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Currently Reading

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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.


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 Appetizers, on September 22nd, 2010.

Recipe Tip:

Use the leftovers spooned onto a block of cream cheese, or on top of pizza, or as a topping for chicken breasts.

A week or so ago my friend Cherrie and I went to a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter. Not only was the class held at an adorable home in Laguna Beach (I want to move in there; see Heydie, the hostess pictured below in a limited view of her kitchen), but the food was especially good. Tarla made a couple of things with prosciutto in the class – although not this appetizer. It was good all by itself. She actually had some dough for making flatbread (above) but I think I’d serve it with some lightly toasted pita bread, or even toasted baguette slices. Or, better yet, some sangak bread from our local Middle Eastern market.

Ragout is a term usually reserved for main dishes, I thought, so I went online to look it up. Wikipedia says: “The term ragout (French ragoût) refers to a main-dish stew. (The etymologically related Italian ragù is a sauce such as Bolognese used typically to dress pasta.) The basic method of preparation involves slow cooking over a low heat. The potential ingredients are many; ragouts may be prepared with or without meat, a wide variety of vegetables may be incorporated, and they may be more or less heavily spiced and seasoned.”

So, this ragout isn’t a main dish, but it’s definitely stew-like. An appetizer/stew if you want to associate the word origin here. It’s a mixture of onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, maybe sugar, golden raisins and basil. For me, the golden raisins are the secret ingredient, if you could say there is one. For this appetizer Tarla used it as a topping for bread. I think it would be fabulous as an appetizer scooped on top of a big cube of cream cheese. And Tarla mentioned serving it on top of a grilled or cooked chicken breast. Or on pizza too. So if you make this, you’ll have numerous options of how to use up the leftovers.

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Sweet Pepper Ragout

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Serving Size: 8
Notes: Serve a small spoonful of it on top of flatbread. Can also be served as a relish on top of cooked chicken breasts. Mediterranean mixed spice includes: rosemary, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon and salt.

1/2 cup olive oil
1 whole onion — thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Mediterranean spice rub
3 large red bell peppers
3 large yellow bell peppers
2 large garlic cloves — finely minced
3 medium tomatoes — vine-ripened, peeled, seeded, diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup golden raisins — plumped in hot water, drained
2 tablespoons fresh basil — thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove seeds and veins from the peppers and thinly slice. Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat; add the onions and spices, then saute until softened – about 8 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and stir well. Add sugar and raisins. Add basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
Per Serving: 187 Calories; 14g Fat (63.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 7mg Sodium.

A year ago: Pork Chops with Sweet and Sour Cabbage
Two years ago: Tiramisu Angel Cake Torte, but this other one is a real tiramisu –  the best Tiramisu

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  1. Marie

    said on September 23rd, 2010:

    I would love to do a cooking class like that with a friend Carolyn. They always sound like so much fun, and fun shared is twice the fun! That looks fabulous. What is in the spice rub? (I am guessing oregano, garlic and maybe fennel?)

    If you read the recipe, on the headnotes I list them: rosemary, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon and salt. . . carolyn t

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