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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 pressure cooker, Veggies/sides, on May 6th, 2009.


When I bought my Fagor pressure cooker, I recall watching a video (on a DVD included in the package) and one of the recipes was for risotto. Really, I thought? You can make risotto in a pressure cooker?

Well, I’m here to tell you this recipe worked like a charm. I rarely make risotto, for two reasons: (a) rice is a high glycemic carb; and (b) it’s labor intensive. But, as you probably know, risotto is also downright delicious. It’s probably been 2 years since I’ve made risotto, but I think I might make it slightly more often with this new recipe.

arborio-riceWe had a nice thick ribeye steak for dinner, a green salad, an artichoke, and this risotto. Arborio rice always lives in my cupboard, even though I rarely use it.  I had some already-prepared mushrooms (leftovers) so I decided to add them to the mixture. I wasn’t sure the mushrooms would withstand the pressure cooker method, so I added them in at the end (along with the garlic and parsley and Parmesan cheese).

First you saute the onion, then add the rice and cook it briefly in olive oil. You add the white wine and let it evaporate, then broth is added and you let it do its pressure cooker thing. Mine pressured for five minutes. Once I removed the lid there was just the perfect amount of liquid in the pan, but once I added the mushrooms, it thickened up some, so I did end up adding a bit of water. Taste the rice to see if it’s cooked perfectly – still slightly firm to the tooth. You do not want to overcook it, that’s all. You may need to try your pressure cooker. The creaminess was perfect. And it was really tasty. Next time I might add a bit more Parmesan. If you’re eating this as your entree, it’ll serve 2. As a side, it’ll serve at least 4, maybe 5.
printer-friendly PDF

Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto

Servings: 5

1 medium onion — finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup white wine
22 ounces chicken broth — boiling, or beef broth (1 5/8 cups)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup parmesan cheese — grated
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup mushrooms — sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped

1. In pressure cooker pan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft and translucent.
2. Add rice and saute for about 1-2 minutes until the rice glistens but does not brown. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the broth, stir, then follow directions for your pressure cooker. Cook under pressure for about 5 minutes (or a maximum of 6 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, in a small nonstick skillet heat the oil and saute the mushrooms briefly, then add garlic. Continue to cook for about 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms are just cooked through. Add the parsley and set aside.
4. Cool the pressure cooker under cold tap water until the steam is released. Open the pressure cooker, place it back on the stove. If there is too much liquid, cook for a minute or two. Stir in the butter, parmesan and black pepper. Add the mushrooms and stir in to the risotto. If the rice is too dry, add a bit of hot water. If it’s too moist, continue to cook over low to medium heat until some of the liquid has evaporated.
5. Replace the lid on the pressure cooker (don’t cook it, you’re just trying to keep it hot) and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 21g Fat (52.2% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium.

A year ago: Brownie-Bottomed Pudding Pie (easy)
Two years ago: Mexican Chopped Salad (oh, a real favorite)

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  1. Marie

    said on May 7th, 2009:

    I have never used a pressure cooker. I confess to being a little afraid of them as I can remember a woman across the way have hers blow up in her face when I was a young girl, and her being badly burned. That rice does look very good though.

    The old-fashioned kinds of pressure cookers had some risks, but the new ones have an automatic pressure valve. I admit, when I first got my new one, I was a bit wary of it, but have learned in no time that it is far easier to use than I thought. There’s a setting on mine that allows you to release the steam safely. Or, you can still put the entire thing under the cold water tap, which cools it down speedy-quick. After years of not having one, I’m enjoying this new one a lot. . . . carolyn t

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