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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 Veggies/sides, on May 10th, 2008.

Without much of any equivocation, I can say that asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. I like it  just about any way it comes – even raw – but the best prep for me is oven roasted. So when I was reading a posting over at A Year from Oak Cottage, a blog I read regularly, and Marie talked about preparing her crumbled asparagus, I perked up, printed out the recipe, and tried it.

The greatest of superlatives are needed here. Fabulous. Delicious. Moist. Pretty. Perfect. All those things. I made these for a dinner party last night, and I’d say the winning recipes of the evening were the dessert (yes, I’ll post it in a few days) and this asparagus. I made two pounds of asparagus, and there are maybe 4 spears left. Of course, I was serving 12 people, but everybody loved these, with me included.

Yes, I’ll be making these again. And again. They’re that good. I did change the recipe just a little bit – only the proportions – because I ended up with too much mayo left over, but this isn’t one of those exact kinds of recipes anyway. If you want to use less mayo altogether, as long as you rub each spear with enough mayo so the crumb mixture will stick, do so. Nobody will know it’s rubbed with mayo – it isn’t visible. Maybe you could coat the spears with olive oil and it would work too. You dip the spears in the mayo (rubbing it on with your fingers worked best), then my DH helped by rolling the spears in the panko crumb-cheese mixture. It does help to have two sets of hands since you muck up your fingers in the mayo and further muck them up if you go back and forth to the crumbs.

So, I suggest you get yourself to your local farm stand or market and make these right away quick. Asparagus season is almost over, and I’ll be making these again soon. Buy plenty because you’ll eat more of these than you anticipate!
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Crumbled Asparagus

Recipe By: Marie’s blog, A Year at Oak Cottage
Serving Size: 6

1 pound asparagus
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 cup panko — or dry seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese — finely grated

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400*F. Lightly spray a shallow baking tray with some cooking spray or line sheet with silicone pad (Silpat) and set aside.
2. Wash asparagus and dry it really well. To prepare spears for cooking, grasp at either end and pull the tip end over and down. The stalk will break naturally at the point where it starts to get tough and stringy. Use the fibrous ends for stock or for your compost pile. If the asparagus is thick-skinned or fibrous (take a small bite to test), peel the spears from just under the head to the stem end. If serving guests, you might want to cut off the ends – a straight cut – which will look a little prettier.
3. Combine the dry bread crumbs and the cheese in a shallow dish and set aside.
4. Rub each spear of asparagus with the mayonnaise, making sure each one is well coated (use your fingers for this), then carefully roll it in the bread crumb mixture to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining spears.
5. Bake in the heated oven for 12 to 19 minutes (depends on the size of the asparagus), until the crumbs are nicely crisped and the asparagus is crispy tender. Serve.
Cook’s Notes: I did peel off the outer skin of the asparagus for about the lowest inch or two on each spear. Give the asparagus room on the baking sheet so the spears don’t touch (otherwise they steam rather than crisp). Watch the time as you don’t want to overcook them. Test one for just crisp tenderness. They get cold quickly, so serve immediately
Per Serving: 134 Calories; 11g Fat (68.5% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 100mg Sodium.

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  1. Maggie Pohlman

    said on May 11th, 2008:

    My husband & I were the lucky recipients of this FANTASTIC receipe. This platter of asparagus went around the table “several times” & there were many ooohs & aaaahs. I am no gourmet….but I’d try this in a second!! Crunchy & delightful!

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 13th, 2008:

    Aparagus is just in season here and I am lucky enough to live near a small-holding where I can pick it for myself. I always roast it but have never tried coating it before, I can imagine the textures and flavours so have no doubt that I should enjoy this.

    How nice of your dinner guest to comment.

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