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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 Appetizers, on May 4th, 2010.

I had this all ready to post right around Easter, then promptly forgot it was in my “draft” queue. So, it’s a bit late, but . . . I didn’t want to look at it in my drafts until next Easter!

Ever watched the youtube video about how to peel hard boiled eggs? It was on somebody else’s blog a year or so ago and I couldn’t believe it. I watched it, but doubted it.

I don’t know about you, but periodically I have difficulty peeling hard boiled eggs. I did all the tricks – and my most common technique was to tap the wider end – after boiling – until it was cracked moderately, then I soaked them in ice water for half an hour or so. Supposedly the water seeps behind the membrane and loosens it. And most of the time that works. But not always.

Of course, you know the part about never hard-boiling newly purchased eggs. The chemistry is that air has to permeate the eggshell – to slightly dry out that membrane –  to allow a minuscule air pocket around the egg. That just takes time – a week or so while the eggs rest and dry out in your refrigerator. Once you boil them, it supposedly makes for easier peeling. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try – no matter how many days I wait, the shell just doesn’t peel easily.

SO . . . I tried this new trick from the video – adding baking soda to the water. I used 2 teaspoons of soda to boil about 16 eggs (I was making a lot of them). Our grandson Logan tried. He was “grossed out” about putting his mouth on the shell. He managed to get 2 of the 4 or 5 he tried, to pop out. But, gosh, it took a whole lot of huffing and puffing. I tried 3 and was successful with one, but it wasn’t worth it. So I stood at the kitchen counter and reverted to my usual method of letting the eggs soak in ice water for at least 30 minutes and peeling them the old way. We had problems with about 4 eggs out of 3 1/2 dozen. Not bad. But I probably won’t try the blowing trick again. We tried smaller holes, blowing from different ends, only blowing the ones that were perfectly intact (no cracks other than the mashed-in ends). None of that worked well. The one I was successful doing I blew from the large end. But the next one I tried – nope.

Surely every cook reading my blog has made hard boiled eggs, so I won’t belabor this. Except to tell you a few things:

(1) Simmer the eggs; don’t boil them.
(2) Rinse in cold water, then add ice cubes to the pan/bowl and let them soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Lightly crack the larger ends so some of the water can permeate. Then peel them . . .
(3) Trim a tiny little flat spot at each END of the eggs (i.e., don’t cut them in half lengthwise), then cut them in half, across. Each egg half will stand up perfectly. You can probably see this in the photo up top.

Then make up the filling. My deviled eggs aren’t all that different, really. But I often revert to a recipe my former business partner, Audré, used to make. She added curry powder. I loved them, and still do. Here’s what goes in my eggs:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Dijon mustard
  • Sweet pickle relish (not much, and no juice)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Curry powder (try a little bit first – you can always add more)

Taste it to see if it needs more salt, or pepper. Or curry powder. Sometimes I make half regular and half with curry powder. Not everybody likes curry. I took 3 dozen deviled eggs to church on Easter morning. We folks who sing in the choir had to sing lots of music on this celebration day, at 3 services (8, 9:30 and 11). During the 2nd service, after we sing, we leave the sanctuary and we eat breakfast, potluck. I’d signed up for eggs. I didn’t use curry for those because I wasn’t sure our choir friends were all that adventurous. I made more for Easter dinner, and in those I added the curry. Yum.

A year ago: Italian Crumb-Crusted Chicken
Two years ago: Mango Strawberry Salsa
Three years ago: Lemon Velvet Gelato/Ice Cream (a real favorite!)

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  1. Connie

    said on May 4th, 2010:

    Hilarious video! My method for hard boiled eggs is to cover eggs with water by an inch or two, bring water to a rolling boil, turn off heat and cover pan. Set timer for 12 minutes. Then drain off water from eggs, shake the eggs in the dry pan to crack all shells, cover with cold water to cool. I used to get discolored egg yolks all the time but since I started using a timer for “poaching” the eggs and cracking the shells (a tip from Alton Brown), they are pretty and yellow. Will try the baking soda thing, though.

    Well, good luck! Do let me know if it works for you! . . . carolyn t

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