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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 January 3rd, 2012.

bacon_jalapeno_cheese_ball

One of my favorite blogs that I read regularly is Homesick Texan. Lisa Fain, the native Texan who’s homesick but lives in New York City, has become famous in the blogging world because she’s recently had her own cookbook published, aptly titled The Homesick Texan Cookbook (of course). I started reading Lisa’s blog years ago, and enjoy her writing style and love her recipes. As she explains about this recipe, she picked up an old (used) cookbook from her grandmother’s shelves – one of those community-based ones, like the Lakeland Baptist Church Women’s Club – you know, that kind of thing. Hers was a North Texas type cookbook, and this recipe jumped out at her.

Cheese balls certainly used to be big-time popular. I certainly remember them from back in  “the day.” I’ve made many over the ensuing decades, and my one and only (that’s here on my blog) is a Bombay Cheese Ball. But last week I wanted to try something new and this one is really quite easy. If you have some leftover bacon strips from breakfast, that will cut down on the cooking time. It’s the only thing that must be cooked; otherwise it’s just a variety of ingredients either added to the cream cheese or chopped up finely for rolling the cheese ball in, to make it look pretty.

bacon_jalapeno_ballI was surprised the bacon flavor wasn’t more prominent – but maybe I needed some of the bacon fat included. I used thick sliced. My cousin Gary, who helped cook while he was here over Christmas, made this, actually. I cooked the bacon and grated the cheddar cheese. He did all the rest. I had a wicked sinus infection that started about the 20th of December and I didn’t begin to get better until Christmas morning (a full 3 days after I started taking an antibiotic), so Gary really was helpful in the kitchen.

We served it 3 times over several days, and each time I just sort-of mashed the cut side flat and put it that side down on the plate and nobody knew it had already been served before. The last chunk of it I mixed up with some chopped-up Brie and about 2 ounces of chopped smoked salmon and made a batch of the Smoked Salmon Pillows you’ll find on my blog from a couple of months ago.

What I liked: certainly the flavor. The bacon, the cilantro, the garlic, even the lime juice. Also liked the spiciness of it. Liked the nuts which added a nice crunch to it. It kept for several days too.

What I didn’t like: only thing was the way the outside coating completely covered the ball – I think it would be nice to see some of the cheese – just prettier, that’s all. So chop up those coating items more coarsely so they don’t totally envelop the cheese as you see in my photo.

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Bacon Jalapeño Cheese Ball

Recipe By: From Homesick Texan blog
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: Mince up the bacon finely. The nuts, though, can be a bit larger – if everything is really tiny the mixture coves the cheese completely – no white cheese peeking through. I think it looks better if you can see a little cheese here and there. You might think 2 jalapenos is too much – surprisingly it isn’t. I substituted toasted walnuts for the pecans (only because at the moment pecans are very “dear”). They’d probably have a very different taste with pecans.

8 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — about 4 ounces, chopped finely
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 medium jalapeños — stems and seeds removed, diced, divided
6 pieces cooked bacon — crumbled, divided (about 6 ounces)
Salt to taste (I added none – it was salty enough)
1/4 cup chopped pecans — roasted or walnuts
Crackers for serving or even tortilla chips

1. Mix together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, cilantro, garlic, cumin, cayenne, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, half of the diced jalapeños and half of the crumbled cooked bacon. Taste and adjust seasonings and add salt if needed.
2. Place the nuts, the remaining diced jalapeños and bacon on a plate. Stir together so it’s well mixed. With your hands, roll the cheese mixture into a ball, then place on the plate and roll in the jalapeños, bacon and nuts until covered.
3. Chill covered for at least an hour before serving. Serve with crackers or chips.
Per Serving: 121 Calories; 11g Fat (83.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 28mg Cholesterol; 138mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on January 5th, 2012:

    I have a similar cookbook – The Yadkinville Home Extension Cookery Book and one other whose name I forget. They are a mine of information. Cheese balls date back to the 60s and 70s don’t they?

    Yes, I think they are period 1960’s and 70’s. And it’s too bad they kind of went out of fashion because they’re easy and delicious! . . . carolyn t

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