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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 Desserts, on June 10th, 2008.

ginger scones ready for baking

My problem is: I love “afternoon tea.” It’s just so fun. And I love the food that is typical of such a tea. So it was that my friend, Cherrie, and I joined hostess forces and invited 10 of our friends to tea at my house last week. We started planning it a couple of months ago, and within about 5 minutes we’d decided on the menu and who would be invited. The date was set, invitations were mailed, and we both did an ample amount of cooking. Anyone who says doing an “afternoon tea” is easy is crazy. Even with both of us cooking and preparing the food, and with one of the guests helping an hour ahead and at hour after (thanks again, Joan), it was a tremendous amount of work. We made everything (except the fruit tarts) ourselves. I got to dig out all of my grandmother’s fancy frilly china plates and teacups and saucers. And used some beautiful pink hydrangeas from our garden as a centerpiece.

We had decided to do it at lunchtime, so we called it a “Luncheon Tea.” But the menu was typically English tea. We had:

Pink Champagne with Strawberry Puree Ice Cubes
(I didn’t take a photo of that – oh darn – but it was VERY pretty and everybody loved it – no recipe for this one)

Watermelon Blueberry Soup
(delicious – just delicious – most people liked it, although not all)

Chicken Salad Sandwiches
(different, with chopped smoked almonds on the outside edges)

Ham Mousse Sandwiches
(very different – with whipped cream in the filling)

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches with Dill
(just buttered bread, smoked salmon and fresh dill peeking out of the edges –
no recipe for this one as it’s so easy)

Mini Fruit Tarts
(the only thing we purchased)

Sarah’s Ginger Scones
(uses candied ginger pieces in the batter)

Golden Raisin Scones
(my tried and true favorite, posted long ago)

Chocolate Scones
(posted recently, also well liked)
(All of the scones were served with lemon curd, clotted cream and black currant jam)

Chocolate Ribbon Dessert
(like a chocolate pie but in a 9×13 pan, cut into small squares)

Earl Grey Tea
Lemon Rose Tea (herbal, from Peet’s)
Marco Polo Tea (a blend from Mariage Freres in Paris)
(from when I was there 2 years ago, and this was the hands-down favorite)

In the next week I’ll likely post most of these recipes. The only one I’m missing is the ham mousse (from a cooking class herrie has it and I’ll get it from her.

The ginger scones are Sarah’s recipe – from a cooking class in San Juan Capistrano. Sarah is from Scotland, and over the years we enjoyed several of her family favorites on the cooking school menu. These are easy to make, and I decided to do something totally different – I made the scones and froze them all raw the day before the tea. Gosh, why didn’t I do this years ago? All you have to do is take them out of the freezer about 20 minutes ahead of baking (when you turn on the oven) and increase the baking time by a few minutes (maybe 5 or so). I may never, ever, make them fresh again – just pop one or two out of the freezer when I want them for breakfast. Or a bunch when I need to serve something for my DH’s Bible Study Group. Of course, they won’t keep indefinitely in the freezer, but will likely be fine for a couple of months!
printer-friendly PDF

Sarah’s Ginger Scones

Recipe By: Sarah at Our House South County cooking school
Serving Size: 12 (maybe 14)
Serving Ideas: Be SURE to serve with clotted cream (Devon cream) and ginger preserves.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter — cold, cut in tiny bits
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup candied ginger — chopped, or more if desired (also called crystallized ginger)
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon sugar — for top glaze

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Prepare silpat (or parchment) lined baking sheet (one large or two smaller ones). In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and blend with a pastry cutter, or work the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips. Do this until it forms fine crumbs. (Alternately, use a pastry blender and cut and mix until the mixture is like fine crumbs.) Add the candied ginger and combine uniformly. Add the buttermilk and stir with a fork just until it comes together and forms a dough.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about one minute. Roll out to thickness desired (about 3/4 inch is best). Use biscuit cutter to cut rounds. Pat together the scraps and reroll to cut more. Place scones on the baking sheet and brush tops with egg mixed with the sugar.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden on top. Serve immediately. These may also be frozen raw. Defrost at room temp for 20 minutes and bake about an additional 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 9g Fat (29.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 467mg Sodium.

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  1. Jon Stout

    said on June 11th, 2008:

    This is a great post.

    Your descriptions are really mouth watering.

    Could I get your permission to reprint your scone recipe on our Golden Moon Tea website?


    Jon Stout

  2. Carolyn

    said on June 11th, 2008:

    Jon – yes, you may. I’ve emailed you separately with stipulations (that you maintain the title with Sarah’s name in it, and that you provide a link to my blog too).

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