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Currently Reading

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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 Beverages, on April 24th, 2009.


When I pulled out these really stunning mint julep cups, my DH said to me, “Uh, where did THOSE come from?” Blithely I said “Oh, I’ve had these for a couple of years, but we’ve never had an occasion to use them.” That was a true statement. He did think they were sterling silver (they’re not), and he thought they were probably ridiculously expensive (they weren’t). But I HAD kept them snugly tucked away in a cupboard. Obviously he wasn’t home when I brought them into the house, so I just put them away (cheeky grin). My DH doesn’t think I ever, in my entire life, need to buy one more THING for the kitchen. But he’s learned, that’s probably not going to happen. They’re silverplate. And cute as bugs. Or cute as baby mint leaves. And I own four of them. My friend Cherrie also owns four, so we combined assets and had ample for our Creole Jambalaya dinner party.

The recipe mostly came from the Food Network – but I did a slight variation. Since simple syrup (a necessity for juleps) was required, I wanted to make it with agave nectar instead. Why? No reason. Just because. So I patched together two recipes, the one from Sara Moulton, and another I found on the ‘net for an agave simple syrup.

What’s unique about this is that the mint leaves are infused in bourbon, then the whole mixture chills for hours or overnight. So the bourbon has a really good hit of mint before you even start. And everything gets good-and-chilled before you serve them. I liked this a LOT. I even made one more the next night with the little bit of leftover mint infusion. It was just as good; maybe better.

Now, I’m not much of a drinker of hard liquor. Despite the fact that you’ve read a few recipes here for some cocktails, I rarely drink them. That’s God’s honest truth. If I make them, I drink them, but I rarely make them. Does that make sense? But, last week I thought juleps would be perfect to serve before our feast of jambalaya, and they were. These go down easy. And I mean it – with the mint infusion, the agave/simple syrup, they slide. If you want them more powerful, add some more bourbon punch to it. I thought they were fine. Note that you sprinkle just a tad of powdered sugar on the top of the shaved ice and mint before serving. And now, my mint julep cups will go back into their clear plastic ziploc bag to retard tarnishing, and they’ll be returned to the dark corner in the dining room cupboard.
printer-friendly PDF

Mint Juleps with
Agave Nectar Simple Syrup

Recipe: Adapted from several recipes, the main one from
Sara Moulton, Food Network
Servings: 10 (a guess)
NOTES: The mint essence can vary (because of the season, the mint variety and the age of the mint) – once you make this, you may decide the minted bourbon requires more or less mint.

40 whole mint leaves
3 ounces bourbon
1/4 cup light agave nectar
2 tablespoons sugar
3/8 cup water
4 cups bourbon
shaved ice (about a cup per glass)
more mint leaves for garnish
powdered sugar garnish (optional)

1. MINTED BOURBON: Rinse and lightly dry the mint leaves with paper towels. Add leaves to a small bowl with the bourbon. Allow it to sit for about 15 minutes (submerge the mint leaves completely). Squeeze the mint leaves gently, then lay them in a single paper towel, roll up and squeeze out fluid into the bourbon bowl. Dip the towel into the bourbon and squeeze again, extracting as much mint essence as possible. Do this several times. Discard mint and towel. Taste the mixture; if it’s not minty enough, repeat process with new mint leaves.
2. AGAVE SYRUP: Combine in a saucepan (or glass measuring cup for use in the microwave) the agave nectar, sugar and water. Bring the mixture barely BELOW a boil. You’re only aiming to dissolve the sugar. Stir, and set aside to cool.
3. JULEPS: In a non-metallic container combine the bourbon and simple syrup. Add about a tablespoon of the minted bourbon, stir, and taste. If there isn’t enough mint flavor, add another tablespoon of the minted bourbon. You’ll probably need somewhere between 2 and 3 tablespoons of the mint mixture for each batch. Stir Julep mixture and chill for 24 hours (covered). Stir again. In each glass (preferably a silver julep cup) fill half way with shaved ice. Add a few mint leaves, then fill further with more shaved ice until the glass/cup is mounded over the top with ice. Place a sprig of mint on the top. Pour in the bourbon mixture (about 2/3 full), add a straw (trimmed down so you almost have to put your nose in the mint in order to drink), and serve. Sprinkle top of ice with a dash of powdered sugar if desired.
Per Serving: 272 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

A year ago: Caramelized Onion & Sage Puffs (an appetizer)

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  1. Roz Nygren

    said on July 6th, 2011:

    This sounds like a good recipe using agave. Can’t wait.

    The agave nectar just makes it easier than making a simple syrup. Hope you enjoy it. . . carolyn t

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