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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 Pork, on May 22nd, 2007.

Deciding what to serve guests? For me, making decisions about a company meal usually starts out with the decision about the entrée. So, is it beef, fish, chicken, pork or lamb? I’ll flip through my big personal cookbook (three large 3-ring binders containing all 500+ of my recipes, divided up by categories), and start making a list of the options. I may pull out those recipes (each is in a plastic sleeve) before I decide. Here’s what I do:

• make a list of a couple of the meat dishes that sound good to me. Then I’ll think about what should go with it;

• vegetables (depends on the season, maybe two vegies and no carb), add to the list;

• another side/carb (does this dinner need a carb, would my guests prefer not to have a carb, is it too many calories already? think about the color on the plate since we like to have some variety); add to the list;

• a salad (green type? or another? special additions like pecans or walnuts, a new dressing? an old favorite?), add to the list;

• dessert (look over the menu so far, think about my timetable, what I can manage with all the other dishes, does it need to be lower calorie? a splurge? chocolate or no?); add to the list;

• and lastly appetizers (do I need to make something homemade? can I make do with chips and salsa? if we’re not having carbs with the dinner, maybe hummus would be fine with crackers and vegies?).

So, for this particular dinner I wanted a pork roast using a recipe I’ve had for some years, after taking a class with Tarla Fallgatter, a local cooking instructor. But, I wanted a simple, but JUICY pork roast. The last few times I’ve baked a pork roast I’ve been disappointed and had concluded it was the pork, not the cook (moi, how could it be moi?). I was convinced it’s this new, leaner pork, the other white meat, that was just too lean, with not enough fat in the grain to provide any juiciness. So I consulted my local independent butcher. He told me that the pork I bought at Costco was probably the same pork I bought from him, or at least they were from the same or similar pork producers in Iowa as Costco uses (okay, no help there.) But, he did tell me that if I wanted a bit more marbling of fat, I should buy a roast from the rib end (more toward the country ribs part). He just happened to have one (oh good). BUT, he told me, the most important thing I should remember was to not overcook the meat (uh oh, maybe I am the culprit after all?). I asked him (always good to get a second opinion) at what temperature I should remove the pork. He didn’t know (hmm, not good, a butcher doesn’t know this?). Okay, back to my recipe, which said 145°.

So, once I’d decided on having pork, chosen the recipe (below) I rounded out the meal with the zucchini gratin (my posting on Saturday), a nice green salad, chips and salsa, and I made some strawberry mascarpone ice cream from over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It was a very nice meal with a couple of bottles of red wine. We were all very mellow by 10:00 pm.

As for the pork, I was careful to use my meat thermometer. But, I found out
that the part of the sensor that reveals the oven temperature isn’t working, so think I’ll have to buy a new one – I dropped it a month or so ago and bent the connector that goes into the little digital box – most likely that’s the problem. I’m glad it wasn’t the interior meat temp that wasn’t working! I removed the roast at exactly 145°, let it sit for about 10 minutes while I prepped the rest of the meal. The pork was perfectly cooked. And JUICY! I have no qualms about spending the money to buy a new meat thermometer. It convinced me once again what an invaluable instrument it is in the kitchen!

The apricot compote is a bit different than some. The addition of a whole vanilla bean – well not the bean itself, but the contents – makes it unusual. Whole vanilla beans have such a fragrance – a perfume, if you will – that could easily overpower. You carefully slit the bean open, to butterfly it (it’s a little like microsurgery – attacking this tiny, narrow little thing – do use a small knife with a very thin and sharp point) and scrape the miniature grains out of the bean. You’ll get about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon total. And you can see the grains in the finished sauce – you may want to tell your guests so they don’t think it’s sand!

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Roast Pork Loin with Apricot Compote

Recipe By: A cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Servings:  10

NOTES: It may be preferable to use two pork tenderloins for this recipe. If so, bake them for about 20 minutes total. You can, if necessary, use vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean, but the flavor will be significantly reduced. It really is worth the time and trouble to buy the whole bean.

1 1/2 cups white wine — sweeter variety, if available
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean — split & scraped
2 tablespoons sugar
12 ounces dried apricot halves — chopped
4 1/2 pounds pork loin — chine bone removed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons oil

1. Compote: In a medium pan combine wine, cider, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla bean scrapings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add apricots. Simmer for 20 minutes or until a syrup consistency is achieved. If the syrup has not reduced sufficiently, remove apricots and boil the syrup until it reaches the desired consistency. Remove from heat and set aside or keep warm to serve. Can be made one day ahead.
2. Pork: Preheat oven to 350°. Season meat with salt & pepper. In a large pan heat oil over medium high heat and brown pork on all sides. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and bake for about 30 minutes, turn meat over, then bake an additional 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°. Remove pork from oven, cover loosely with foil for 10-15 minutes, then cut into portions, and spoon hot compote over meat.
Start to Finish Time: 1 hour
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 9g Fat (26.6% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 379mg Sodium.

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  1. Peabody

    said on May 21st, 2007:

    Yum, I love the use of the apricot compote.

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