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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, Veggies/sides, on February 27th, 2011.

green_bean_frittata

Yes, I know. This looks like a vegetable, doesn’t it? And it can be served as one, but I’ve always served it as an appetizer. An unorthodox one, to be certain. Who serves green beans as an appetizer? Well, I do. Especially if you have a meal that is more carb-centric. I always like finding a recipe for a veggie-oriented appetizer – more healthy for us, I think. And this one certainly is – especially if you use egg whites (like Eggbeaters) instead of whole eggs. The original recipe I started with called for canned green beans. Yuck. I never used anything but fresh ones, left whole.

So, exactly what is this? Well, it’s a veggie dish with some onion, bell pepper, bread crumbs, Parmesan, sherry, garlic (lots) and seasonings. If you really want to make it look pretty, layer the green beans (pre-cooked to al dente) in one direction. That’s not hard to do because you leave the green beans whole. Once it’s baked, you can more easily cut the little rectangular shapes as servings. I did do that. I cut smallish cubes of the beans (barely holding together because of the eggs and bread crumbs) and served them on a large platter with a little spatula for people to help themselves. Actually the spatula is a cookie spatula, but it was the perfect size for serving this dish. Then I suggested people take a serving on an appetizer plate. With forks.

Be sure to layer the green beans in a casserole dish (or even an edged cookie sheet would work) so the beans are about 1/2 inch thick. Higher than that and the beans will fall apart when served – because the egg part kind of sinks to the bottom. My dish above was too small (so they were thicker than they should have been), so the beans did kind of fall apart when served. But it still tasted good. Nobody seemed to mind. And I served the leftover beans as a side veggie reheated in the microwave.

Where we live we have a small town in north central California called Gilroy, near Monterey. It’s the garlic capital of the world. Once a year they hold a Garlic Festival – always in mid-summer. When it’s way too hot to go to Gilroy, in my opinion. But they have ample booths and cooking contests. Everything possible is served with garlic, including garlic ice cream, in case you’re interested. We’ve never been to the festival. But we’ve stopped in the town and one time I purchased a cookbook of compiled recipes from local restaurants, festival contributors, farmers and growers. This recipe came from “The Garlic Cookbook,” one I must have given away awhile back. If you’re interested in garlic recipes, they have a section on their website with dozens of them (this one not included – probably too old).

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Green Bean and Garlic Frittata

Recipe By: from ‘The Garlic Cookbook’
Serving Size: 7
NOTES: This is very garlicky, and it’s a relatively healthy vegetable. You can substitute Eggbeaters for the whole eggs, if desired with almost no decrease in flavor. If serving as an appetizer, I think they’re best served at room temp or slightly warm.

1/2 small green pepper — chopped
1/2 small onion — chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds green beans — Blue Lake, if possible (you may also use haricot verts, if available)
3/8 cup bread crumbs — I use Panko
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese — grated (use the good stuff and use more if desired)
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 whole eggs — beaten (or Eggbeaters)
2 large garlic cloves — minced
1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon salt — or more if needed
1/16 teaspoon pepper — or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon paprika

1. Preheat oven to 325. Prepare green beans, trimming only the stem end and leave whole. Steam or simmer in water until barely tender. Undercook rather than overcook them.
2. In a large pan sauté green pepper and onion in a small amount of the olive oil. When limp, add beans, bread crumbs, Parmesan, sherry, eggs, garlic and seasonings – except paprika. Taste it for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
3. Place bean mixture, arranging the beans in one direction, no more than about 1/2 inch thick, in 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle additional Parmesan and the paprika on top. Bake for about 20-30 minutes. Don’t over bake or the beans will get wrinkled and tough. May be served hot from the oven, or at room temp, or chill and serve cold. Can be either a vegetable or an appetizer.
Per Serving: 155 Calories; 9g Fat (54.6% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

A year ago: Cranberry Pudding Cake
Three years ago: Almond Crusted Orange Roughy

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  1. Marie

    said on February 27th, 2011:

    Carolyn, that sounds and looks fantastic. I love green beans and I adore frittata of any kind. This is going onto the to try list and soon!! Lots of love and hugs to you and Dave!! xxoo

    Thanks, Marie. Hope you like it like we do. Not exactly a traditional appetizer, though! . . . carolyn t

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