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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 Pork, pressure cooker, on April 24th, 2011.


The latest issue of Food and Wine magazine had a quick (and easy) method of making carnitas (pork) tacos. Two of our grandchildren were visiting the past week, and I know they enjoy Mexican food, so this seemed like an easy entrée. I served it with a green salad, and that was dinner.

The pork shoulder roast should be trimmed of noticeable fat, cut into small chunks, and it’s pressure-cooker cooked for 25 minutes. Do run the pressure at a low level if possible. Also, don’t put much water in the pan – it makes some fluid (water and fat) as it cooks, but after the meat is cooked, you mix the limited amount of fluid with the three spice powders (ancho, chipotle and achiote) to make a kind of sauce on the meat at the end. The meat chunks are drained, then briefly fried in a bit of vegetable oil – to caramelize the outside edges a little. Then you just pile some pieces onto a hot corn tortilla, add some cilantro, a squirt of lime juice and some sliced avocado. If you desire, put out some shredded cabbage, and cheese and let people help themselves. Result? Well, this isn’t quite as flavorful as a many-hour roasted carnitas roast, but for a quick weeknight dinner this was just fine. Flavor was good and it made for an easy cooking experience. I do have another recipe on my blog for a caramelized pork carnitas also. That recipe requires a bit more cooking time than this one, but it has some added steps too. Both are good, but if time isn’t a problem, I’d opt for the caramelized one which also has a bunch of cheese added to it as well. I adapted the magazine recipe a little (I used more pork and I’m glad I did because we barely had enough for 5 people), so the recipe below has been changed with my additions and changes.

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Pressure Cooker Pork Carnitas Tacos

Recipe By: Adapted from Food & Wine, May 2011
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: You want very little fluid in the bottom of the pressure cooker when you add the spices. Start with less than 1/4 cup, add the spices, then add more of the broth as needed to make a sauce. The nutrition info does not include calories for the tortillas, cilantro and avocado. It’s important that you don’t allow the pressure cooker to steam too much – you want it to be under very low pressure. Some cookers are adjustable for 15-25 psi. Use lower setting if possible.

3 pounds pork shoulder (butt) roast — boneless
1 teaspoon achiote paste — a dry paste product
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder salt, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil — for frying
about 10-12 6-inch corn tortillas, lime wedges, 1 cup minced cilantro, 1 sliced avocado, and green onions

1. Pour 1/4 inch of water into a pressure cooker and add the pork. Cover and cook at 15 PSI for 25 minutes, regulating the heat to prevent excessive steam from escaping through the valve. Turn off the heat and wait for the pressure cooker to depressurize so that the lid can be removed without force, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a strainer. Stir the achiote paste and both chile powders into the pan juices and season with salt.
2. In a medium skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil until shimmering. Working in batches, fry the pork over high heat, turning once, until crispy, 3 minutes. Season with salt. Add the meat to the sauce and stir to coat. Serve the carnitas with tortillas, sliced avocado, cilantro and lime wedges. Makes about 10 tacos.
Per Serving: 533 Calories; 42g Fat (72.3% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 145mg Cholesterol; 167mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chicken Breasts with Maple Mustard Sauce
Two years ago: Mint Juleps with Agave Nectar
Three years ago: Caramelized Onion Sage Puffs

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