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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 Veggies/sides, on June 18th, 2009.

noonday onions

DISCLAIMER: I don’t sell Noonday onions – they were a gift to me in 2009 from a good friend whose family lives in East Texas. If you want to buy some, my only suggestion is to go to this link: East Texas Grower’s Association. It’s their website including contact information with oodles of names and phone numbers. Perhaps one of them will be able to help. My friend’s relatives go to the farmer’s market in Noonday to buy them each year.

My friend Joan (of the Joan’s Pasta Salad on my blog, and the Baked Fennel with Parmesan) emailed me to ask if I’d like to have some Noonday Onions. Whah? Noon-what onions? Had never heard of them. If you’re a Texan, then nothing will do but Noonday (sweet) onions. And according to our friends, nothing holds a candle to Texas sweet onions (not Vidalia, nor any).

Joan’s in-laws, Tom & Dorothy, ship a big bag of Noonday Onions to each of their grown children every year around about June 1st. That’s high season for Noondays, you see. Now, Noonday is a SMALL town. Population 515 per the census in 2000, so I read online. Just in case you don’t know where Noonday is, like I didn’t, I had to look it up. Figured you’d want to be educated about it too. It’s halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, LA.

Joan’s in-laws live in Longview, an hour or so NE of Noonday. Joan’s husband Tom grew up in Longview. Over the years of knowing them, we’d heard stories about the famous barbecue in Longview. Never heard anything about the sweet onions. But about barbecue. From Bodacious. So one summer when Tom & Joan were flying home from a week’s visit to Longview (the family has an annual reunion every 4th of July week, with everyone attending including children and grandchildren), Joan phoned me and asked if I’d like them to bring a brisket from their favorite ‘cue place – on the plane – carefully wrapped in a cold pack. Who could say no to that, I ask you? We were having a big summer dinner at our house that very evening, and Tom & Joan landed in So. California just in time to change clothes and bring the barbecue brisket to share with all of our guests. What a huge treat that was. We had another barbecue dinner a couple weeks later and I actually phoned the “famous” Bodacious Barbecue in Longview and had another two briskets shipped by air so I could serve it again. I’ll vouch for Texas ‘cue, hands down. Good stuff. Texans take their ‘cue seriously, and Bodacious has been delivering (aka making) serious ‘cue for decades.

But, I got sidetracked there. Back to onions. I do know a bit more about East Texas than I did before. And I know that Noonday is a town that produces serious sweet onions. Just like Vidalia, and wine cuvees, you have to grow the sweet onions within 10 miles of Noonday’s city hall in order to qualify as Noonday onions. The reason Noondays are so good is because the soil composition is identical to the soil where Vidalias are grown in Georgia. If you’re interested, there’s a list of Noonday onion growers. If you don’t have your own private courier service like I did, there are phone numbers to call. Now is the season.

On to recipes. I was tickled to find out that Joan has been making my Baked Onions with (Red Wine and) Thyme for years. And that she uses Noonday onions to make them. She and Tom enjoy them so much that some years ago Joan sent my recipe to all of her sisters-in-law as a way to use the huge bag of sweet onions.

So I’m happy to provide the family with another good onion recipe for sweet onions. One that I hadn’t made in many years. A recipe given to me by a good friend, Ann H. from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Ann made these one time, years ago when they lived here in California, with sweet onions, when they kind of first came onto the onion-scene. Probably in the late 1980’s. These are rich (they do have 1/4 cup of cream added at the end), but the star of this dish is the Madeira.

Here’s a travel story . . . I’ve actually been to Madeira. Years ago. It’s a long way from anywhere – off the northwest coast of Africa, but it’s part of Portugal. A friend and I took a trip there, and since I was planning the trip mostly, I thought hey, we’re all the way over here, I’ve always wanted to GO to Madeira. Here’s my chance. Well, let me tell you – those of you who have been there will identify with me here – flying into Madeira is sheer terror. They cut short a runway out of the side of the mountain (Madeira is nothing BUT mountains, short but steep), and approaching by air you think you’re going to crash. You know you’re going to crash in the water or into the mountainside. And suddenly there’s a runway under the plane. A short runway. Yikes.

There isn’t a whole lot to DO on Madeira, really. Roads are treacherously curvy, with no big towns particularly. But the island produces Madeira for the world. My friend and I went on a couple of Madeira tours (wine type), so we learned all about the process and the different types – there are several, but mostly we only know the rather sweet fortified wine. But I did learn to tell the difference, and usually when I buy Madeira I buy good stuff, Bual. 15-year old Bual if I can afford it. It’s worth it. A bottle lasts years and years for me since I don’t drink it often. This dish has a few dashes of Madeira. Don’t buy anything but real Madeira from Madeira, okay? You can’t substitute sherry, really. You probably could substitute port, but only if you use a medium-sweet port, not the extra sweet. I buy good port too because I also learned the difference in that wine also. But that’s a story for another day.

madeira onion ingred
Ingredients: sweet onions, butter, Madeira, heavy cream and some parsley

madeira onionIt’s time for the recipe. Get yourself some sweet onions (just don’t tell any Texans that you used Vidalia or Walla Walla Sweets, okay?) and try this luscious onion dish. Not having had these for some years, my hubby said – oh my, these are to die for. Does that give you a clue as to their good-ness?
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Madeira Onions

Recipe: From my friend Ann H, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Servings: 6
NOTES: When my friend Ann made these, she left the onion slices nestled together, holding their shape. She cooked them in-position all the way through. She was very careful with them, even through the caramelizing process, to not dislodge the solid rings. Then she served them on a plate just that way. Made a beautiful presentation.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large sweet onions — peeled, sliced
1/2 cup Madeira
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream — or half and half
1/4 cup fresh parsley — finely minced

1. In a large skillet (with a lid) heat the butter until it’s starting to sizzle. Add onions. Cover, reduce heat and cook over low heat for about 25 minutes, until onions are cooked through.
2. Uncover pan and stir in the Madeira and salt and pepper. Cook under medium-low heat until the wine has evaporated, then continue to cook until the onions have begun to caramelize.
3. Add the cream and parsley and stir to combine. Heat through and serve hot.
Serving Ideas : These go well with a simple grilled meat. Don’t serve this with anything that competes with the subtle onion flavor – you want it to shine through.
Per Serving: 151 Calories; 11g Fat (75.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 9mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal
Two years ago: Mister Charlie (a delish ground beef casserole)

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  1. Donna Babcock

    said on June 10th, 2010:

    I grew up in the town of good old Mount Pleasant, Texas and moved away to Abilene, Texas this past year when I married. I use to always go and get the Noon Day onions and cannot find them here and am not satisfied with any, what they say are sweet onions, around here. HELP Where can I order some? I miss them and good old East Texas!

    I don’t know of a source, Donna. Sorry. All I can suggest is doing a web search and see if you can find someone willing to sell them. Maybe they have them in the local grocery store in Noonday? I really don’t know! . . . carolyn t

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