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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 Breads, on January 5th, 2010.

zucchini muffins

Sorry this photo isn’t better – I’d intended to take more photos – I just plain forgot – and when I remembered, these muffins were all gone – but at least I’d taken this one picture, a real close-up using a new lens. Do notice the little dots of moisture here and there in the muffin  . . .

Nearly every Christmas my cousin Gary from northern California comes to visit. He’s a single guy. Very tech oriented (he’s a retired programmer from Hewlett-Packard), and helps me with lots of little things – giving me instruction about html (the stuff that runs how this website looks) and tweaking my computers. Would you believe I have four computers – five if you count my iphone. (And my DH, Dave, has a computer, but he rarely uses it.) I own two desktops at home, an old laptop (that’s going to be retired soon) and a new netbook I use when I travel. Gary’s a member of Mensa, and in his spare time he tutors high school kids in the programming of robots (for an annual international competition). And he always offers to help me cook too. I’d had several recipes I’d wanted to try but I wasn’t up to it because of my upper respiratory infection. We ate out more than usual during his visit.

Anyway, Gary is wheat intolerant, so when he visits I try to make new things for him to try. This time he took home about four recipes – two he asked for, and two I decided he should try. I did do a bit of cooking on days when I felt good enough, and I made these muffins for him to have with his breakfast. Generally we make a trip to Whole Foods so he can buy some GF crackers and bread. But he ate all of these muffins first and liked them. The recipe came from over at Kalyn’s Kitchen blog. Kalyn adapted the recipe from a GF cookbook called The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Anderson. Kalyn is a South Beach Diet fan, so no refined sugars, etc.

If you like light, fluffy, traditional muffins made with flour, these might not satisfy you. These are made with almond flour. Not almond MEAL (which I do buy at Trader Joe’s and use for other things), but blanched almond FLOUR, which is a finer milled product – looks and feels a bit more like flour. But of course, it isn’t. The fat content of these muffins is high – but it comes from the natural oils in the nuts (the almond meal and the minced pecans), not from added fat (although there is one T. of oil in it – for six muffins!). So, if you want to tame down carbs, or have a wheat intolerance, give these a try.
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Low-Sugar and Flourless Zucchini Muffins with Pecans (Gluten-Free)

Recipe By: From Kalyn’s Kitchen blog, she was inspired by Zucchini Bread from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elena Amsterdam
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: The muffins don’t rise much at all – so fill the muffin cups almost to the brim. They’re also very moist. Not dense like fruitcake for sure, but they are almost dripping with moisture. With only a T. of oil in it, the fat comes from the ground nuts, a healthy type.

1 cup blanched almond flour — (not the same as almond meal)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 whole egg white
1/3 cup sugar — or Splenda
1 tablespoon brown sugar — (or an additional T of Splenda)
1 tablespoon canola oil — or grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon buttermilk — could probably use milk
3/4 cup zucchini — grated raw, loosely pack into measuring cup
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Measure 1 cup almond flour into medium-sized bowl. (If flour has been stored in freezer, let it come to room temperature for 10-15 minutes.) Add salt, baking soda, and cinnamon to flour and use a fork to combine and press out any lumps.
2. Put 1 egg and 1 egg white into small bowl. Add Splenda and brown sugar and use a hand mixer to beat until the mixture has tripled in size, about 2-3 minutes. (You shouldn’t beat it until the eggs begin to form peaks like meringue.) Gently stir in canola oil and buttermilk.
3. Wash zucchini and grate with large side of a hand grater. Squeeze water out of zucchini and pat dry between a few sheets of paper towels if it seem wet, then loosely measure out 3/4 cup of grated zucchini. (Zucchini doesn’t have to be completely dry but shouldn’t be dripping water.) Measure 1/2 cup pecans, then chop coarsely with chef’s knife.
4. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, only stirring enough to barely combine, then gently fold in the zucchini and pecans. Spray 6 muffin cups (or muffin tin) with non-stick spray or oil, then divide mixture evently into cups.
5. Bake muffins about 45 minutes, or until top is browned and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (It does take this long.)
Per Serving: 248 Calories; 14g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 220mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pumpkin Cornbread Muffins (also GF, made when my cousin was visiting in 2008)
Two years ago: Roast Lemon Chicken

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  1. Kalynskitchen

    said on January 5th, 2010:

    Thanks for the mention, glad you liked it. I’d appreciate it if you would add a link to the recipe on my blog, thanks!

    Sorry, Kalyn! I’m usually very diligent about doing that – just forgot when I went to look up the cookbook info. It’s fixed now. Thanks for the great recipe! . . . carolyn t

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