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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 Miscellaneous, on October 30th, 2008.

Until I decided to write up this recipe, I can’t say that I knew much about Auguste Escoffier, other than he was a famous French chef. And that he wrote a cookbook or two which are considered sacrosanct by lots of chefs and foodies in France and abroad. He lived from 1846 to 1935 and spent his life in the French food arena, beginning when he was apprenticed to his uncle’s restaurant in Nice at the ripe age of 12. He revolutionized (streamlined) the running of top-drawer kitchens, and implemented new techniques of canning when he was the Chef de Cuisine for the French Army during one of France’s wars. So there’s your little food history lesson of the day.

I’ll just comment briefly that as I was growing up (I think I’ve mentioned it here before) both grandmothers always served lots of pickles and relishes with meals. They likely did lots of canning since they grew their own vegetables, so they had lots of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers to use up every season. But then, pickles and relishes were just de rigueur. My mother served her fair share of them too, and I can’t say that I was all that enamored with them as a child. Actually, salsa is a similar kind of condiment, and I certainly eat plenty of THAT. Once I ventured into making fruit salsas (my mango or pineapple salsa being a particular family favorite), I must have reacquainted my palate to the kind of sweet and sour mingling that goes on with pickles and relishes. I also have that Mexican onion relish that is so good too. And remember my write-up about the piquante peppers from South Africa? They have a very similar taste, although this pepper condiment has many more layers of flavor with the addition of onions, garlic and spices. The South African peppers are just pickled somehow.

My fellow blogger, Luisa, the Wednesday Chef, wrote up this recipe, having read it in the Los Angeles Times (no longer available online). In her post she used many, many superlatives. I usually stand up and notice when bloggers use words like fabulous, fantastic, can’t keep my spoon out of them. That kind of language. Since I had some leftover meatloaf (obviously cold), this recipe seemed like a cinchy combination. I had everything on hand except the red bell peppers, and that was easily rectified.

This recipe is SIMPLE. Really. It took about 20 minutes to chop and cook, then it bubbled away on the stove for an hour or so. I had golden raisins instead of dark, but that was the only substitution I made in this recipe. I didn’t weigh the peppers – I used 4 peppers. The picture above is the combination of ingredients to make the peppers. Nothing all that unusual. And the second photo shows the spices used. They made a very attractive pile on my cutting board, so I decided to photograph them for you. The only thing a bit different here is the freshly grated nutmeg. I almost never use jarred pre-ground nutmeg. The flavor of the fresh is just so much better. Years and years ago I bought a nutmeg grinder (less than $10 then) that has served me well all these years.

The verdict? Fabulous. This relish would be wonderful with just any kind of meat (roasts, chops) and even chicken. Even some kinds of fish. So often leftover meat from a pork roast, for instance, loses that juiciness once it’s cooled down and chilled, so you need something to moisten every bite. I can see this as a great condiment in sandwiches too. I can’t wait to try this on a turkey or meatloaf sandwich. I don’t know that I’ll be eating it straight out of a bowl because it does have a vinegary sharpness. Muffled by the sugar, though. Overall: delicious. And did I tell you it was EASY?

This little note is being added nearly a month later . . . I still have these peppers in the refrigerator. They’re fine. Just fine. I served it recently as a side with grilled sausages for dinner. All that vinegar in them  must keep them preserved well.
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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open recipe in MC)

Peppers for Cold Meats a la Escoffier

Recipe: Auguste Escoffier via the Wednesday Chef blog
Servings: 16 (makes about 4 cups)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion — minced
1 pound red bell peppers — washed, cored, seeds removed, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices (allspice and nutmeg)
1 pound ripe tomatoes — drained (most of a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes works)
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 cup raisins [I used golden]
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar

1. Put the oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion very fine, add to the pan and fry over low heat until softened. Add the peppers, salt, ginger and mixed spices, and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, raisins and sugar. Add the vinegar; cook over very lot heat, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and cook with the lid off for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Per Serving (approximately 1/4 cup): 72 Calories; 4g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on October 30th, 2008:

    Good evening, I made this also. Delicious is all I can say!

    Hi Melynda – yes, I agree. Those peppers are delicious. I’m looking forward to having them for a few weeks on various and sundry things. . . . Carolyn T

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