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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 Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on August 25th, 2009.

If you have tomatoes accumulating at a rapid rate at your house, oh, do I have a recipe for you today. To say this pie is delicious is a gross understatement. It’s not my recipe – it’s Elise’s, over at Simply Recipes. She got it from an acquaintance. And what a winner it is. The words of wisdom here are: sometimes the simplest of recipes are the best. This pie is nothing fancy – it contains onions, lots of tomatoes, fresh basil, cheese, mayo and some hot sauce. All piled into a pie shell in layers. And just so you know:

This recipe contains fat in the pie crust.

This recipe contains cheese (uh, yea, calories and fat)

This recipe contains mayonnaise (3/4 cup for the whole pie).

Other than that, it’s good for you  – nice chunks of tomatoes. (BG).

I’m going to write up a separate post about the pie shell (otherwise this post would be pages and pages long). So here we’ll just talk about the pie itself. I started off with a mixture of tomatoes (red and yellow heirlooms plus a small pile of smaller tomatoes right out of our garden. The heirlooms were very moist – VERY juicy. And that can be the slight undoing of this recipe – you’ve just got to get out as much of the liquid as possible. It’s not that the pie won’t be good, but the bottom shell will be soggy (as mine was). But I have a “fix” for it – next time I’ll add an extra step. More on that later.

Obviously, first you have to make a pie shell. We couldn’t find any refrigerated pie shells in our local stores, so with barely enough time, I made a crust myself. It was a very buttery savory shell. Flaky beyond belief. It was blind baked (about 20 minutes at 350) first. Meanwhile, I started in on the filling.

tomato pie oions First went in the chopped raw red onions. Next time I’d chop them up finer AND I’d cook them a bit. The onions were still crunchy when we ate the tart after 40 minutes of baking.

tomato pie basil

Next went in the chopped tomatoes that I’d drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, AND I squeezed them to get out even more juice. I used about 3 1/2 cups for my large 9-inch pie plate.

Then I sprinkled in about 1/4 cup of fresh sliced basil leaves from our garden.

tomato pie toppingNext I mixed up an equal quantity (approximately) of shredded Gruyere cheese and mozzarella (not fresh), along with some bottled mayonnaise and a dash of hot sauce. Using my hands I pressed the cheesy clumps all over the top of the pie. I didn’t mash it down or try to make it a solid layer – there were a few holes. But they all disappeared during baking. Bake for 25-40 minutes or so until the top is golden brown.

tomato pie whole

There it is, in all its gloriousness just out of the oven. We took it to our kids’ house and had it with some grilled Italian sausages and a delicious field greens salad topped with more garden-grown sliced tomatoes. The pie sat out for about an hour (uncovered in the trunk of the car for the 30-minute ride) and it was still nice and warm in the middle when it was served soon thereafter. Definitely eat it warm or hot. Next time I make this I’ll add a thin layer of cream cheese over the pastry – to keep the juice from waterlogging the pie shell. And a word of caution: Gruyere is what I used here – it was beyond wonderful – but it’s a very salty cheese, so I might not add any additional salt. Mozzarella can also be very salty too.

The result? Oh gosh. Juicy. Creamy. Cheesy. Flaky. Tomatoey. All over perfection. I’m writing this as we just had a tiny wedge as leftovers. I heated it in the microwave and it was just SO SO good. Can’t wait to have an occasion to make it again – before all the tomatoes are gone for the season.
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Savory Tomato & Gruyere Pie

Recipe: Elise at Simply Recipes
Servings: 8 (maybe more like 6)
NOTES: NEXT TIME-I’ll spread a layer of light cream cheese (very softened) over the bottom and up the sides of the pie crust. It needs to be solid, otherwise the juice will leak through to the flaky pastry. If using Greyere, it’s a very salty cheese, so go very easy on the salt. Also, cook the onions just a little bit first.

1 whole pie shell — 9 inch
1/2 whole yellow or red onion — chopped finely
3 1/2 cups tomatoes — cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield 3 -4 cups
1/4 cup basil — sliced in thin strips
2 cups grated cheese — (combination of Gruyere and Mozzarella or sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce — (or more to taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves for garnish

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you’ll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.
2 Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. Squeeze gently in your hands, too, to get the last bit of juice out, without pulverizing the tomato flesh in the process.
3 Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.
4 In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The mixture should be the consistency of a gooey snow ball. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.
5 Place in oven and bake until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes
Per Serving (and higher if you only serve 6 servings): 388 Calories; 33g Fat (74.2% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 37mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

A year ago: Restaurant review of the Posh Peasant in San Clemente
Two years ago: Goat Cheese with Apricot Chutney

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