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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 Chicken, on February 1st, 2010.

stacked chicken enchiladas

Even though I’m a huge fan of Mexican food, I rarely make it at home because we have a plethora of good restaurants (from fast-food type to mid scale) to go to. But I had a bunch of leftover chicken begging to be made into something. This Sunset Magazine recipe (from May of 2008) was just the ticket. Enchiladas are usually corn tortillas rolled around a filling. Served individually. But this one is a stacked type – with each of these stacks serving 2 people. What you see in the photo above is a stack of 5 corn tortillas (supposed to be 6 but my package of tortillas only contained 11 tortillas – go figure) with the chicken filling and grated Jack cheese in between each layer. Then the top is finely sliced cabbage and cilantro in a light fresh lime juice dressing. Very tasty.

The prep for this dish took longer than I’d anticipated. The recipe said an hour, and yes, that’s true. Maybe even longer. You wouldn’t think so, but it did take awhile. The chicken chile sauce mixture took time – cooking onion, chopping up the chicken, gathering up all the other ingredients needed (raisins, pine nuts, spices, chipotle, tomato paste, brown sugar and white wine vinegar). Then grating the cheese, slicing the cabbage (I didn’t have any radishes called for in the recipe). But once you start assembling the stacked enchilada, it came together in a hurry. While the enchilada baked in the oven I made the cabbage slaw.

We liked it. I won’t say this was a stand-out recipe, but it was good. If you don’t have great Mexican restaurants in your neighborhood this might be very satisfying. The tortillas are dipped in canned Las Palmas chile sauce, and when they bake they don’t get firm or chewy – they stay soft. Actually I didn’t like the tortilla brand – you can see the tortillas were starting to fall apart in the photo. They were too flimsy, I guess. But it didn’t matter at all because the taste was fine. The Sunset recipe indicated a serving was 1/4 of the above stack. Uhm. No. We ate half (so 3 tortillas per person). Next time – I’ll add about 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn to the chicken mixture. I think it would add a nice texture change and a bit more substance.
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Stacked Chicken Enchiladas

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, May 2008
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: Next time I make this I’m going to add about a cup of frozen corn (preferably the fire roasted from Trader Joe’s) to the chicken mixture. It would add color and texture. The recipe indicated a serving is 1/4 of one of the stacks. Not in my book – we each ate half of one, so this recipe will serve 4, no more.

1 cup onion — chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
28 ounces red chile sauce
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon chipotle chile canned in adobo — finely minced (plus 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 3/4 cups cooked chicken — cubed
12 whole corn tortilla, 6-inch
3 cups Jack cheese — shredded
2 whole radishes — thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups cabbage — green, very thinly sliced (shaved)
1/4 cup cilantro — chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375°. In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, cook onion with olive oil, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in 3/4 cup red chile sauce, the pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, and vinegar. Add chicken, then bring mixture to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat. Pour remaining red chile sauce into a pie pan.
3. To make enchilada stacks, dip 1 tortilla in chile sauce in pie pan to coat. Place on an ovenproof dinner plate. Repeat with another tortilla on a second plate. Spread each tortilla evenly with a heaping 1/3 cup chicken mixture, then with 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layering with 8 more tortillas, dipping them in sauce, then adding chicken mixture and cheese to make 2 stacks of 5 layers. (You’ll use all the chicken but not all the cheese.) Dip the last 2 tortillas in sauce, place each, curved side down, on stack, and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
4. Bake enchiladas until hot in the center and cheese bubbles on top, 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, pour remaining chile sauce from the pie pan into a microwave-safe pitcher and cook in a microwave oven on full power until simmering, 1 to 2 minutes. To make the salad, stir together radishes, lime juice, and extra-virgin olive oil in a large bowl. Just before serving, stir in cabbage and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Top each enchilada with a small mound of salad and cut in thirds or quarters to serve. Offer with remaining salad and chile sauce to add to taste.
Serving Ideas: This is a complete meal – with the cabbage slaw on top (and extra on the side) you have everything you need for dinner.
Per Serving: 829 Calories; 35g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 54g Protein; 77g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 112mg Cholesterol; 1200mg Sodium.

A year ago: A list of travel websites
Two years ago: Chocolate Scones (oh yes, these are delish)

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