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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 Breads, on March 27th, 2011.


You can’t really see these biscuits very well. Sorry. I cut large squares, rather than smaller round biscuits since these were going on a casserole – actually they went in the bottom of the casserole, and more on top. I’d picked up a used book – a cookbook, of course – called Biscuit Bliss: 101 Foolproof Recipes for Fresh and Fluffy Biscuits in Just Minutes. Every time we visit Placerville, where one of our daughters and her family live, I stop by a cute used book store in town. And invariably I come out of there with a new (but used) cookbook in hand. This time I bought three (a memoir about Julia Child, written by one of her associates for about 20 years, and Maya Angelou’s cookbook, which is almost more story than it is recipes, although each short chapter does contain one recipe relating, somehow, to the story she tells about her growing up. Or her family.

Finding several recipes in this biscuit book to try, I finally settled on this one. I liked the idea of light and fluffy, and my daughter did have some Crisco on hand. When I use shortening these days I buy the non-hydrogenated kind, but this was just one meal, so I used Crisco that was on the cupboard shelf. It’s a long drive to the local grocery store, besides, and not all stores carry that other type.

Picnik collageThese took no time to mix up – there’s a dry mixture and a wet mixture. The dry mixture includes butter, which needs to be cut into the flour part (I used my fingers) since my daughter didn’t have a pastry blender. The dough is rolled out to a thin layer and you just cut. I used a square cutter because it was easier to use for a squarish-shaped casserole. At left you can see the bottom biscuits (with cutter), then I scooped in the casserole and added more biscuits on top.

The recipe suggests baking this at 475°. I didn’t bake it that high because it had a casserole underneath it, and if I had it to do over I’d have baked the casserole for about 20 minutes first, to get the mixture hot, THEN I’d have added the biscuits. But biscuits had to go on the bottom too, so I just winged it and baked the casserole at 400° for a longer period. The biscuits were supremely light and crispy-crunchy. Delicious texture. Everybody ate their fill, me included!

So, who’s Sam, you ask? The cookbook author, James Villas, says Sam is a Texas friend of his, who has a far and wide reputation for making the lightest and fluffiest biscuits around. Villas says it’s from the cake flour, the shortening and the egg in it. Whatever, or however, they were really very good.

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Sam’s Cloud Biscuits

Recipe By: From Biscuit Bliss by James Villas, 2004
Serving Size: 24

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening — CHILLED
2/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg — beaten

1. Preheat oven to 475°.
2. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the two flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the chilled shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter or rub with your fingertips until the mixture is very mealy.
3. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the milk and egg, then add to the dry mixture, and stir with a fork just until the dough follows the fork around the bowl.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead gently 4-5 times. Roll out the dough about 1/4 inch thick and cut out rounds or squares with a 2-inch cutter. Roll the scraps together and cut out more biscuits.
5. Arrange the biscuits fairly close together on two baking sheets. Bake in the center of the oven just until golden, 10-12 minutes.
Per Serving: 84 Calories; 5g Fat (51.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 132mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken with a Garlic Lemon Crust
Two years ago: Meat – about buying good quality
Three years ago: Vermont Cheddar Bread

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