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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 Fish, Grilling, Miscellaneous sides, on July 19th, 2007.

Romesco Sauce is not your normal run-of-the-mill sauce. It contains some different ingredients. It keeps for weeks and weeks. I always seem to have leftovers of the sauce, so use it on grilled vegetables, even some plain grilled chicken too.

This is from one of Nicole Aloni‘s cookbooks, and was demonstrated at a cooking class she taught several years ago. I loved the combination of textures in this dish. I’d never had bread croutons threaded onto a grilled skewer of anything until this dish was served to me. But I liked it. You don’t want to use bread that will become hard and inedible, so think about that as you’re choosing the bread. In other words, an already firm chunk of sourdough with a very firm crust isn’t going to get any less chewy if you grill it. So, you need to use a softer crumb – like an Italian loaf or a soft type of baguette. I rarely buy grocery store French bread for just this reason – they’re more like white nothingness than a “real” baguette, but for the grilled crouton, it may just be perfect. And, you wouldn’t want to serve bread or another carb with this, either. By the way, Nicole now has a blog, so if you click here, you can take a look.

The Romesco sauce has a Catalan (Spain) origin. I thought it was Italian, but no. I finally found a bit of info about it:

  • This Catalan tomato sauce is traditionally served with fish and shellfish but it is also ideal to serve as a dipping sauce. Authentic recipes are made with dried romesco chiles, which have a sweet and hot flavor. Unfortunately they are difficult to obtain outside Spain.
  • What’s unique about Romesco is its use of almonds as a thickener, and flavor enhancer. It adds a lot, although you’ll have a hard time picking out the almond flavor once it’s incorporated into the intense red pepper-base. It’s not difficult to make and it keeps for awhile. I love it on hearty vegetables as leftovers too.

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Grilled Shrimp and Bread Skewers with Romesco Sauce

Recipe: Nicole Aloni, author and caterer
Servings: 8
COOK’S NOTES: You want to eat some of the sauce with every bite, so you can drizzle more sauce on top of each skewer. Using a regular bamboo skewer, you’ll want to serve each person two skewers. And, except for grilling the skewers, everything can be done up to 2 days ahead.

Serving Ideas: You can make a main dish of this by grilling some zucchini, asparagus and red onion before you grill the shrimp. Leftover sauce can be used on top of a white grilled fish or green beans. The sauce will keep for several weeks.

2 1/2 pounds shrimp — peeled, deveined, raw
1 whole French bread — baguette (see instructions)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
4 large garlic cloves
4 whole red bell peppers
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice to garnish

1. PEPPERS: You can use bottled bell peppers (four 7-oz.jars), or roast your own: Core and seed the peppers, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 325° oven for about an hour. Remove the skins and save all the juice and oil as part of the peppers.
2. BREAD: Cut 3 thin slices of bread and set aside. Cut remaining bread into 1 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and move briskly around pan to toast. Remove and add 2 T. olive oil, then add the sliced bread and toast until golden brown, then remove and set aside.
4. Add the almonds to a food processor and pulse to grind. Add the 3 bread slices, garlic, bell peppers, vinegar and cayenne pepper; puree until smooth. With the machine running add the larger quantity of oil and process until incorporated and slightly thickened. Add salt to taste. Sauce can be prepared ahead (2-3 days ahead is best) and refrigerated.
5. SHRIMP: Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high. Onto water-soaked bamboo skewers alternate shrimp and bread cubes. Lay these on a large sheet pan and drizzle each layer with olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side, until shrimp are bright pink and firm.
6. SERVING: Pool the Romesco sauce on each plate and set 2 or 3 skewers across the sauce. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to each skewer.
Per Serving: 528 Calories; 26g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 216mg Cholesterol; 558mg Sodium.

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