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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 Desserts, on November 1st, 2011.


Yesterday I posted the recipe for the gingerbread cake I used in this dessert. I’d made it a couple of days ahead of time since the recipe indicated it would keep for several days sitting at room temp. I like those kinds of recipes! My friend Cherrie was having a luncheon and I offered to bring something. Since she doesn’t much like making desserts, that’s what she asked for. She gave me an idea about the menu, and even suggested something pumpkin would fit well. Sure thing, I said!

I could have made pumpkin pie, but we’ll have our fill of that in a few weeks, so I wanted to make something a bit more interesting than that. Then I came upon Paula Deen’s recipe for this trifle. It was relatively easy to make and sounded wonderful. But then, I’m a real sucker when it comes to anything pumpkin. Am sure I’ve mentioned here before than pumpkin pie is my very favorite pie anytime.

Soooo, here’s what I did. Paula’s recipe called for two boxes of gingerbread mix. I could have gone that route, but I hoped maybe I’d have some leftover gingerbread if I made my own. But that was the dilemma. My last foray into gingerbread left me disappointed. But I turned to Cook’s Illustrated, and used their recipe. It was/is a real winner.

birds_dessert_powderPaula’s recipe calls for using boxed, cooked vanilla pudding. I’m not much of a fan of those boxes, at least not Jell-O brand, but I had some Bird’s Dessert Powder on my shelf. That’s it there on the right. It’s a British product, but you can find it here in the U.S. in some major grocery stores (in the international section). I always keep it on hand, as I think their powder (mix) makes a very good tasting custard pudding.

So I made up a mixture of the Bird’s (about 2 1/2 cups worth), and mixed in the spice (cardamom) and pumpkin pie filling. That was the pudding layer, although with the pumpkin mixed in, it didn’t really jell-up like a pudding – that was fine since you want it to be loose so it’ll soak into the gingerbread a bit. Then I used Cool-Whip. The recipe called for 12 ounces, but I think they may not make that size anymore, so I used a full 16 ounces in the trifle you see pictured at top.

Paula’s recipe called for added brown sugar, but I thought it was sweet enough without it, so I did alter her recipe some. You layer the gingerbread, pumpkin custard, and the Cool-Whip. Save some of the Cool-Whip for the top, then JUST before serving I sprinkled the top (and each serving if it came from down deep in the bowl) with some crushed-up ginger snaps. They added a really nice crunch to the dessert.

What I liked: how easy the dessert is to put together – as long as you have everything ready and at hand. Make the gingerbread ahead. Make the custard/pumpkin mixture ahead, then it’s a snap to layer everything. Delicious. Soft, comforting food. Love the crunch on the top from the gingersnaps.

What I didn’t like: About the only thing I’d change is I might try it with real whipped cream. In that case you’d need to make it and serve it within an hour or so. Whipped cream, the real stuff, doesn’t hold up for days on end.

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Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

Recipe By: Adapted from Paula Deen, Food Network
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: For the pudding layer I used Bird’s Dessert Powder (a mix) from Britain. You can find it at some grocery stores that have an international section. Bird’s makes the best close-to-ready-made cook and serve custard pudding. The crumbled gingersnaps are a real nice addition – it gives this soft cake-and-pudding mixture some good texture. Add it at the end – just before serving. If added earlier, they will get soft. As you serve the trifle some of the servings from the bottom won’t have any of the gingersnap topping, so leave some to sprinkle on those portions. You want every serving to have some of the gingersnaps.

28 ounces gingerbread mix — (2 14-oz packages)
2 1/2 cups Bird’s Dessert Mix — cook and serve (see Notes)
30 ounces pumpkin pie filling — (not pumpkin puree)
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom — or ground cinnamon
16 ounces Cool Whip®
1/2 cup gingersnaps — crushed, optional garnish

1. Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Or, make your own gingerbread. Or buy ready-made gingerbread. You’ll need about 5 cups of crumbled gingerbread (that’s a guess).
2. Meanwhile, prepare the custard and set aside to cool. Stir in the pumpkin pie filling and cardamom to the pudding. Refrigerate until ready to assembly trifle.
3. Crumble in bite-sized pieces 1/3 of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Press it down slightly. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of Cool Whip, spreading out to the edges as neatly as possible. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Then add another layer of gingerbread, and cover top with whipped topping.
4. Sprinkle top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Can be served immediately, or refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl or any other kind of bowl. Add gingersnap crumbs to servings that come from deep in the bowl since they won’t have any.
Per Serving: 685 Calories; 23g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 112g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 787mg Sodium.

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  1. bamacurl

    said on November 5th, 2011:

    I have used this recipe many times and I love that I can make a little bit of it each day, then put it all together for the big day. Like you, I make my own gingerbread. I also make the pudding (think banana pudding – no bananas – add pumpkin) and make my own whipped cream. And I love adding the gingersnaps on top for a little something crunchy! Thanks for reminding me of this yummy recipe!

    You know, I thought as I ate it that day, that there really wasn’t much of a change because of refrigerating it for 24 hours, so that way I COULD make it an hour or two ahead, and use fresh whipped cream (rather than yucky Cool-Whip, which I don’t like much). Thanks for the recommendations! . . . carolyn t

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