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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 easy, Salads, on July 26th, 2010.

Did you ever taste something – way back in your youth – and you never knew how to make it? And you’ve still not found out? Even though you’re a foodie? And you cook a lot? And you read a lot of cookbooks? And you know how to do internet searches? And you’ve still not found the recipe? That’s what this post is all about.

The neighbor who made marinated tomatoes and let me taste just a tiny bite, served them to me when I was in my 20’s. She would not share the recipe. She said it was her family’s secret recipe. Darn. My palate wasn’t as fine-tuned as it is now – sometimes I can dissect what’s in a dish if I really think about it. I close my eyes and allow the taste to roll around in my mouth. But sometimes flavors are very elusive. Like salty flavors – it could be salt itself, or it could be Vietnamese fish sauce in small quantities. I don’t suppose I could tell the difference, actually.

In any event, I’ve never been able to find a recipe that satisfies me – enough that I’d think it was the recipe. But this one comes close. I thought I’d try it as-is first, without making many changes to it, then if it worked, I’d try it again adding shallots. I do remember there were shallots in the marinade. At the time I don’t think I knew what shallots were, but I could tell they weren’t garlic, and they weren’t onions, either. Years later I had an ah-ha moment when I discovered shallots in a gourmet market and they were frightfully expensive. (And, no, I didn’t buy any.)

The marinade also contained oil and vinegar, I think. Maybe some lemon juice. And pepper and salt. But that’s all I could determine. At the time I’d never even heard of marinating tomatoes. Why, I thought? And yet when I tasted them they had a lovely piquant taste. Puckery almost. Yet the tomato flavor shone through. Especially with the summer tomatoes in full swing. I can even describe to you what kind of a dish this neighbor served them in. I was that tuned into wanting to have more of them. She’d put them in a 10×14 Pyrex dish, with each tomato perfectly flat in a single layer. Each slice was from a tomato about the same size. She didn’t even use the smaller ends. And there actually wasn’t any parsley on it. Well, TMI, I know . . .

So over the course of my life I’ve always honed in on any recipe that called itself a marinated tomato. Or if I saw a salad recipe using sliced tomatoes with anything on it. I’ve tried recipes up the gazoo over the years. Of course, I’ve had ample summers since my 20’s to test different methods too. Even though this may not be the recipe, it’s a great recipe. An easy recipe, that’s for sure. Colorful too. Makes an attractive plate to serve to guests. On a hot, summer night.

Now, this marinade is a lot about Italian parsley, as you can see from the photo at the top. A lot of parsley. Maybe too much. But the dressing is interesting. Well, I need to explain about the recipe – it appeared in our local newspaper, eons ago. There is/was a column each week along the lines of  “You Asked for It,” where readers submitted recipes to queries from other readers. Old time recipes they’d lost in a move. Recipes from grandmother’s time for pickles, perhaps. Or a restaurant recipe given out once upon a time. Anyway, this one must have made the rounds here in Orange County because two people had heard of it – the person who asked (for a recipe for “Mrs.. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes”) and the person who answered. Who in the heck Mrs.. Nylander was, I have no clue. I looked up on the internet for the recipe and Mrs. Nylander and found nothing. Although I did see that there was a Mrs. Nylander who served at an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, or something like that. Maybe she was from tomato country and it was her contribution to help sell tomatoes! Maybe one of you, my readers, know about this person? If so, please let me know. I’d be curious to find out.

I did make one change to the recipe – the original calls for tarragon wine vinegar (usually that’s a white vinegar, I think). And the recipe calls for “prepared mustard.” Well, I don’t even own hotdog mustard, so it would have to be Dijon. But I DID have some tarragon mustard (good stuff, imported from France, and it’s not like I use it very often!!!). So, I did change the recipe to include the tarragon mustard and upped the red wine vinegar. Regular wine vinegar. Do use good tasting tomatoes (I used heirloom and some vine-ripened ones). Since I did this post, I’ve made these tomatoes several times. The most recent time I used parsley and fresh mint (that’s the picture you see just above this – I used small vine-ripened hydroponic tomatoes. Great combination. So, you see, you can vary the herbs you put in it.

So how was it? Fantastic. I loved, loved this dish. And it was incredibly easy. Looked so pretty. I don’t think I’d marinate them for all that long, though – maybe an hour. But I think my search is over – I need look no further for marinated tomatoes! Whoopee!

printer-friendly PDF

Mrs. Nylander’s Marinated Tomatoes

Recipe By: Adapted from an ancient newspaper clipping, The Orange County Register
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you want the best flavor, use heirloom tomatoes. To remove the skin, you can dip tomatoes into just simmering water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove, and the skin should come off easily. Alternately, if you have a swivel, serrated edged peeler, it will peel raw tomatoes quite well. If you don’t have tarragon mustard, add some fresh tarragon to the dressing mixture and use Dijon mustard instead. The original recipe called for red tarragon vinegar and regular red wine vinegar (equal quantities).

8 whole tomatoes — firm, peeled
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
2 whole cloves garlic — crushed, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons tarragon mustard — or Dijon plus fresh tarragon minced

1. Cut tomato into 1/2 inch slices and place them in a rimmed, shallow serving plate. Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over the tomatoes (evenly as possible).
2. In a measuring cup combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. Stir well to combine, then pour evenly all over the tomatoes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. Allow tomatoes to sit out at room temp for at least 20 minutes before serving. Do save the dressing (drain it through a mesh sieve to remove the wilted parsley and tomato seeds) as it tastes great on any kind of greens or other vegetables.
Per Serving: 124 Calories; 11g Fat (77.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 356mg Sodium.

Three years ago: Brunch Grantinee Eggs

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  1. Bob Smith

    said on July 26th, 2010:

    I will definitely have to try this. I too have such an experience with marinated tomatoes in my youth. A family friend married Suzi a French lady, before returning to the US after WWII. Suzi would make the tomatoes and they were heaven. I try to replicate it often in the summer. The taste is never exactly right, but what does after all these years. Sometimes the dish had chopped hardboiled eggs…but not always.

    Have you asked Suzi how she makes them? Or is it the same thing – no, it’s a family secret? I like the idea of the hard boiled eggs. I’ll try to remember that! Well, I’m tickled with this new recipe and will be making them again during the tomato season. . . carolyn t

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