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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 Cookies, Desserts, on February 26th, 2009.

baileys-brownies

After I baked these brownies, I went to my recipe files to make a comparison of this recipe (from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody blog) to my old standby, Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies, a recipe that dates back to the 1960’s. Sure enough, they’re really similar except for the Baileys. Peabody’s recipe has more bar chocolate and chocolate chips, the Bailey’s, of course, and she added a Bailey’s glaze on top too.

We had invited friends over for dinner because Bob is renovating their kitchen, and Peggy just struggles to create things to cook when the kitchen is in such a mess. They were SO happy to go out. So, even though we had a 5-hour power outage at our house yesterday (some kind of maintenance thing), as soon as the power was turned back on I quick-like-a-bunny started dinner. Made a slow-cooker tamale pie, which had just enough time to do its thing. I had some leftover veggies from the other night which were sufficient for nibbling before dinner, made a big green salad with everything but the kitchen sink in it, and I had just read Peabody’s post about these brownies. I had the cream cheese, had the Bailey’s, so quick-like I made them too.

baileys-brownies-2

The swirled brownie batter in the pan

You make two batters – the vanilla and Bailey’s one, and a larger amount of chocolate/brownie one. They’re layered in a pan, then lightly swirled with a knife to mix them up a little. Oh-so very pretty, I think. Then once they’re baked and cooled a little, you add a Bailey’s glaze on top, cool completely, cut and serve!

These are RICH. And SWEET. As I said, they have more chocolate than in the older recipe, so I’ve reduced the amount of sugar in both batters below. But overall they’re delicious. If you’re a Bailey’s fan, you’ll adore them. I served them with just a little slurp of Bailey’s on the side. Yum. If I’d had vanilla ice cream I’d have served that with it too.
printer-friendly PDF

Bailey’s Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Recipe: Based on a recipe by Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (blog)
Servings: 16
Serving Ideas: Would be especially good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
NOTES: I’ve altered this recipe by reducing the amount of sugar in both the Bailey’s swirl batter and the brownie batter. If you like things sweet, add another tablespoon or two to each.

BAILEYS SWIRL:
3 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
BROWNIES:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips — (I think 1/2 cup would be plenty)
GLAZE:
4 ounces sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Bailey’s Irish Cream
milk to thin out (amount will vary)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 8-inch square nonstick baking pan. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in medium bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in egg. Mix in flour, Bailey’s, and vanilla. Set mixture aside.
2. Stir baking chocolate and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool slightly. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in chocolate mixture and extracts. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Spread half of chocolate batter (about 1 1/4 cups) in prepared pan. Just do the best you can to spread it out. Using rubber spatula, spread cream cheese mixture over chocolate batter. Using a spoon, drop globs of remaining chocolate batter over top of cream cheese mixture. Using tip of knife, gently swirl through batter, forming marble design. 4. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes.
5. Make glaze. Combine powdered sugar and Irish cream. If too thick thin out with milk. Pour over warm brownies and spread out as well as you can to the edges. Allow to cool completely and cut into about 16 pieces.
Per Serving: 250 Calories; 16g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 83mg Sodium.

A year ago: Potato & Onion Cakes (a side dish)

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