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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 Desserts, on May 20th, 2010.

With friends coming over for a Scrabble-fest, I needed a morning kind of bread. I had mis-filed this recipe in the “bread” section. It was only after I’d gathered all the ingredients together that I read – oh, this is actually a dessert, even though it says corn bread. But, well, maybe it would be okay anyway, I hoped. And yes, it was! Clearly, it is a dessert – it’s sweet (although it’s certainly not as sweet as I’d anticipated) and crunchy from the cornmeal. It was very easy to make.

I’d read the recipe over on FoodGal’s blog last year. It’s from Sherry Yard’s cookbook Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills: Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever (she of Spago pastry chef fame). Food Gal absolutely raved about this recipe, calling it a star, and billed it as an academy-award winning corn bread [dessert]. With those words, I knew I had to try it sometime. Making the bread/cake itself was fairly ordinary (although there is more sugar than in a bread, of course). Once out of the oven, though, the cake is brushed with a honey-water-butter mixture that sinks into the holes you’ve made all over the top of the cake. You can barely see in the photo above the honey mixture as it sunk part-way down. I topped it with some powdered sugar; just because. I didn’t want my guests to be confused this was a bread. Results? It was very good. And I liked it because it wasn’t as sweet as some corn cakes could have been!
printer-friendly PDF

Honey-Glazed Spago Corn Bread (Cake)

Recipe By: From “Desserts By the Yard” by Sherry Yard, via Foodgal blog 7/09
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs — at room temperature
3 ounces unsalted butter — (3/4 stick)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
GLAZE:
3 ounces unsalted butter — (3/4 stick)
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup water

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray foil with baker’s spray.
2. Sift together cornmeal, all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt 2 times. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Melt butter and immediately whisk into eggs in a slow stream. Whisk in oil, milk, and buttermilk. Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined.
4. Scrape batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate pan from front to back and continue to bake for 10 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. To make the glaze: While corn bread is baking, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add honey and water, and whisk until blended.
6. When corn bread is done, remove from oven and poke holes all over the bread, about 1/2 inch apart, with a toothpick. Brush with the glaze and allow to cool.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 20g Fat (48.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

A year ago: Stewed Eggplant and Tomatoes
Two years ago: Almond Pound Cake with Limoncello
Three years ago: Mister Charlie (casserole)

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  1. Carolyn Jung

    said on April 20th, 2011:

    Glad you loved this recipe as much as I did. The powdered sugar is an inspired touch, too. You remind me that I need to make another batch of this soon to satisfy my craving. 😉

    Yes, indeed, we liked them a lot. Thanks for visiting my blog . . . carolyn t

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