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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 Pasta, Veggies/sides, on April 30th, 2008.

armenian rice and noodle pilaf

Only vaguely do I recall when Rice-a-Roni came on the market. Way so many years ago. 1958 to be exact. It was a time when food producers were coming up with just the beginnings of boxed mixes. Cake mixes had been around for awhile, but not much of anything else. I thought the rice mixture was quite good. Tasty for such an easy combination in a box. But then the food police told us about sodium, and I began noticing how much was in lots of the foods I purchased. There still is a lot of sodium in many prepared foods. I started avoiding those products, especially after the medical experts told us we were only supposed to consume a max of 2,000 milligrams a day. It’s easy to consume double or triple that if you eat out and/or eat pre-packaged foods. Because Rice-a-Roni was so high in sodium I stopped buying it. By the way, it’s now owned by Quaker Oats.

Beginning in the late 1960’s I started avoiding nearly all packaged and ready-made foods altogether, in favor of making things myself, adding only fresh food, fresh vegetables, my own herbs and spices. And I’ve continued to adhere to that with only a few exceptions. There are a couple of cake mixes I do use for some family favorites. I do buy an occasional frozen vegetable, some Trader Joe’s mixes (that contain no additives or preservatives). And once in awhile I buy Pillsbury biscuits because I have one recipe that is just so good and easy. I try to buy organically fed meat. Sometimes I buy organic produce. Not always, depending on the quality or freshness of it.

Having done a search for this posting today, I discovered that the combo of rice and pasta is an Armenian thing. I thought it was Italian, but no. The founders of Rice-a-Roni actually created it from something served to them by an Armenian neighbor. Thus, the rice boxed mix was born. And why they must add so much sodium to it is beyond me. But they sure enough do.

Because I always walk right past that boxed mix section in my grocery store, I’d forgotten all about the rice/noodle combination until a recipe was printed in my local food section last week. Labeled Carrie’s Rice, it is identical to hundreds of other pilaf recipes out there on the internet. Some add mushrooms, garlic, maybe some dill weed, pine nuts perhaps, but they all contain noodle-type pasta or orzo, white rice, butter, onion and chicken broth. Some recipes brown only the pasta; others brown both pasta and the rice. If you use low-sodium chicken broth, as I did, you’ll likely want to add some salt to it. And you can vary the amount of butter. Many recipes call for a full stick of butter for 1 cup of rice and 1 cup of pasta. I cut it down by half, and think that was still too much. So I’ve reduced the amount even more in the recipe below. It’s a very quick side dish. The kids will like it, and since you’re doing all the cooking of it, you know exactly what’s in it. Unadulterated rice, pasta, butter and canned broth. Maybe some onion, and/or garlic too.
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Armenian Rice & Noodle Pilaf

Serving Size: 6

1 cup long-grain rice – raw
1 cup vermicelli – broken into small bits, or thin linguine
1/2 cup onion – chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup mushrooms – cleaned, sliced [optional]
3 tablespoons pine nuts – toasted, garnish
2 teaspoons fresh dill — minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a heavy skillet or saucepan melt butter, then add pasta, rice and onions. Stir and cook until the mixture is lightly browned. Add mushrooms at this point, if using, and cook them for about 2 minutes.
2. Add broth all at once, bring to a simmer, cover and cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes, until rice is completely cooked, but not mushy. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper). Garnish with pine nuts and dill, if using. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 246 Calories; 8g Fat (26.1% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 24mg Sodium.

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