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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 Salad Dressings, Salads, on May 31st, 2008.

syrian pita bread salad with lemon dressing
Searching through my salad recipes the other day, I rounded up about 5-8 recipes that I’ve made before (but prior to when I started photographing all my cooking) or haven’t made, but want to. As soon as I saw the piece of paper this recipe was on, it flooded back fond memories. Back in the days when I was working. Once in awhile we’d have a potluck lunch. We had some goooood cooks amongst our staff, and I count a number of my favorite recipes as products of those potlucks. Among them, that I have blogged about: Vicki’s Harlequin Pinwheel Cookies, Kathy’s Monterey Scalloped Potatoes, Kathleen’s Almond Custard. Others that I haven’t blogged:  this, Joanne’s Syrian Bread Salad. Also her Triple Chocolate Cookies. And Debbie’s Apple Pie. Or yes, Kathleen’s Pretzel Dessert, and Eileen’s Pineapple Cream Cheese Dip. Audré’s Curried Deviled Eggs. And on and on it goes.

Joanne is Swedish by heritage, and the last I heard, she was living outside Paris with her hubby and family. She used to kid herself that she’s a SAP, a Swedish American Princess. She married a successful businessman, who happens to be Lebanese by heritage. So Joanne learned to cook a lot of Lebanese dishes including this salad, which is often called fattoush (pronounced fah-toosh). Joanne brought it to several of our potlucks, and we all loved it. It’s tart (from the lemon juice dressing), crunchy (from the pita) and altogether very refreshing (from the combo of cucumbers, green onions, tomatoes, parsley and mint). It also has the addition of zahtar. Since I assume that some of you don’t know much about zahtar, you’re about to be educated.

Zahtar is to the Middle East like curry powder is to India. Meaning that it’s ubiquitous to that region. But, zahtar is also a combination of herbs and spices and can be different from one cook to another, just like curry powder. If you’re interested in a lot of history, read Wikipedia’s explanation of zahtar. But suffice to say that zahtar is generally a mixture of oregano, hyssop, marjoram and thyme. My zahtar (that I buy from Penzey’s) contains sesame seeds, sumac (which gives it the red color), thyme and salt. So, you can see how different purveyors will make a different product.

The salad is very easy – providing you have the fresh lemon juice (check), the pita (check), the mint (I prefer fresh, check), tomatoes (check), green onions (check), and parsley (Italian, check). I always have the other stuff on hand (lettuce, in this case romaine, cucumber, garlic, scallions, olive oil, zahtar and ground allspice). Since I’m a huge fan of lemon juice in salad dressings, there’s no question I love this salad. The original recipe didn’t indicate it, but I toast the pita bread pieces in the oven for about 4-6 minutes until just beginning to turn golden brown. That way they’re a bit crunchy in the salad.  I also prefer the fresh mint (a lot of it, actually, and I use more than the recipe indicates). The two recipes Joanne gave me had one with fresh and one with dried. So, your choice. Although the salad is called a bread salad, the pita chips aren’t predominant in the salad. It’s a green salad, but with the lovely crunch of toasted pita chips. And the delish lemon dressing. And mint. Well, you all got it. I love this salad.
printer-friendly PDF

Syrian Pita Bread Salad

Recipe adapted from: Joanne H.
Servings: 6
NOTES: To toast the pita, separate into pieces and spray with olive oil spray, then bake at 400 for 4-6 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool before proceeding. And since lemons vary in tartness, taste the dressing – it may need more or less (in which case add a bit more oil).

1 large pita bread round — separated, chopped, toasted
1 small clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice — or more if preferred
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon zahtar
1 head Romaine lettuce or other salad greens
1 cup cucumber — diced
2 whole scallions — minced
1 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint — chopped
4 medium tomatoes — chunks

1. In a blender container combine garlic clove and salt. Blend and allow to sit while you gather other ingredients. This draws out the garlic flavor, makes it more prominent.
2. Add allspice and zahtar, then oil and lemon juice to blender bowl and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour into a container. You may not use all the dressing in the salad.
3. In a large salad bowl combine all the remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over the salad and taste. May need additional salt. I also add pepper, although it’s not in the original recipe.
Per Serving: 237 Calories; 19g Fat (67.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 436mg Sodium.

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  1. Sue (coffeepot)

    said on June 1st, 2008:

    I love bread salads. Thanks for the info on zatar because I had never heard of it.

  2. Carolyn

    said on June 3rd, 2008:

    You can make your own zahtar if you have the ingredients. I don’t suppose zahtar keeps all that long (any herbs and spices mixed up together seem to lose potency much faster) but I don’t use it all that often. The most common thing (based only on observation) is that they use it for sprinkling on sliced tomatoes, which are standard fare for breakfast, lunch or dinner anywhere in that part of the world. We saw it in both Egypt and Turkey – sitting next to the platter of quartered tomatoes, along side the hard boiled eggs and sliced cucumbers (that was for breakfast).

  3. yvette

    said on July 5th, 2010:

    I served this salad at my Fourth of July party. The dressing was so tasty. I also loved the crunch from the pita in the salad. I found the spice, zahtar, at Whole Foods. This does belong on “Carolyn’s Fav” list.

    Thanks, Yvette. So glad you enjoyed it! . . . carolyn t

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