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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 Breads, on January 26th, 2011.

chocolate_breakfast_muffins

Oh yes. Oh my. Decadent. Comforting, especially if you’re a chocolate lover like I am. A chocolate high, so to speak. About 321 calories each (not as bad as you might think). Made with Dutch process cocoa, so it’s not as full of fatted chocolate as you might think, either. The whole recipe contains a cup of chocolate chips, so not all that much per muffin. All that to justify why you need to make these.

This recipe comes from the files at King Arthur Flour. I read their blog regularly, and it was a post sometime last year. I printed it out at the time and it went into my to-try file. The particular morning when I needed to make these, it just jumped out at me. You know how that is.

Easy to make, really, as long as you have all the ingredients. There’s nothing special about these unless you don’t usually have espresso powder on hand. My daughter-in-law gave me a small jar of King Arthur’s granulated espresso powder for Christmas, so I got to use my first 3/4 teaspoon of it in this recipe. And it does call for Dutch process cocoa, as I mentioned above. I had some of Hershey’s “Special Dark,” which is a combo of Dutch and regular cocoa. But you can use one or the other, really.  Dutch process cocoa is a slightly muted flavor, that’s all.

The batter is mixed up in a bowl – you don’t use a mixer – which makes it a tad easier to put together. You mix up the dry ingredients separately, then the wet ingredients separately, and combine them, also pouring in the melted butter at the same time. I used my big cookie scoop to blob batter into the 12 muffin cups and after sprinkling the top with raw sugar, into a hot oven they went. The recipe indicated 20-25 minutes, but mine were done in 20. I’d recommend you check them no later than 20 minutes. You don’t want to over bake them. They cool for 5 minutes before you remove the muffins from the pan, cool slightly, and serve warm, if at all possible! They won’t last but a few minutes if you have hungry eaters in your house. I took them to my morning Scrabble group and we all devoured one apiece. They are rich and very satisfying. A keeper. If you have leftovers, do freeze them so they’ll be as fresh as possible when you need them a few days later. These can be served as cupcakes – I noticed that a few readers of King Arthur’s website recipe said they’d reduced the sugar a bit. They are just the best when they’re still barely warm.

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Chocolate Breakfast Muffins

Recipe By: King Arthur Flour website (blog)
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: These muffins are rich and tender, high-rising, and deep chocolate, both in color and flavor.

2/3 cup dutch-process cocoa powder — (2 ounces)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour — (7 1/4 ounces)
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar — (9 3/8 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon espresso powder — optional
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips — (6 ounces)
2 large eggs
1 cup milk — (8 ounces)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 cup butter — (4 ounces, 1 stick) melted
about 3 T. raw sugar or Turbinado sugar for topping (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a standard muffin pan with paper or silicone muffin cups, and grease the cups.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips. Set aside.
3. In a large measuring cup or medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and vinegar. Add the wet ingredients, along with the melted butter, to the dry ingredients, stirring to blend; there’s no need to beat these muffins, just make sure everything is well-combined.
4. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin; the cups will be heaped with batter, and the muffin will bake into a “mushroom” shape. Sprinkle with pearl sugar, if desired.
5. Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven, and after 5 minutes remove them from the pan, allowing them to cool for about 15 minutes on a rack before peeling off the muffin papers or silicone cups. Yield: 12 muffins.
Per Serving: 321 Calories; 16g Fat (42.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 59mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

A year ago: Creamy Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Croutons
Two years ago: Curry Pasta Salad (from Namibia)

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 26th, 2011:

    Let me second the endorsement on this one! I had been looking for a chocolate chocolate chip muffin for 30 years. I found chocolate chip muffins that were plain with chocolate chips, others that were chocolate but more like cupcakes than muffins, still others that were extremely dense and heavy. Then I found this recipe on the KAF website. These are my dream chcolate muffins! The texture is perfect–yes, you could use them as a cupcake, but they do have the texture of a muffin, in my opinion, not too smooth and fluffy. They are absolutely wonderful. Yours look beautiful. The ones featured on the KAF site had more spread, a sort-of mushroom top, and I like more of a domed look like the ones in your photo, but in my case, I made 18 muffins instead of 12, to be sure they wouldn’t overflow. They came out just right (nicely domed and not skimpy looking), and with a third fewer carbs and calories per muffin, which helps a lot, since I do have to limit my carbs.

    Thanks, Donna. And you’re right, these are just so good. I gave most of them away, but yesterday I cut one in half and ate it at room temp. Still delish. . . carolyn t

  2. Marie

    said on January 27th, 2011:

    Oh my is right Carolyn!! These look wonderful. I have several of the KA baking books and I love them. Their recipes are really good for the most part. Love your comment to Donna. I can just picture how good that would have tasted a few days later and at room temperature. I must give these a try. Sending love to you and Dave from the UK this morning! xxoo

    Thank you, Marie. Appreciate your love coming across the pond. . . carolyn t

  3. Connie

    said on January 27th, 2011:

    Don’t you just love KAF’s website and blog? Have you tried their pumpkin pie recipe? It’s very good and will be my go-to recipe from now on. If they have more than one pumpkin pie recipe, it’s the one with black pepper in it and you let the filling sit in the refrigerator overnight before putting in the crust and baking. I will be trying the chocolate muffins.

    I DO love their blog, and their website. I feel like the test cooks in the KAF kitchen are my friends. Like I do with many of the other bloggers I read regularly. I haven’t tried the pumpkin pie recipe – with black pepper? I’ll have to go look that up. The last two years we’ve been so happy with Costco’s pumpkin pies that no one in our family has wanted to bake pies from scratch. . . . carolyn t

  4. nicola

    said on November 18th, 2011:

    Love this recipe. I added dried cranberries and walnuts and excluded the choc chips and expresso… delicious!

    Glad you enjoyed it! . . . carolyn t

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