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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 Appetizers, on November 4th, 2011.

salmon_pillows

Actually, I didn’t make these. Tarla Fallgatter made them at the cooking class here at my house atrader_joes_puff_pastry week or so ago. They looked incredibly easy, really. She did, however, make them with smoked salmon (so you don’t even have to cook the salmon since it’s smoked-cooked). But I liked these well enough that I might even try them with regular salmon. However, I think you’d need to cook the salmon before making up the filling. In either case, though, they looked very easy to put together. Yes, it’s done with puff pastry. Trader Joe’s sells it in flat boxes and you just need to defrost it well before starting on this. salmon_pillow_collageSee photo at right. It’s an 18-ounce package.

The filling is a mixture of the salmon, some goat cheese, chives, a tiny bit of egg and a little bit of cream. See, I told you it was easy. The remaining egg  is gently brushed on top of each of the little pillows.

You roll out the the puff pastry to a 12-inch square. Tarla’s instructions said she put 9 little mounds of salmon, but I see from the photo that initially she made 12. I think she removed 3 and made it 9 (see 2nd and 3rd photos). I was busy taking pictures and didn’t see her do that.

After folding over the one side of the pastry, she gently pressed her fingers around each filling mound. She cut them with a rounded-edged cutter. I don’t have blunt-edged pastry cutters, but she said a small glass would work – someone else suggested a shot glass. Yes, those would work just fine.

Once the pillows were cut out and placed on a pastry-lined baking sheet, she poked each one in the top (for steam to escape), then brushed them just on the top (not down the sides) with egg yolk. It’s important to NOT let any of the egg glaze go over the sides as that will prevent the pillow from rising properly. Tarla didn’t chill them, but the instructions say to chill for awhile before baking. Do let them cool for 5-10 minutes before serving so people don’t burn their mouths! But do serve them warm.

What I liked: very tasty – full of taste, actually. And as long as you have all the ingredients, they’re quite easy to make. It’s not like you have to make the puff pastry – just buy it. They make a very elegant appetizer.

What I didn’t like: although I liked the smoked salmon, I think maybe the regular salmon would be even better, but that’s just my personal taste.

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Smoked Salmon Pillows

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, from a cooking class
Serving Size: 18
NOTES: When these were demonstrated, Tarla used smoked salmon from Trader Joe’s. And it was good, but I think I’d try it with some just barely cooked regular salmon instead. The recipe makes 18 of these little pillows, enough for two per person. You won’t use all the puff pastry – so the calorie count is off significantly. Once you’ve cut out the pillows you throw away what’s left over – about a third of it.

18 ounces puff pastry — Trader Joe’s, frozen
2 ounces goat cheese — softened to room temp
2 ounces smoked salmon — or use some flaked cooked regular salmon
1 tablespoon fresh chives — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream
1 whole egg — lightly beaten

1. FILLING: In a small bowl combine the goat cheese, salmon, chives, cream and 1 1/2 tsp. of the beaten egg. Add a tsp. of water to the remaining egg and reserve for glazing the top of the pastry.
2. PASTRY: Unfold pastry sheet and roll it out to a 12-inch square. Cut the square in half. On one sheet mark off three 2-inch wide columns and three 2-inch wide rows (making 9 small squares) using a knife of tines of a fork. Do NOT puncture through the pastry – you’re just marking spots to put the filling. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each square. Gently fold 2nd pastry sheet on top and press down lightly between the rows and columns for form little pillows. Press down just enough to see the mounds of filling.
3. Using a round glass (something with rounded edges like a shot glass, not sharp like cookie or pastry cutters), cut each pillow through, placing even pressure on all sides. Place each pillow on a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the top ONLY of each pastry pillow with the remaining egg glaze. Do not allow the egg mixture to drizzle down the sides as that will prevent the sides from rising properly when baking. As you place the pillows on the baking sheet gently press the edges together to seal. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours.
4. Preheat oven to 425°. Arrange the rack in the center of the oven. Poke a small hole in the center of each pillow to allow steam to escape. Place pillows on a clean (not chilled) parchment-lined baking sheet (NOT the one you used to chill them) and bake until crisp, puffed and golden, about 12 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Transfer pillows to a rack to crisp slightly. Serve while warm.
Per Pillow (this is way too high because you end up discarding at least a third of the puff pastry): 180 Calories; 12g Fat (62.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 110mg Sodium.

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