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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

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 Breads, Brunch, on March 10th, 2012.


The minute I spotted this recipe I knew I wanted to try it. Fresh thyme in a sweet muffin? It sounded so interesting. Plus some fresh blackberries, which are available in our markets almost year ‘round now. And lemon – we have an abundance of them on our trees, although in this case it was only the zest that was needed. The recipe is in the most recent issue (March, 2012) of Bon Appetit.

blackberry_muffins_collageSince I love to bake, it was a no-brainer to try this – read the recipe through first (something I often forget to do) – and begin. The crumble topping (cake flour, butter, fresh thyme baking powder, sugar and an egg yolk) is made first and chilled (even a day ahead is okay). The muffin batter has several steps – and in fact this particular batter requires lots of stand-mixer time – 2 minutes of just butter, 2-3 minutes once you add sugar, another 3-4 minutes once you add the eggs and vanilla. Then everything slows down – you add the buttermilk, then the dry ingredients. What it made was a really, really light batter

Meanwhile, the blackberries are halved – that’s not something I’ve ever done before I must admit – and you actually want some of the berries to macerate a bit in the batter to give it some dark berry color. The berries are just folded in, then plopped into lined muffin cups. The recipe indicated using those fancy paper liners – the tall, waxed paper type that makes a very large muffin. I just used regular muffin liners and my regular muffin tin. The chilled crumble is sprinkled on top (about a tablespoon per muffin) and into a 325° oven they went for 40 minutes. I ended up with quite a bit of topping leftover – I suppose I should have made 18 muffins, or even 20 of them so I used up all of the crumble. Don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with the rest of it. It’s too nice to throw out . . . any ideas for me, kind readers?

Since I now have a Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer (wow, is that thing a real beauty – expensive – but it does register temp within about 3 seconds) I use it at any and all occasions. I quickly looked up online what temp the interior is supposed to be of a baked sweet muffin – it said 210°, and at 40 minutes that’s exactly what they were. They cooled in the tin for about 10 minutes, then I took them out and onto a rack while I baked the remaining 4 muffins (the recipe makes 16).

My DH has just planted a new herb garden for me – in two deep and long raised flowerboxes that sit outside on a short wall in our patio, and we have new, tender thyme in one. I chopped up two teaspoons of it (one went in the crumble topping, the other in the muffin batter itself – next time I’d add more).

What I liked: well, I liked the thyme. A lot and I’ve upped the amount in the batter by half (from 1 tsp to 1 1/2 tsp). Loved the blackberries. I’d also add just a bit more sugar. Maybe because an insufficient amount of the topping ended up on top (where there was some sugar) the muffins were just a bit too savory. I’d have to try them again to know for sure. I’ve increased the sugar in the recipe below or serve with a sweetened butter. I liked the silky cake-like texture (from the cake flour and all the long mixing). I also liked that each muffin had just 11 grams of fat! Surprising, when there was a cube of butter in the batter and 3/4 of one in the crumble.

What I didn’t like: really nothing – all the flavors were delish, and the cake so very tender. I might add some toasted walnuts? More vanilla?

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Blackberry, Lemon and Thyme Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012
Serving Size: 16
NOTES: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store cooled muffins airtight at room temperature for up to 2 days. If storing longer, freeze, individually wrapped in foil and in a sealed plastic bag.

1 cup cake flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — (3/4 stick) chilled, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 large egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour — plus 2 tablespoons (for blackberries)
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — 1 stick, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons lemon zest — finely grated
1 1/2 cups blackberries — fresh, about 6 ounces, or frozen, thawed, drained, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1. CRUMBLE: Whisk first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add butter. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until pea-size lumps form. Add egg yolk; stir to evenly distribute and form moist clumps. (Crumble should resemble a mixture of pebbles and sand.) Chill for at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.
2. MUFFINS: Preheat oven to 325°F. If making standard-size muffins, line 16 1/3-cup molds with paper liners.
3. Whisk 1 cup all-purpose flour and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl.
4. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and continue to beat until well incorporated, 2-3 minutes longer.
5. Whisk eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend; gradually beat into butter mixture. Continue beating until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Combine buttermilk and lemon zest in a small bowl; gradually beat into butter mixture. Add dry ingredients; beat just to blend (do not overmix).
6. Toss blackberries and thyme with 2 tablespoons flour in another small bowl; fold into batter, gently crushing berries slightly to release some juices.
7. Spoon about 2/3 cup batter into large paper muffin molds, or divide between prepared muffin pans. Top each large muffin with 2 tablespoons crumble or each small muffin with 1 rounded tablespoon crumble.
8. Bake until tops are golden brown and a tester comes out clean when inserted into center (or to an internal temperature of 210°), about 50 minutes for large muffins and 40 minutes for standard-size muffins. Let cool in pan at least 20 minutes, then transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 267 Calories; 11g Fat (38.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 67mg Cholesterol; 308mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 10th, 2012:

    These look delicious! One suggestion for using up your extra crumbs would be to make a little fruit crisp. If you have extra berries you could use those, otherwise pears, apples, whatever. I’d add a smidgen of sugar and a teaspoon or two of flour to the fruit if it was juicy, plus any suitable spice if desired, then put in a ramekin, and topping, and bake–maybe include a few nuts. Apricots with almonds would be yummy. I usually go for fruit crisps with oatmeal in them, but I think it would be delicious with this sort of crumble topping, too. I’ve actually made extra topping on purpose when making apple crisp and found that I could make little apple crisps in ramekins on demand. I baked the topping on a cookie sheet and stored the crumbs in an airtight container. Since it was already baked, I could cook little apple crisps in ramekins in the microwave in no time at all, and the texture was perfect.

    Those are all such great suggestions, Donna! Thank you. But, I gave the crumbs to one of the ladies who came to my home the next day (I baked them for a game day at my house) who thought she’d try making these. So the crumbs are gone! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on March 10th, 2012:

    Perhaps you could use the left over crumble to top some Rhubarb before you roast it??
    An interesting recipe but, as I rarely bake, I shall never taste them.

    Thanks for the idea – but I gave the crumbs to a friend – I’d made them for my Scrabble group that was meeting at my house – my friend just LOVED the muffins and wanted to make them – so I gave it all to her. . . carolyn t

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