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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 Appetizers, on November 5th, 2009.

cauliflower pate

Good friends of ours, Lynn & Sue, often exchange dinners with us. We’ve been doing it for years, and always enjoy their company whether it’s at our house or theirs. Sue’s a very good cook, so we have great conversations about food and about choir/church. Lynn and Dave have guy talk – about wine, travel, and choir/church. They’re both 2nd tenors. Sue and I are both 2nd altos. The day I’m writing this [over a week ago] we just sang our little hearts out for Reformation Sunday. Our choir, which has now swelled to about 140, and may be up to 150 starting next week, was a significant part of our church service, with the help of a brass ensemble multiple drums and flute, guitar, organ, piano and a synthesizer. It was gorgeous music – both to sing and hear. We sang some of the old hymns that I know nearly by heart – Great is Thy Faithfulness, for one.

Normally I don’t use my blog as a venue for discussing my faith, but I just had to share a bit about my Christian music life. Anyway, Sue & Lynn invited us for dinner that night, even though we didn’t get home from singing completely through two services, until about 12:30 pm. I’d offered to bring a couple of things, though, to make it easier on Sue. We do that generally, the guest brings something and a bottle of wine.

I’d given Sue a list of options of things I’d thought about making, and she chose two of them. But then Lynn started joking about a dinner I fixed one night a year or so ago when I made tabbouli salad, but instead of bulgur wheat, it was made with cauliflower. I didn’t tell any of the guests what was in it. Lynn, who professes to dislike cauliflower in most forms, liked it a lot. Then I told him what was in it. He’s never forgotten that I like to slip some in under his radar.

So, of course, I had to find some kind of cauliflower appetizer. Where he wouldn’t have a clue. It’s a kind of game we play. I couldn’t find much except some Indian-type ones making roasted cauliflower, flavored with Indian spices, which sounded more like a side vegetable anyway. But baking cauliflower florets would be much too obvious. Had to find something with camouflage. So this is the one. Found it on the internet, although it was a very oddball website and I’m not going to link to it. Besides, I changed the recipe, so it’s not really anybody else’s anymore. It was called a pate so I figured I could get away with serving it to Lynn, telling him it is a bean pate.

curry pate platter It’s really a dip – and contains many of the usual ingredients for one – like cream cheese (light), and sour cream (light). But then it veered off in another direction:  hardboiled eggs, an onion, a small quantity of cannellini beans, and some cooked cauliflower. The seasonings are mild – salt, pepper, curry and parsley. As a matter of fact, the online recipe I found called it curried cauliflower pate, but the recipe didn’t contain any curry. I added curry powder and also lime juice because it needed just a little something to zip it up some. And I’d probably add even more curry powder, but didn’t want to overwhelm the palates of us all. I used less beans, less sour cream, less cream cheese, and MORE cauliflower. The online recipe contained butter, but I left it out.

I served it with some veggies and pita chips. along with a second appetizer too (an almond dip, which I’ll post in a day or so). A Greek type one based on skordalia, the Greek sauce made with baked potato. More on that one later. I also took a Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Red Bell Pepper Salad with a jalapeno dressing, which was really good (I posted that one last week). Very international menu, based on what I was bringing! Sue made a delish Mexican baked chicken dish with tomatoes, sour cream, avocado and a tomatillo sauce. And a very nice spinach, apple and pomegranate salad. Oh yes, and for dessert we had pieces of Julia Child’s chiffon pumpkin pie that I thought was fabulous. She’s going to give me the recipe.

So, you want to know how it went? Lynn tried both dips and didn’t say much at first. He then pointed to the skordalia dip and said “now, you didn’t slip some cauliflower in this one, did you?” Honestly, I could say with great laughter, “no, no cauliflower.” Sue asked him how he liked the other dip, this pate, and he said great. Liked it. We all did. When I told him it WAS cauliflower, he didn’t believe me. We all laughed and nearly finished the bowl. It was good. Not like a meat-based one (like clams) or a very major veggie one (like caramelized onions or artichokes) – in this one you really cannot taste or feel cauliflower. I liked the curry hint to it – it might not be to everyone’s taste. I liked the texture. And it’s fairly low cal and low fat.
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Curried Cauliflower Pate

Serving Size: 8

4 ounces canned cannelini beans — drained
4 ounces light cream cheese — room temp
3/4 cup sour cream, light
7 ounces cauliflower — cooked
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 small onion — cut in small chunks
2 large eggs — hard boiled
1 teaspoon salt — or more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper — or more to taste
1 teaspoon curry powder — (or up to 2 tsp. to taste)
2 teaspoons lime juice — (juice from one lime)
1 teaspoon fresh parsley — minced
2 teaspoons fresh parsley — minced and whole, for garnish

1. Using a food processor, blend white kidney beans, cream cheese, sour cream, cooked cauliflower, curry powder, lime juice, Cheddar cheese, red onion, eggs, salt, black pepper and parsley. Puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Add more curry powder if desired, and/or salt and pepper.
2. Pour into small ramekins and chill until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh minced Italian parsley.
2. Serve with crudites, crackers and/or pita chips. Serving Ideas: This tastes best with crispy pita chips. Or celery sticks. A fairly neutral something to get it from plate to mouth since the flavorings in the dip are quite subtle.
Per Serving: 140 Calories; 9g Fat (56.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 495mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Grape Sauce

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  1. megan meyers (lasswell)

    said on November 5th, 2009:

    Fun to read about you enjoying time with my folks; especially when the joke is on my dad!!! I’ll have to try to trick him into some cauliflower when they’re visiting over Christmas…
    Hi Megan – oh, by all means, see if you can pull a fast one on him. I think I should quit with the cauliflower stuff now (because he will suspect with everything I make!), so I’ll pass the torch on to you! . . . carolyn t

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