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Currently Reading

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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 Beef, Pasta, on May 18th, 2007.

I absolutely promise that my blog is not going to be all about casseroles. It’s too bad that the word itself is a semi-bad one on blogs. I don’t have all that many casserole recipes. Honest. But those of you old enough to remember the casserole era (that would be the 1960’s and into the 70’s for you young’ns) probably have many of your own of similar ilk as this one. I’m trying to give you some variety here on this blog, and I wouldn’t have chosen this as a subject of a blog post except that this happened to have come out of the freezer the other night – literally it kept falling out of the freezer every time I opened the door. It was trying to tell me something, I finally concluded.

Some of you may know that way back in my deep, dark past, I was a Navy wife. My former husband was an air intelligence officer, and we lived in a variety of places (Florida, Washington, D.C., Whidbey Island, Washington and Denver, Colorado) over the years of his Navy service. During one of the early years I acquired a Navy Officer’s Wives Cookbook, with hundreds and hundreds of recipes from other American Navy officer’s wives from all over the globe. Actually there was a series of them (one of each of these: salads, desserts, casseroles & breads, meats, and one on international foods too). I still go to those cookbooks sometimes to get ideas about dishes to try, even though the plastic spiral bindings are nearly disintegrated on all of them. I was in my mid-20’s then and new to the day-to-day cooking arena when these books went to press, so I didn’t even think of submitting one of my recipes for any of the books. I’m not even sure I had any recipes I could call my own at that time.

As many of you probably remember, casseroles were a staple in every cook’s repertoire. They were popular for family meals, and more elegant casseroles were very popular for guests too. They certainly were in mine, and they were inexpensive. In the 1960’s my normal weekly food budget was $20, and that fed two people for 7 days, 3 meals a day. So, in the Meat cookbook of that era, amidst the little spots of food that spilled there is this recipe for Mister Charlie. Heaven knows why it’s called Mister Charlie. Was Charlie the inspiration? Was he the cook and his wife submitted the recipe? Or, I like to think it’s the dog’s name, because he ate Suzie Q’s portion when she dropped it on the floor? Do you ever ponder why recipes receive the names they do? I’ve asked myself this question about this dish for many years. Undoubtedly I’ll never know the story. I even did a Google search for the title to just see if there was anything official out there for a pasta casserole called Mister Charlie. Nope. Over the years I’ve adapted the recipe some (I use Italian sausage rather than ground beef) and I’ve added mushrooms and cheddar cheese to it. So maybe I should call it Missus Carolyn? What do you think?

Well, then. There isn’t anything startling in this casserole – pasta, meat, mushrooms, a variety of cheeses and a tomato-based sauce. That’s it. But in combo, they make a very tasty dish. Casseroles sometimes don’t look very appealing. Does the photo convey a little bit of the 1965-ish boredom of the tops of many such casseroles? What it does have going for it is that it makes a LOT. It can be made ahead. It’s high in carbs (sigh). But all-in-all, it’s still a keeper. Most of all, it’s American comfort food. So, enjoy Mister Charlie, wherever he is. Woof.
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Mister Charlie

Servings: 12
Serving Ideas : You need nothing with this except a crispy green salad. Back in the day, I’d always make garlic bread, but it isn’t really necessary.
NOTES: This makes a big gooey, mushy mixture, but as it bakes it firms up some. I actually prefer it when it’s sat overnight before baking. Seems to solidify the flavors, I guess. You can alter the amount of water you add – the original recipe said to add 4-5 cans (from the tomato paste) of water. I usually add about 4 cans, which should be 24 ounces. You can also add canned, drained tomatoes to this. Ricotta can be substituted for the cottage cheese too. Originally this recipe called for ground beef, but I like the flavor of the sausage better.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage
1 whole onion — minced
2 cloves garlic — minced
12 ounces tomato paste
8 ounces fresh mushrooms — sliced
24 ounces water
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning — or oregano, basil, thyme combination
1 pound cottage cheese
1/2 pound cheddar cheese — grated
1/2 pound Mozzarella cheese — grated and sliced both
1 pound pasta — your choice of type (penne rigate, macaroni)
1/2 cup parsley — chopped

1. Heat large skillet, adding olive oil. Add diced onion and cook while preparing other ingredients. Add the Italian sausage (mashed into small pieces) and continue cooking until all the pink is gone.
2. Add the garlic, herbs and mushrooms, then add the tomato paste and water. Cook for about 15 minutes until well blended. Taste for seasoning (salt and pepper). Set aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350°.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta until it’s just under-done. Drain.
4. Into a very large bowl add the pasta, cottage cheese, then add the slightly cooled meat mixture. Prepare the cheese – about 1/3 of it should be in thin slices, the remainder should be shredded. I freeze the big ball of mozzarella cheese for about 20 minutes to make it easier to grate. Pour into two 9 x 13 pans, or a combination of other types. Place cheese slices on top. Bake about 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly.
Per Serving: 561 Calories; 33g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 83mg Cholesterol; 995mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on October 20th, 2007:

    I’m looking for a recipe that was in my mother’s Navy Officer’s Wives Cookbook that disappeared after her death. And if you know a way I can get a copy, please advise. If was blue. Not sure when it was published, but post WWII I’m guessing.

    Cowboy Cookies! Can you help me?


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