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Just finished reading The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Brunch, Pork, on October 20th, 2008.

baked eggs with chorizo and cannellini beans with green salad

So, I was browsing through some of the blogs I read, and I happened on Chez Loulou’s post (I so enjoy Loulou’s blog – she lives in France, and has THE most interesting photos in and around the area she lives in – always very entertaining – I even tried to make a watercolor of one of her photos) about a breakfast or brunch dish that she’d made recently. It actually came from another blog Loulou reads (ah yes, I’m going to need to add yet another blog to my growing numbers that I read every few days), called Stonesoup. That blog originates from Australia, although the author is multi-national, I think. She’s lived all over the world, but currently resides in Sydney.

Perhaps it was the chorizo in this dish that intrigued me. Or maybe it was just because I’m always on the lookout for some easy entrée dishes that can stand in for dinner. Don’t you have evenings when you just aren’t inspired, or just don’t have the time? That’s me once in awhile (yes, really, there are times when I just don’t feel up to cooking anything much). So, that got me to thinking about meals – like this egg and bean dish – that is called a brunch dish – but could certainly be served for another meal like dinner.

I well remember that my mother sometimes on Sunday nights after we’d had a large midday dinner, would serve us creamed tuna on toast. She managed to make one small can of tuna spread between three people. She made a simple cream sauce, always added some lemon juice to it, then at the last minute she added the drained contents of one 6-ounce can of tuna, and we’d eat that spooned over one slice of white toast. It was a light meal, and perfect for the day in question. But then, there were Sundays when my mother would serve waffles for dinner. Why or how it ever became a tradition in our family I don’t know, but probably once a month we’d have regular waffles with sausage patties for dinner, with the finale being one last waffle piled with strawberries and whipped cream. As a kid, I thought that meal was heaven on a bun. My parents used to entertain other families for Sunday waffle suppers. My mother and dad are both gone, so I can’t ask them how that tradition ever got started. As a young adult I did have some waffle suppers, but my recollection (this would have been back in the 1960’s and 70’s, they weren’t met with much glee as I thought. I always told guests what we were having, so it wasn’t a surprise, but still I could tell people didn’t love it as much as I did. My DH doesn’t think waffles should be eaten at any meal except breakfast. In years past I tried the waffle supper thing on him, but he ate it reluctantly.

So, maybe it was that background of waffles on Sunday nights that made me look at this recipe with more interest. We don’t eat hearty breakfasts – if we do it seems to mess up our eating for the whole day. We’re not hungry for lunch, but then we’re starving by about 3-4 in the afternoon. Therefore, when I read this recipe I didn’t even think about breakfast at all. I thought – great idea for a light dinner. It took me 2 days to decide I wanted to make it.


Loulou’s and Stonesoup’s recipe is straight forward – you cook up some chorizo (I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy their very meaty and lean version), some onion and garlic, a bit of Mexican oregano, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and canned cannellini beans. Little indentations are made in this mixture and eggs are gently cracked into them, then you bake it in the oven until done to your liking. This dinner took about 40 minutes to make from start to finish. My DH didn’t know what to think when I presented this dish at his place mat – for dinner. I had asked him first if this dish sounded good to him. I won’t say that he was over the top about it from reading the ingredient list, but generally he’s very willing to eat anything I put in front of him. So I made it the next night.

Truly, I enjoyed it a lot and Dave did too. I liked the flavor combination. It was hearty (beans). Very tasty. Easy and quick. I learned a couple of things, however. I revised the recipe to serve 2, since I didn’t know whether we’d eat leftover fried eggs on this chorizo bean bed. So I halved the recipe and tried to adapt it. I used a very large frying pan that can go in a hot oven, but the bean mixture then was quite thin. You must make this in a dish or pan that has enough depth to make the indentations for the eggs. And 15 minutes in MY oven was way too long at 400, so I revised the temp to 375. The eggs were almost rubbery, but not so overdone that we couldn’t eat it. My DH actually liked them that way since he doesn’t like runny eggs. So I’ve revised the cooking time to 10-15 minutes also. You need to determine your own preference. Definitely don’t use convection, either, as you don’t want hot air fanning the eggs! I also want this dish to have a bit more fluid – so use your own judgment about how much of the liquid to cook off. Ours was almost too dry, probably from being in the flatter pan. But it still tasted great.


Then you need to know about the leftovers – there was definitely enough to serve 3 adults using my recipe below. Dave and I both had a small portion of seconds, and there was still some leftover. So, what to do with those, you ask? Easy – I made soup. To the about 1 ½ cups of leftover beans I added some more tomatoes (I still had half a can of tomatoes), a small can of corn, some broth, chile powder, some ancho chile powder, heated it up and sprinkled shredded Cheddar on top. It was scrumptious!
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Baked Eggs with Chorizo & White Cannellini Beans

Recipe: Chez Loulou’s blog and she got it from the Stonesoup blog
Servings: adapted to serve 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo
1 small red onion — chopped (or yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic — peeled & sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your hands
8 ounces canned tomatoes — peeled, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
4 whole eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Heat oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or frying pan. Cook chorizo over a medium heat until well browned. Remove chorizo from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add onion to the grease in the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until softened and not browned. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes before adding oregano, tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Season and bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened but still has a bit of liquid to it.
2. Stir in the beans and chorizo and using a spatula, smooth the top. (Make sure the pan or casserole you’re using allows some depth to the mixture so you can make the indentations needed – below – so the eggs won’t spread all over.) Bring back to a simmer and remove from the heat. Using a spoon, make 4 egg sized indentations (fairly deep) in the bean mixture and crack an egg into each hole. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until egg whites are just cooked but the yolks are still lovely and runny. Remember that this dish holds its heat so the egg will continue to cook after you remove the pan from the oven.
3. Divide between 2 warmed plates or bowls and serve immediately with some green salad on the side.
(I’m purposely not including the nutrition count because my software program thinks chorizo is about 100% fat – it adds over 600 calories per serving – the chorizo I buy at Whole Foods is extremely lean and meaty. The 1/2 pound produced about one teaspoon of fat.)

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