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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 Cookies, on August 31st, 2009.

almond spice wafers coffee

It’s been several months since I’ve made any cookies. My friend Norma hasn’t been able to eat cookies for several months, and I had successfully convinced myself that I didn’t need to eat any if I wasn’t giving more than half of them to her! But we were having guests for dinner, and banana gelato was on the menu. I needed a cute cookie to stick in the top.

I have a copy of Martha Stewart’s newest cookie book, appropriately named ‘>Martha Stewart’s Cookies. What’s unique about this cookie cookbook is how it’s divided into chapters. There’s one for Light & Delicate; another for Soft & Chewy; yet another for Crumbly & Sandy; and Chunky & Nutty; also Cakey & Tender; and Crispy & Crunchy; and lastly Rich & Dense. This recipe came from the Crispy & Crunchy chapter. At the beginning (the table of contents, if you will) are pages (with the above titles) with photographs of each and every cookie. It makes deciding on a cookie SO much easier. You don’t have to read the recipe, or flip through dozens of pages to find pictures. You can see on msl cookies photos just 8-10 pages at the beginning exactly what each cookie looks like. There’s a picture of two of the pages from the Soft & Chewy section. Don’t want a sandwich cookie? No problem, you can gloss right over those. Anyway, it’s a cool method. I’ve had 2 or 3 cookies from this cookbook so far, and have been very pleased.

Perhaps I’ve mentioned it here before, but I have a real lack of willpower when it comes to cookie dough – eating it straight out of the mixing bowl. My favorite is chocolate chip. But this one, oooh, I’ll admit, this cookie dough was mighty tasty. From the brown sugar that sweetens them, plus the delicious spices throughout (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves). I licked the spoon and promptly put all the prep parts in the dishwasher so I wouldn’t be tempted to continue searching for smidgens of batter somewhere.

almond spice wafers pans Once you mix up the dough, you pack it into two smaller sized loaf pans (lined with plastic wrap), gently press it down evenly, fold over the wrap to seal it up and put them in the freezer overnight. Here’s what the pans looked like, at right.

After freezing them overnight, let them sit out for about 10 minutes so the dough is a bit easier to cut, then use a sharp knife to cut thin, thin slices. 36 of them out of each little loaf. They go onto Silpat-lined baking sheets, are stuck with a few sliced almonds and baked. That’s it. VERY easy.

Kitchen Tip:

Allow the dough to defrost about 10 minutes before trying to slice them into thin wafers.

The cutting and slicing is a bit tricky. Doesn’t matter a bit as far as the taste is concerned, but it’s almond spice wafers just bakeddifficult to cut even slices. Leaving the frozen dough out that 10 minutes does help a lot, though.

My cookies were not as perfect looking as in the Martha Stewart style. Now that I know more about the difficulty in slicing them evenly, I’ll hopefully do better on the next batch. Yes, there will be a next batch. These are good – would be especially good for Christmas.
printer-friendly PDF

Almond Spice Wafers

(like Moravian spice cookies)
Recipe: April 2008, Martha Stewart Living
Servings: 72
NOTES: I baked mine on Convection Bake at 385 degrees. They were done in 9 minutes. I did not freeze the cut cookies before baking, though.The cookie dough block is a bit hard to slice evenly. If you start slicing before it’s defrosted enough (softened that 10 minutes) you’ll have more uneven slices. The cookies DO spread a little on the baking sheet.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter — (1 cup) room temperature
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar — packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. Line 2 mini loaf pans (6x3x3) with plastic wrap. Leave generous edges which you’ll fold over the top of the cookie dough.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add eggs and spices. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions.
3. Press cookie dough into pans, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze overnight (or up to 1 month).
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from 1 pan. Let soften slightly (about 5-10 minutes). Cut eight 1/8-inch-thick slices with a sharp knife. Cover remaining dough, and freeze in pan until ready to slice and bake.
5. Place slices 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Top each with 2 to 3 almond slices. Freeze until firm, 5 minutes. Bake until dark golden brown, 9-10 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack. Repeat.
Per Serving: 64 Calories; 3g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 29mg Sodium.

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on August 31st, 2009:

    Hope I had a hand in coverting you to the Martha Stewart Cookie Book Fan Club! The ones on the cover are my favorite.

    I DO like the cookbook, although have only made 2 or 3 recipes so far (not including the ones you brought to our house that night). This one was a real winner. . . carolyn t

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