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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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Breads, on August 15th, 2008.

fresh strawberry coffee cake

The blog called What Did You Eat was not one that I happened to follow. Apparently I’d never come across it. But Sher died suddenly, last month, from a heart attack. I read about her death on several other websites . . . from other bloggers who had an online/email friendship with her. Sher’s husband posted a last note, informing everyone about his wife’s death, and thanking people for the friendship shown to her. She was young – well, certainly not of an age when she should have died. Lots of bloggers around the world have done their own tribute to Sher by preparing some of her recipes. They did it on a specific day a few weeks ago. On one of those blogs I read about this coffeecake that she had posted – actually it was another blogger’s recipe, Butta Buns.

The coffeecake sounded perfect for summer. And, the Bible Study guys were coming to our house and I needed a treat for them. This recipe was sitting, front and center, on my cookbook/recipe stand. My DH kindly offered to go buy fresh strawberries for me, and I whipped it up the night before. The coffeecake is delicately flavored. Even though it has cinnamon in it, it’s subdued and I couldn’t even tell it was there. The fellows enjoyed it very much. I halved the recipe, made it in a 9×9 pan and baked it for 30 minutes. Came out perfectly. My question always: would I make it again? Yes, I might. But I might not. Maybe during the height of strawberry season. I might add just a tiny bit more cinnamon, and I’d add some to the topping (or maybe a touch of nutmeg) as well. The recipe said it served 12. I got 9 portions from the 9×9 pan, so it likely could serve 18.
printer-friendly PDF

Strawberry Coffeecake

Recipe: From Sher at “What Did You Eat” blog (blogger now deceased)
Servings: 12

TOPPING:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
½ cup butter
COFFEECAKE:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup milk
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup butter — melted
3 cups strawberries — sliced

1. TOPPING: Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Place the butter in the center of the bowl and sprinkle a little of the sugar and flour mixture over it. Place all 10 fingers on the stick and start crumbling it by making cat-kneading gestures with your fingers so the butter turns into little pea sized bits. Keep crumbling until the stick is completely whittled down.
2. Keep the bowl of crumbles in the frig until you’re ready for it.
3. COFFEECAKE: Sift the first four ingredients together in a bowl and set aside
4. Whisk the milk, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter together in a bowl. Add the mix of wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients. Beat together with a handheld mixer until well incorporated.
5. Pour into a pre-greased 9×13 pan. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the crumble topping.
6. Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes.
Per Serving (I think this will serve more like 18, but this is the analysis based on 12 servings): 352 Calories; 13g Fat (34.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 561mg Sodium.

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