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Just finished another great book, 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 Salads, on August 19th, 2008.

watermelon and tomato salad with Feta, mint, red onion, in vinaigrette

It was last summer that one of my cooking magazines arrived with a cover  photo of a watermelon and tomato salad. At the time my face must have squeezed up funny-like, thinking yuk, why would anyone combine the sweet of watermelon and the savory pucker of a tomato. Well, I stand corrected. Big time. It’s a match made in heaven, especially if you have ripe tomatoes. Flavorful full-of-summer tomatoes and ripe, sweet watermelon. And likely  you’ve encountered this salad if you’ve eaten in any leading edge or avante-garde restaurants. Dave ordered it recently at one restaurant. I tasted it and agreed it was sensational.

A couple of months ago my friend Kathleen served us a watermelon and Feta salad, which I liked ever so much. It was simply dressed with Feta and mint. I’ve made it a couple of times this summer and enjoyed it hugely. So I guess you could say that I’ve discovered the culinary big deal about watermelon. I can’t eat a whole lot of watermelon – because of the high water content, it fills me up so, so fast. So I never serve it as a dessert because generally I’m too full for that much additional fluid in my already sated stomach. But as a side dish with a meal, it’s fine.

Therefore, when I purchased the September, 2008 issue of Saveur (a magazine to which I do not subscribe), with a photo of watermelon on the cover, I thought ah-ha, maybe there will be some other variations on the watermelon and tomato theme. Sure enough there were. The issue contained a few other watermelon concoctions: Watermelon, Feta and (Kalamata) Olive Salad, Russian Pickled Watermelon, a Watermelon Curry (believe it or not, an Indian hot dish served with rice) and a Watermelon Pudding (a Sicilian specialty). I’ve earmarked the pudding to try (very low calorie). And it did contain a salad of watermelon and tomato chunks, with red onion and a vinaigrette dressing. That intrigued me. I did alter the recipe some, so it’s more of a Carolyn recipe, but still this recipe was the inspiration.

The salad is incredibly easy. You shave up the red onion slices and marinate them in champagne vinegar and sugar (Splenda) with a little cayenne added. That wants to sit for about 30 minutes to lessen the bite of the onion. Meanwhile, you cut up the watermelon and tomatoes, the mint and Feta (not in the Saveur recipe,  but I added it because I like the watermelon-Feta combination). Once you toss everything together, then you add a splash of basil oil (my substitution) or olive oil, along with some cracked black pepper. The original recipe called for salt, but I didn’t think it was necessary. The Saveur recipe also suggested basil (although I had some in my garden, I decided to use some infused homemade basil oil my friend Lucy gave me last summer). But if you’d prefer the olive oil, add fresh basil to the salad as well. I just used a whole lot more mint, because I like the combination of mint and watermelon.

watermelon_feta_mint_saladThe onions retain their crunch (a great texture in the salad since the watermelon and tomatoes are soft), but they lose their bite with the vinegar soak, and the vinaigrette just adds a great smoothness to the entire dish. I l-o-v-e-d this salad. The joy of it is that you could easily substitute your own twist – you don’t like mint? Add tarragon. Don’t like Feta? Eliminate it. Or add ricotta salata, which might be more appropriate anyway. Just maintain the tomatoes and the watermelon, and create from there. The salad is edible the next day, but it’s lost a lot of its zing, so ideally make just enough to eat at that first meal.
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Watermelon & Tomato Salad

Recipe: Inspired by a recipe in Saveur, Sept. ’08 issue
Servings: 8

6 cups watermelon — sliced, cut in 1-inch cubes
3 cups tomatoes — sliced in bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup Feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar — or white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar — or Splenda
2 pinches cayenne
1/4 whole red onion — thinly sliced
2 tablespoons basil oil — or extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh mint — minced

1. Combine in a small bowl the white wine vinegar and cayenne, then add the sliced red onions. Toss lightly so all the onions are combined with the vinegar. Allow to sit for 30 minutes (to soften the sharp onion taste).
2. Meanwhile, cut up all the watermelon and tomatoes. Combine in a large bowl.
3. Add the crumbled Feta cheese and the onions (with any vinegar that’s still remaining in the bowl. Sprinkle with the fresh mint, then drizzle on the basil oil (or olive oil) over the top. Toss well to combine. Serve within about 30 minutes, or refrigerate no longer than an hour.
Per Serving (even less if you substitute Splenda for the sugar): 110 Calories; 5g Fat (39.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 64mg Sodium.

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