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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 April 24th, 2010.

When I made this a couple of days ago I was pressed for time, but I had long enough to go searching for some new recipe, rather than winging it. I’d clipped a recipe from Food & Wine’s January issue, and decided to fiddle with it to make it more my own. Their recipe called for baking the chicken (with skin) at 450° for about 7 minutes. Nah. Didn’t want to do that. I should have pounded the breasts a bit, but I decided to try a different technique. So here’s what I did:

First I browned the bread crumbs (fresh ones – I had a package of Roman Meal multi-grain hot dog buns at hand, so I whizzed up two of them in the food processor) in a tablespoon of butter. Those were set aside, then the chicken breasts were browned on both sides. I cooked them briefly, but not all the way through. I cut them into wide slices and set them aside while I made the pan sauce. First I sautéed a shallot, then added the jot of maple syrup (you do keep a bottle of the real stuff in your refrigerator, don’t you?), sherry vinegar and some chicken broth. The chicken pieces were added back in (and turned over in the sauce so all edges had some sauce on them) and I covered the pan for 3-5 minutes until the chicken was just cooked through. The chicken went out onto heated plates. Then I added the Dijon mustard to the sauce and heated it through. That’s it. Spoon or pour it over the chicken and garnish with the toasty bread crumbs and more Italian parsley. You’ll enjoy some of the sauce with each bite. This was really delicious. I’ll be making this recipe again. The bread crumbs make the dish, in my estimation. The sauce is really good – that is an essential part too, but the crispy crumbs give the chicken a great texture. Note that this is a fairly low calorie dinner.
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Chicken Breasts with Maple Mustard Sauce and Toasted Breadcrumbs

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Food and Wine, Jan. 2010
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (to brown chicken)
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (to saute shallots)
1/4 cup shallot — minced
2 tablespoons maple syrup — (not imitation)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — for garnish

1. Lay the chicken breasts (shiny side up) between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound the breasts until they are thinner, about 1/2 inch thick. Don’t pound the thin end area.
2. In a large ovenproof skillet, melt the butter. Stir in the bread crumbs and cook over moderate heat until golden, about 4-6 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Wipe out the skillet.
3. Add the olive oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet. Cook over moderately high heat until the chicken is golden brown, 3 minutes. Turn pieces over and brown on the other side. Allow the chicken to continue cooking for about 3-4 minutes, then remove the pieces from the pan and place on a cutting board. Using tongs to hold the chicken, slice the breasts into 2-3 pieces each and let them rest.
4. Return the skillet to the burner. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil and add the minced shallot. Cook over medium heat until the shallots are just turning golden (don’t burn). Add the maple syrup, chicken broth and vinegar to the pan; bring to a boil. Place the chicken pieces back into the pan, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to warmed plates. Add the mustard to the juices in the pan and season with salt and pepper. The sauce will thicken up beautifully while the mustard heats. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Top with the bread crumbs with more Italian parsley sprinkled on, and serve.
Per Serving: 288 Calories; 12g Fat (37.9% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 76mg Cholesterol; 504mg Sodium.

A year ago: Mint Juleps with Agave Nectar
Two years ago: Caramelized Onion Sage Puffs

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  1. Lisa

    said on March 24th, 2011:

    This recipe was FANTASTIC! My family raved! Thanks so much. 🙂

    I’m SO glad you liked it. That dish is full of flavor! . . . carolyn t

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