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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 Beef, easy, pressure cooker, on February 1st, 2011.


That’s sliced pot roast in the foreground, laid partly on pasta, and the sort-of red sauce that got whizzed up in the food processor after cooking the meat in the pressure cooker.

I’m on a kitchen mission. A mission to work more diligently to clean out my freezer. I not only have a huge full freezer in my kitchen, but I have a second lower-drawer freezer in the refrigerator/freezer in our garage. That latter freezer holds mostly meat. And it holds a LOT. Enough that, were we to have a catastrophe of major proportions, I think we could live (with a generator, mind you, keeping the meat frozen) for at least 3 months without buying any meat. At a guess, 3 months. Veggies – well that’s a different matter. I have some canned stuff and a few frozen bags, but mostly my freezer is full of meat products, at least 5 pounds of different kinds of nuts, a few oddball things like frozen limeade, squeezed lemon juice from our Meyer lemon trees, chutneys of a few varieties, and some ordinary things like chili, soup (lots), bread, bacon, sausage that we have for breakfast most days, a few cookies, one dessert I made a couple of weeks ago, and some chipotle chiles.

My DH, darling that he is, often tells people how much meat we have in our reserve freezer, and that all he must buy is a Coleman stove and we’d be in business. We could set up a local soup kitchen. But we’d need that stove first, which we haven’t purchased. We should. All part of earthquake or emergency preparedness. We don’t have a generator, either. So, the next best thing is to start eating up the meat.

Therefore, I defrosted a 3-pound chunk of boneless chuck roast a few days ago. It was nicely sealed up in plastic (I have one of those FoodSaver things that seals foods of all kinds so they don’t get freezer burn). My guess is that there are other people out there like me – who really know how to pack a freezer. Right? We’re almost to the point that our kitchen freezer door must be opened carefully – like Fibber McGee’s closet, for fear something will fall out and break your toe. Most of you readers are too young to remember Fibber McGee and Molly, a long-running radio program (1935 – 1959), where one of the long-standing jokes was about somebody inadvertently opening the hall closet to a long, noisy crash of stuff. I vaguely remember the program because my parents loved the show. Once we got a television (about 1946, when I was 5) we didn’t listen to much radio anymore. But the joke about the closet lives on and it always ended with Fibber’s comment: I’ve gotta clean out that closet one of these days. My freezer, therefore, is my Fibber McGee’s closet!

The last few days I’ve been more than a bit under the weather. But I’d defrosted this roast before I got my cough/cold thing I have, so on day 3 of my cold I dug out my Fagor Duo Stainless-Steel 6-Quart Pressure Cooker and fired it up. Referring to a recipe in one of my 3 pressure cooker cookbooks, I settled on an Italian style roast because I knew my DH would enjoy having just a little bit of pasta on the side. We don’t eat much pasta because Dave’s a diabetic, but once in awhile we celebrate and always savor every bite!

The pot roast took about 20 minutes of prep (browning the meat, cutting up all the veggies and cooking them briefly), and about 1 1/4 hours to cook it all under pressure. Then I removed the meat and tented it with foil while I prepared the sauce. All of the stuff left in the pan, the veggies (except the fat I was able to spoon off the top) went into my food processor and I whizzed it up to a smooth puree. I tasted it for seasonings, then poured it out over the sliced beef and the pasta. With a green salad, that was a complete dinner.

Bottom line: it was good. Certainly not as good as my tried-and-true French Pot Roast a la Mode that I’ve used for years. That takes innumerable hours to make and bake. But since I was in sort of a hurry, it was very good. My DH loved it – really loved it. And it was on the table in about 2 hours.

printer-friendly PDF

Italian Pot Roast (Pressure Cooker)

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers and Arlene Ward, 2000
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 1/2 pounds chuck roast — boneless rump or bottom round
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 large onion — peeled, chopped
3 medium carrots — peeled, chunks
3 stalks celery — chopped
3 large garlic cloves — finely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
28 ounces canned tomatoes
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/2 pound pasta — your choice of type, or mashed potatoes or rice

1. In a large pressure cooker (5-7 quart), heat one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Dry the roast briefly with paper towels and add to the hot pan. Saute until one side is dark brown, turn over and repeat on second side, about 5 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate and season the meat with salt and pepper.
2. If there is fat in the pan you may pour it off, then add the other tablespoon of oil. Add the onion, carrots, and celery. Saute for a few minutes until the vegetables are nearly limp. Add the garlic and stir, cooking for another minute. Add the red wine, seasonings, and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, using a wooden spoon. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Stir.
3. Return the meat on top of the vegetables, adding any juices from the plate. Lock the pressure cooker lid in place and bring to high pressure. Reduce heat (using directions for your own pressure cooker) but maintain a steady steam and cook for 1 1/4 hours. Remove from heat and cool, using directions with your unit. Open lid and transfer the meat to a platter and cover lightly with foil.
4. Pour all of the veggie mixture into a food processor and blend until the mixture is pureed. Return to the pressure cooker pan and reheat. Taste for seasonings.
5. Meanwhile, prepare your choice of carbohydrate (1) pasta; (2) mashed potatoes; or (3) rice. Slice the meat across the grain and place beside and partly on top of the carb and pour the sauce over the top. Garnish with Italian parsley.
Per Serving (this assumes you consume all the sauce and fat – you may not): 802 Calories; 47g Fat (53.9% calories from fat); 49g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 153mg Cholesterol; 554mg Sodium.

A year ago: Stacked Chicken Enchiladas
Two years ago: A list of travel websites
Three years ago: Chocolate Scones (fantastic!)

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  1. Suzette

    said on October 5th, 2015:

    This recipe sounds great! I’m going to make it tonight. Thank you!!

    Hope you liked it . . . carolyn t

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