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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 Breads, Brunch, on June 18th, 2010.

Oh, I do like that photograph! Just the right amount of blur, and the muffin front and offset from the center. Did you know that, in the art world, it’s a no-no to ever place your object/subject in the center? It’s always supposed to be off center. Even portraits. And usually you should have some kind of angle/triangle in your picture too (see the muffin tin edge on the right?). So I set this picture up with that in mind. With the crumbs still sitting there on the side. I didn’t pose the crumbs – they were just there when I extracted that one muffin. Dave and I promptly ate the muffin.

Back years ago, when my DH and I were still career folks, we used to leave early some workday mornings, in separate cars, and stop for breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, a restaurant that’s right on the route we both took to work. And mostly we ordered their crock of oatmeal that came with a little bitty bowl of brown sugar and another of raisins, plus a pitcher of milk. We’d do this at least once a week, sometimes twice. And when you order some breakfasts at Mimi’s, you also get a choice of juice and/or a muffin. And they have a couple of muffins on their menu, but this buttermilk spice one was the one I always ordered. Heaven’s knows how many calories are in one of theirs (they’re much bigger than the one above). It always came with a huge, wide falling-off-the-edges top, smothered in those nutty cinnamony crumbs. Once in a great while I’d buy a few of them and take them to the office to share. They’ve always been a big favorite.

So it was with great glee a year or so ago that I read over at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (one of my favorite blogs) that the recipe is online at Mimi’s website. I was astounded! Really? Yes. I promptly copied it over into my recipe software, thinking for sure they’d take that sucker down momentarily – that they’d been way too hasty giving away that famous recipe. Surprise – it’s still there! Meanwhile, I’ve looked at the recipe many times but never had the reason to make them.

I’d considered just running down to Mimi’s and buying them, but my recollection was that the price was considerable, even 15 years ago. So since I had the recipe, and I needed a bunch of muffins for a breakfast we had for a big group of houseguests, why not make them myself. Totally easy. It’s just an ordinary muffin batter, and ordinary ingredients in the topping. But put them together and they’re a wow in my book.

There you can see the batter in the paper cups. The topping mixture is in the center (sugar, walnuts, cinnamon and a drizzle of buttermilk to hold it together). On the right are the muffins ready to pop in the oven. The only caution I read was that you must put the muffins in the oven immediately after you add the topping – otherwise the topping sinks down into the batter. You definitely don’t want that to happen.

So even if you don’t have a Mimi’s in your neighborhood, you can try these wonderful muffins yourself! I definitely DO recommend them. Eat them right away, or freeze them. They will keep for a day, but I’d suggest you freeze them instead.
printer-friendly PDF

Buttermilk Spice Muffins

Recipe By: Mimi’s Cafe
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: Recipe yields 12 standard-size muffins, or six jumbo size muffins. If using the jumbo muffin pans, reduce the oven temperature by 25° and increase the baking time 5-10 minutes.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 whole eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup buttermilk — plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup walnuts — finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Grease the baking tins with butter. Or you can also use paper liners.
2. Preheat oven to 375°. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and the butter together with an electric mixer. When they are thoroughly mixed, add eggs and beat one more minute.
3. Sift the flour into a separate bowl, together with the baking soda, nutmeg and the cinnamon. Add the flour and the buttermilk to the first mixture, mix at low speed until smooth. To avoid lumps in the batter, add the wet and dry ingredients alternately, in small amounts.
4. Make the nut topping: Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.
5. Fill each cup 3/4 full of batter. Add a full, rounded tablespoon of nut topping on top of each muffin cup of batter. Bake immediately or the topping will sink to the bottom of the muffin.
6. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. A toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin should come out dry. Home ovens heat differently from commercial ovens so you may need to adjust the temperature or the baking time accordingly.
Per Serving: 349 Calories; 15g Fat (38.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 322mg Sodium.

A year ago: Madeira Onions (made from sweet Noonday onions from Noonday, Texas)
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal (sambal is like a salsa)
Three years ago: Pesto Pea (and Spinach) Salad (an Ina Garten recipe)

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  1. Lori

    said on June 20th, 2010:

    I love buttermilk in recipes. It always works out so nicely.

  2. Angela

    said on November 20th, 2010:

    Thank you so much for this. I tried this recipe 3 times and they all turned out kind of dry. They were soft, but dry. What am I doing wrong? Also, is the batter supposed to be really thick? I wondered how the toppings of walnut and spices would sink if it were so thick.

    Hi Angela: I guess I should go back and double-check my recipe online with the Mimi’s recipe at their website. The muffins are not usually dry – reduce the baking temp a little or remove them a few minutes sooner. And the topping really just sits on top only. It doesn’t sink in – isn’t supposed to. . . carolyn t

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