe: Bon Appetit, December 1993, via the internet
Servings: 12
NOTES: To make chocolate shavings: Scrape a sharp knife blade across the flat side of a bar of bittersweet chocolate. The shavings will be very fine and very fragile; do not touch them with your fingers or they will melt! Transfer shavings on the knife blade.

1/3 cup blanched almonds — slivered, about 1 1/2 ounces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour — less 2 tablespoons!
1 dash salt
6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter — cold
2 1/2 teaspoons water
1 1/2 cups currant jelly — red currant preferred
2 teaspoons sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate — or semisweet
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups fresh raspberries
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate — shaved for decorating the top
powdered sugar for dusting

1. CRUST: In processor bowl, combine almonds, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts. Proceed until very fine. Add the flour and salt; pulse unit well mixed. Cut butter into 10 to 12 pieces and distribute over flour mixture. Process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle in water and pulse until mixture starts to form a dough. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and push together into a flat patty. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll.
2. Roll dough, between two pieces of plastic wrap, into a circle about 11 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick. Peel off top sheet of plastic. Use bottom sheet to lift pastry and invert it into tart pan. Line pan as much as possible using the plastic still attached to pastry, as an aid, easing dough into corners without stretching. Peel plastic from dough. If dough is too soft and plastic won’t peel, place in freezer of refrigerator for a few minutes before peeling. Pinch dough off at upper rim of pan. Patch the dough as needed with pinched off bits of dough. Reinforce sides, strengthen corners and neaten up rim of crust, making everything as even as possible. Chill at least one hour.
3. Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of pastry shell all over with a fork. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown Check after 6 to 8 minutes; if bottom has puffed up, prick again with a fork or skewer to deflate. While still hot, press the bottom of the pan gently just enough to release the edges of the crust from the pan. Leave crust in pan. Cool on a rack. Cool completely before filling.
4. FILLING: Simmer jelly with sugar 2 to 3 minutes until thickened. Brush bottom of cooled pastry shell with just enough hot jelly to coat thinly, reserving the rest.
5. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a simmer. Place chopped chocolate and butter, cut into small pieces, in a medium sized bowl. Pour hot cream over chocolate. Let stand one minute. Stir gently without whisking or beating until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Do not reheat; if chocolate is not completely melted, set the mixture aside for a few minutes then stir again. Pour mixture into tart shell. Refrigerate until firm.
6. TOPPINGS: Arrange berries over chocolate, starting around the edge and working toward the center, leaving a tiny bit of space between each berry so that some chocolate is visible. Reheat the red currant jelly and dab each berry lightly to give it a little shine–do not overdo–no need to use up all of the jelly.
7. Remove tart rim and place tart on serving dish. Decorate the edge or center of the tart with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate tart until 30-60 minutes before serving. To serve, use a very fine sieve or tea strainer to dust powdered sugar over berries and shavings, like a very light snowfall.
Per Serving: 415 Calories; 26g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 45mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 13th, 2008:

    Oh, I wish I would not read your posts before eating! I want that dessert right now! You were so lucky…drooling now.

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