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Currently Reading

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Just finished another great book, 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 Appetizers, on October 2nd, 2009.

cheese ball whole

Cheese Ball. Brings back memories for me of nearly every celebratory party of the 1960’s. Nearly every cook made a cheese ball. They went out of fashion, for sure. But they’re actually quite good, and it took going to a cooking class with Cathy Thomas (the food editor of our local  newspaper, the Orange County Register), to try an updated version.

I was all over this cheese ball with a hint of curry powder in it. The sharp cheddar plays a minor role here, although you do know there’s a sharper cheese in it. But it’s the toppings that set this apart. The mango chutney, the toasted coconut (unsweetened), toasted pecans, green onions and dried cranberries. No 1960 cheese ball ever had that kind of stuff on it. Cathy served this cheese ball with water crackers, but the star accompaniment is slices of apple. That’s a marriage made in heaven.

And, did I tell you this recipe is EASY? Really. The cheese ball itself is made in the food processor (cream cheese, sharp cheddar and curry powder). And you form it into a disk shape (mine was more round there in the picture, I’d advise making a flatter type, so more of the toppings will stay on the top). It’s chilled for awhile. Then you make the toppings – I toasted the pecans and the unsweetened coconut together, although the coconut will toast faster, so it might be better to do them separately.

cheese ball cut You chop up some green onions (including the green tops) and dried cranberries (I chopped them because sometimes they’re really big and maybe people don’t want so much of them in one bite). Once you take the cheese ball out of the refrigerator (about 30 minutes before you want to serve it), spoon on the mango chutney. All the toppings kind of adhere to the sticky chutney, so be generous with it. The pecans and coconut go on first, then the green onions and cranberries last. Sit back and wait to hear raves from people about it. I thought I’d have plenty of leftovers when I served it last week to some friends. Well, they ate 3/4 of it, so when I served the remainder I packed on some more toppings. It was barely enough. I’ll be making this again and again. Our friends are going to get tired of it, I’ll be serving it so often. Does that tell you you need to MAKE THIS? Hope so.
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Bombay Cheese Ball

Recipe: From a cooking class with Cathy Thomas,
Food Editor, Orange County Register
Servings: 8 (maybe)

8 ounces cream cheese — room temp, cut into pieces
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese — room temp, grated
1/4 teaspoon curry powder — or more to taste
1/2 cup mango chutney — or more if preferred (chopped, if pieces are large)
2 tablespoons coconut — unsweeted, flaked, toasted
1/4 cup toasted pecans — chopped
1 tablespoon green onions — finely minced, including green tops
1 1/2 tablespoons dried cranberries — chopped

1. Combine cream cheese, grated cheddar and curry powder in food processor fitted with metal blade. Puree until smooth. Shape cheese into a ball (it’s be soft) or flatter disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3-4 hours. Can be made a few days in advance.
2. Unwrap cheese ball and place in the center of a serving platter. Sprinkle all the garnishes on top, starting with the chutney (so the other things will stick to it), and ending with the dried cranberries. Serve with apple wedges and water crackers.
Per Serving: 200 Calories; 15g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 176mg Sodium.

Two years ago: Southern Peach Cobbler

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  1. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 15th, 2012:

    Hi Carolyn…this cheese ball sounds awesome! Can’t wsit to make it. Since I’ve never bought chutney wanted to know what brand you use. Just discovered your sight and really love it, especially your ‘favs’…… Thanks!!

    Hi Jeannie- if I’m inspired I make my own, but the recipe called for bottled mango chutney. Most large markets carry at least one type. I’m on a trip right now and can’t go to my frig to see what I have. Major Greys? Something like that. . . . Carolyn t

  2. Jeannie Wolff

    said on September 21st, 2012:

    Hi Carolyn, man, is this stuff good! I made it last night and had a little,and it was good, but today it is much better. I noticed the chutney dried out a little so, the next time I make it I’ll really load it on. Have you ever tried or considered a different chutney? And, you’re right, it’s MUCH better with apple slices. I used Granny Smiths since that’s what I had. You?

    Hi Jeannie – I don’t remember for sure, but I think I used a red apple type. Am so glad you liked it! . . . Carolyn t

  3. Debbie McDonald

    said on December 14th, 2012:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I had this cheese ball today made by your friend and mine, Susan. It is delicious and so different from the standard cheese ball. I love reading and trying your recipes and your site is part of my daily blog reading.

    Thank you, Debbie. Yes, Sue is a dear friend – you’re lucky to have her living near you now! And thanks for reading my blog so regularly! . . .carolyn t

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