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Currently Reading

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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 Appetizers, Fish, on September 28th, 2011.


The first time I had this was probably 50 years ago. Oh my goodness, do I feel old writing that! The recipe, if you can call it that since it’s nothing more than a couple of ingredients, is from my friend Linda’s mother, Van (Linda is a childhood friend that I still see once in awhile, and she still lives just a few doors from the house I grew up in, in San Diego). Anyway, Linda’s parents are both deceased now. But her dad loved to fish, and he caught hundreds and hundreds of pounds of tuna each year. The family would have a tuna-canning-fest. I can still remember being given a couple of the short, fat Mason jars packed full of tuna, garlic and onion, as I recall. I don’t believe it was smoked tuna, but just “canned” tuna. Van had a big canning kettle and I vaguely remember the family all complaining about the big job it was, to can dozens and dozens of jars of tuna.

Tuna isn’t something we eat with as much regularity anymore, what with the amount of mercury in it. On Wikipedia I found this statement about tuna: Due to their high position in the food chain and the subsequent accumulation of heavy metals from their diet, mercury levels can be high in larger species such as bluefin and albacore. Also, according to Wikipedia, a can of StarKist brand tuna contains about 10 TIMES the amount of mercury as other similarly labeled grocery-shelf tuna.

I’ve told you, my readers, about the albacore tuna that I do buy online, though. It’s by Carvalho Fisheries. They catch young tuna, and as such, younger tuna haven’t consumed enough metals in the sea to have as much measurable mercury in their flesh. I’ve been buying Carvalho’s tuna for about 8-9 years now. Each time, I buy a 12-pack of regular low mercury albacore in its own juices. Last time I ordered I also got some salmon and some smoked albacore. That’s when I started using the smoked version in this simple-easy appetizer.

First, though, you cut up half of a red onion, cut that half in half, peel it and remove the ends, then  thinly slice the onion. As thin as possible. Into a bowl those little slivers go. I add water to cover, then add a jolt (probably about 2 T. ) of vinegar or red wine vinegar and let that sit for 30-60 minutes. What that does is remove the harshness of raw onion – soaked onions make that raw onion taste mild and sweet. If you’d like it actually “sweet,” just add a little dash of sugar to the brine and you’ll have sweet onions. Phillis Carey shared that tip with one of the many cooking classes I’ve been to, and it’s a great little trick.

smoked_albacore_crackerThere you can see one of the crackers (I prefer crackers to bread, but it’s completely up to you) with a little bit of the big flakes or shards of tuna with the onions on top. Makes two delicious bites per Vinta cracker. Nothing else is needed – no sauce – no mayo – no nothin’. It’s just good the way it is.

When I make this I start an hour ahead, soak the red onions and leave them out on the kitchen counter. Then I open the can of tuna, put it on some kind of tray or plate, the onions in a small bowl and surround it with crackers. How simple is that?

albacore_can_carvalho_fisheriesThere’s a photo from Carvalho’s website of the Coastal Albacore. It’s a traditional tuna-sized can. I still have several in my pantry at the moment, just waiting for my next tuna recipe. My favorite is the Sicilian Tuna Salad. Pasta, herbs, a delicious lemony dressing, and the tuna.

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Smoked Albacore and Red Onion Appetizer

Recipe By: From my friend Linda’s mother Van
Serving Size: 10 (maybe less if they’re really hungry, but a little bit goes a long ways)
Serving Ideas: If you have some kind of sauce (I’d suggest a mayo based) on hand, you could dab a little bit of it on the cracker, or on the tuna and stick the onions to it. The appetizer doesn’t really need anything else, but this is just an idea. I happen to have some Mississippi Comeback Sauce in the refrigerator at the moment, and it would probably be delicious with it.
Notes: If you can’t find smoked albacore (available at upscale fish markets, usually) you can use a high quality ordinary canned albacore. The point is to use albacore because it will break off into nice bite-sized flakes. Do not under any circumstances use the tiny-flaked canned tuna from the groery store shelf. I buy smoked and regular albacore from Carvalho Fisheries (search online) because they harvest young tuna which contain much less mercury.

6 ounces smoked albacore — or just good quality tuna, drained
1/2 whole red onion
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1. An hour before serving prepare the onion. Remove end and skin, cut onion half in half and cut very thin slices.
2. Place onion slivers in a bowl. Add water just to cover, then add the red wine vinegar. Stir and set aside for one hour.
3. Drain onion and blot on paper towels, then place in a small serving bowl.
4. On a platter place the onion bowl, the tuna with a small fork so people can separate flakes of it. Add crackers of your choice.
Per Serving (doesn’t include the crackers): 27 Calories; trace Fat (15.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 67mg Sodium.

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