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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

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 and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. 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-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.


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 Essays, on May 22nd, 2010.

My friend Cherrie was telling me a week or so ago about how much she enjoys reading Saveur magazine. Now I’d not ever read it, so I bought an issue. And have now subscribed. Cherrie was telling me that her hubby Bud reads it from cover to cover whenever it arrives. Usually before Cherrie gets to read it. And that he’d really enjoyed the May issue’s story about refrigerators, written by Sara Dickerman. All the info comes from her article. (He was also intrigued by the article about mac and cheese and they’ve already made one of those recipes to great praise, apparently.)

Sure enough. He’s right. I found the article just fascinating. I wanted to snap photos of the page with pictures of all the old refrigerators on it, but I don’t want to get in trouble with the photo police. So I went online and found a couple of images that were on lots of sites, so figured they were safe to use.

Not only did I enjoy reading about the timeline of the refrigerator, but they included a blurb at the end about the misinformation regarding food storage in today’s refrigerators. I learned a thing or two.

So here’s your history lesson about fridges:

7th Century AD – icehouses were known to exist in Persia – cold stream water was routed into dome-shaped, tile lined huts

1803 – the engineer Thomas Moore coined the word “refrigerator”

1810s – Zinc or tin lined wood cabinets (ice boxes) become the forerunners of today’s fridge – home ice delivery made it possible – with a compartment for the ice and a tray below to catch the melt-off

1926 – Clarence Birdseye invented the blast freezer and his frozen vegetables and fruits zoomed in popularity – they produced over 500 tons a year

1927 – GE sells the first home fridge equipped with a round compressor that sat atop each unit – it cooled with sulfur dioxide

1933 – a fellow named Guy Tinkham (an engineer) invented the flexible ice cube tray at a cost of 50 cents

1933 – Crosley Radio Corp introduced the “Shelvador,” with shelves in the door, increasing space inside the fridge by 50%, they claimed

1947 – fridges with separate freezer units came on the market

1949 – the first self-defrosting units were introduced

1955 – Kelvinator introduced the Foodarama, the first side-by-side unit (8 feet wide!), which also had a non-refrigerated drawer for bananas – and supposedly it also had a built-in plastic-wrap dispenser [you ever see one of those? I haven’t]

1970’s – Fridges started adding crisper drawers, lazy Susan’s, butter compartments, and the interiors became plastic – oh yes, colors like avocado green and harvest gold were popular (yup, I had one of those)

2000s – we’re demanding more compartmentalized fridges, and the way of the future, apparently, is separate units (not necessarily put together in one place) which all cool at different temps (like meat, cheese, produce etc) – in my kitchen I have a separate refrigerator and freezer (both big) and a 2-drawer under-the-counter refrigerator unit where we store beverages and overflow from the refrigerator – AND we have a 2nd more traditional refrigerator in the garage with a bottom drawer freezer, which is where I store all of my frozen meat

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And here’s the definitive guide to how to store food in today’s fridge:

Butter shouldn’t be kept in the butter compartment – it’s too warm – it should be in the coldest place which is the front of the top shelf [I don’t think that’s where I want to store butter . . . it would be in the way of everything for me]

Leftovers should also be kept in the coldest spots – either top shelf front, or middle shelf rear [actually I do store leftovers in that area]

Meat – only goes in the meat drawer if you have one – should be kept the coldest [we have a middle, wide drawer, but it has grids that are open to the whole refrigerator . . . it’s where I store cheese, and as I learned that’s not where I should be storing cheese . . . sigh]

Crisper drawer – good for greens, produce of most types AND cheese – it’s moist (good) [well, good thing the crisper drawer is for keeping things crisp since that IS where I keep all my produce, but not cheese]

Herbs – believe it or not, THEY should go in the butter compartment (warmer spot) [wow, this was a big surprise – I keep herbs in the crisper – and actually my DH stores his injectable insulin in the egg compartment because I already knew we aren’t supposed to put eggs in those egg depressions in the fridge – they’re supposed to be left in the boxes and stored on a fridge main shelf area]

Drinks and condiments – in the door (that’s a warm spot) [yes, I do store bunches of bottles of condiments in the door, plus milk, cream, juices . . . spot on that one]

Cold-sensitive veggies (like mushrooms, corn) – should be kept in the warmest spot in the fridge – that’s the front of the bottom shelf [this was a revelation – maybe this is why mushrooms don’t keep very long in my fridge because they get too cold in the crisper – maybe they’d be best in the butter compartment . . . ]

That’s it, folks. Hope you enjoyed this little lesson in refrigeration . . .

A year ago: Seven sins of chocolate (a book)
Two years ago: Cream of Cucumber Soup (my friend Jackie’s recipe, SO good)
Three years ago: Apricot Ice Cream

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