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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 Beef, on May 14th, 2008.

barbecued short ribs
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved short ribs. My mother used to prepare them with some frequency, because our family all liked them. I don’t remember now how my mother prepared them. Over the years I’ve made them in numerous ways myself, but this recipe (new to me, but probably an old rendition) is so awesome. So perfect for this cut of meat.

Over the last few days I’ve mentioned a cooking class I attended last week about comfort food. Well, this recipe is the all-star winner in that category. The chef who prepared this, Deb Buzar, credited her mother-in-law for this recipe. As a professional chef, Deb said she tried countless versions of short ribs, but every time she kept going back to her mother-in-law’s recipe, and finally decided this is her favorite. She no longer even looks at other recipes. She said the sauce “made” the dish, and I wholeheartedly agree. You do want to serve this with a carb that will take the sauce, though – like mashed potatoes – she served it with the Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots and Truffle Oil that I posted recently. You could use rice, but mashed potatoes are just the perfect side for these.

The chef started off the class by laughing, saying “bet you thought I was crazy to choose short ribs to make for a 2+ hour cooking class.” Then she slid a pressure cooker over for us to see. She’d brought her own – a 10-quart Fagor she uses annually for canning and in between for lots of other things too. She loves her pressure cooker and uses it very often.

The cooked short ribs set aside while I whizzed up the sauce.

I don’t own one anymore. I was given one back in the 1960’s as a wedding gift. I did use it for some years until I burned the bottom of it when I dashed outside for some reason and left artichokes cooking away in it. An hour later the artichokes of course, were burned to a crisp inside and the pan had bowed such that it was no longer usable. I felt very guilty about that and kept the darned pan for years hoping somebody could figure out how to fix it. Nope. Nada. Finally tossed it out about 15 years ago. Meanwhile, some cookware manufacturers have come out with new versions. They work infinitely better than the older variety with the rocking gadget on the top. Now there are electric models too, but from reading reviews about them I’d say the stovetop ones appear to have more control. At least for now they do. The chef and the store owner both recommended the Fagor brand (made in Spain) as the best. Later note: I’ve since bought a pressure cooker, and use it frequently!

All the sauce gets whizzed up – if you have time, chill the stuff overnight and remove the fat – otherwise it gets homogenized into the sauce.

The sauce is so very easy – chopped celery and onion (raw) combined with water, white vinegar, ketchup, sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard. You brown the chunks of boneless short ribs (silverskin removed and cut into large 2-inch pieces) on two sides, then combine the sauce and meat. If you have a pressure cooker, it takes 28 minutes to process. If you bake it in a 350 F. oven, it takes about 2 hours, maybe 2 ¼ hours. It can also be done in a crock pot for about 8-10 hours too.

The calories and fat on this recipe are outrageous. I’d forgotten how bad this meat is for us. Short ribs are just riddled with fat. They used to be a cheap cut of meat. Not so much anymore. I purchased the boneless ones at Costco. The chef recommended this be made a day or two ahead, refrigerated, then you can remove the fat from the top of the sauce. It’s so gosh-darned good. And yes, more comfort food at its finest. Technically this should serve 8 people. But if they’re hungry and they like this, well, 4 pounds of meat won’t feed more than 6.
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Barbecued Short Ribs

Recipe By: Deb Buzar, professional chef
Serving Size: 8

4 pounds short ribs [boneless, if possible]
2 medium onions — diced
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
2 cups ketchup
1 cup celery — diced
4 tablespoons sugar [optional, but is in the original recipe]
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard

1. Dice the onions and celery into approximately similar size quarter-inch pieces. Set aside in a large bowl.
2. Measure water, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard and add to bowl. Stir until well mixed. Set aside.
3. Trim meat of all silverskin. Cut ribs between the bones or in 2-inch pieces if using boneless. If using bone-in ribs, tie around meat with kitchen twine (each piece). Season with salt and pepper. In a large roasting pan pour a small amount of olive oil and sear ribs on top and bottom only, just long enough to brown nicely, then remove to a plate. Do not crowd meat. Continue browning meat until all pieces are finished. Do not burn the meat as you’ll have to discard the nice fond on the bottom of the pan and clean it well in order to continue.
4. Pour sauce into the pot, then add the ribs. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to a very low simmer and bake at 350 for 2 hours or until fork tender. Transfer meat to a hot platter. Puree remaining sauce in blender (don’t overfill or it will blow the lid off). Serve meat with sauce. May be made up to several days ahead and reheated. After cooling the sauce, you may easily remove any hardened fat from the sauce and discard before reheating.

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  1. Sid Khullar

    said on May 15th, 2008:

    Hello there,

    You have a fan 🙂 Check out her comment at:

    BTW: Love those ribs!


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