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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 September 6th, 2011.

sweet_potato_biscuits_paula_deen

This recipe has been residing in my to-try file for a long time. Years, I think. And perhaps I read about them on somebody else’s blog, but my copied recipe doesn’t indicate. So, I went online to make sure this was still a viable recipe as printed. I’m trying to remember to do that as often as possible – especially for recipes I know are online. At Paula’s website the recipe was the same, but nobody seemed to have any beef with the baking powder.

On the Food Network site, though, there was a lot of discussion about these biscuits. When Paula first made them on air she used self-rising flour. In the translation from the demo on the show and the recipe printed online the producers or recipe writers went from self-rising flour to regular flour with baking powder and salt added. That’s when the dissention ensued. Lots of folks were successful making these. Other people weren’t. Some were ticked off that the recipe was changed. Some said the 4 tablespoons (yes, tablespoons, not teaspoons) of baking powder had to be wrong. The recipe (now, at least) says 4 teaspoons. Some complained they couldn’t taste the sweet potatoes (I couldn’t). Others complained the biscuits didn’t rise (mine did). Others thought they were hockey pucks (nope, not mine). Numerous cooks thought even 4 tsp of baking powder was too much. They thought it was a misprint. After reading every single comment online I went with the existing recipe, as written, and had not a single problem with it.

However, I did do a few things – I briefly heated the sweet potato in the microwave to bring it to room temp or maybe a bit warmer. I did sift the baking powder and salt in with the flour to make sure it was mixed properly. I also mixed the dough very gently. VERY gently. Biscuit dough doesn’t like to be “handled.” It wants the fat (butter, oil, whipping cream) to be added and just mixed in as little as possible. The more of that fat that stays intact, the more flaky the dough will be.

Actually I forgot to add the rosemary in the dough, so at the end I sprinkled it liberally all over the top of them, which worked out just fine. We ate them when they were just barely cooled to room temp, with a little bit of butter. We thought they were delicious. Tender and flaky. And truly, I’d never have known there was sweet potato in them. They don’t rise a lot, but they did rise some. I used the light colored – golden – yam or sweet potato, not the orange one. If I’d used the orange type the biscuits would have been much darker colored.

What I liked: they were easy to make; tender and flaky; a good use of some leftover sweet potato if you had some, especially right after Thanksgiving or Christmas. Do note that this is not a high-fat biscuit – only 5 grams per biscuit. Not like a lot of Paula’s recipes . . .

What I didn’t like: not a thing; enjoyed them very much.

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Paula Deen’s Sweet Potato Biscuits with Rosemary

Recipe By: Paula Deen, Food Network
Serving Size: 10

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sweet potato — cooked, mashed
1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick) softened
2 tablespoons milk — 2-4 tablespoons, depending on your batch and the weather
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves — minced

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Make sure the sweet potatoes are at room temp (heat in microwave very briefly, if needed).
3. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate, large bowl, mix the sweet potatoes, rosemary, and butter. Add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix to make a soft dough. Then add milk a tablespoon at a time and continue to cut in. Mix just enough to get the dough to hold together.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press lightly until the outside of the dough looks smooth. Pat the dough out to 1/2-inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased pan and coat tops with melted butter. Add some additional rosemary to tops, if desired.
5. Bake for about 15 minutes. (Watch your oven: If the biscuits are browning too fast, lower the temperature.)
Per Serving: 121 Calories; 5g Fat (36.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 305mg Sodium.

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