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Currently Reading

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Just finished another great book, 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 Veggies/sides, on December 8th, 2010.

saffron basmati rice

After we had our big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving I piled all the bones, a bit of the skin, and some of the meat that I chose not to pick off, into my big crockpot and left it to simmer with a couple of quarts of water. It simmered overnight. By morning I had this lovely big pan full of thick turkey stock. Along with a bunch of little, tender pieces of turkey too (you can see a long strand of it in the left foreground above). After saving the meat pieces, I strained the broth to remove all the bones, skin and some of the little pieces of junky tissue, and it had almost no fat in it.

leftover turkey with basmati

Going to my to-try file I found a recipe that I’d read on someone else’s blog. I wasn’t so enamored with it as the blogger was (see link in last sentence below). My DH said “you can throw out the rest of that.” Sigh. I haven’t, because I figure I’ll eat it, even if he won’t. It’s rare that I make something my hubby simply won’t eat, but this dish was one. (Not the rice, just the turkey part.)

This reminds me of a story  . . . but let me just say about this above recipe, that I altered the ingredients a little. That sets the stage for my story  . . . years ago I was good friends with a gal who went to college with me. She married the same week I did (this was in 1962), and we ended up moving close to one another (by happenstance). In a matter of 5 years she had a whole passel of children, was a stay-at-home mom of the first order. Cooked everything from scratch, including all her own bread. One day she made a dessert – let’s just say it was a kind of Boston cream pie dessert – and raved about it, and she shared the recipe with me. A few weeks later I made it, but was short on time and I used a box mix for the yellow cake and a package of quick-cooking pudding for part of the filling. I wasn’t so thrilled with the results and mentioned it to my friend [one of my early lessons – if it’s your friend’s recipe, you don’t always tell your friends everything]. She quizzed me about what I’d done. After telling her how I’d changed the recipe to save time, she was hugely annoyed and informed me that if I wasn’t going to make things exactly the way she gave me the recipe, then she wasn’t going to give me any more recipes! It’s now 45 years later, and I still remember her lecturing me! She and her family moved to Oregon in the 1970’s and we’ve lost touch.

So perhaps, because I changed the recipe I made here today, it wasn’t like the recipe I printed out. The blogger would probably scold me for not adhering to her recipe exactly. She had used fresh, raw chicken, marinated it in yogurt and stuff, then flash-fried it. No sauce at all (there’s no sauce in the picture above, just some nuts on top). Me? Well, I had leftover turkey. So I coated the nice tender bite-sized breast meat pieces with the yogurt mixture and flash fried it too (quickly, as it didn’t need any cooking, just warming). The mixture was a tad on the dry side – but maybe it’s supposed to be that way – it’s a rice dish, not a curry or a stew. But it was too dry for me. So with the leftovers of that I added a jar of Trader Joe’s Thai green chile curry sauce. That almost made it worse!

BUT, the rice was fantastic, so I’m giving you that part. It will be made again. And again. Because of the texture of the rice (it’s actually more like a pilaf) and the flavor (saffron). I made a nice big batch of it and will freeze quart-sized freezer bags of it for future meals. It’s a Nigella Lawson recipe.

printer-friendly PDF

Saffron Basmati Rice Pilaf

Recipe By: Originally a Nigella Lawson recipe
Serving Size: 8

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
4 cups turkey stock — or chicken broth
1 whole lemon — zest and juice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
3 whole cardamom pods — gently crushed with meat mallet
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts — or other nut for garnish

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter with olive oil. Once it’s shimmery hot, add the rice, stirring it to coat the rice. Allow to cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Add the saffron, cardamom seeds, turkey or chicken stock, and the lemon zest and juice.
2. Bring to a boil and cover tightly. Turn heat to very low and cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, about 10-15 minutes. Do not over cook the rice.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 5g Fat (21.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 1123mg Sodium.

A year ago: Butternut Squash Soup with Amaretti Cookie Crumbles
Two years ago: Chocolate Mousse in the Blender
Three years ago: Harlequin Pinwheels

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