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Currently Reading

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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 Fish, on June 4th, 2012.


Okay, listen up, folks. If you like risotto, this one’s a winner. It’s going onto my “favorites” list, if that gives you a clue as to how delicious it is! It’s the lime juice and lemon juice that “make” this, in my opinion.

We had invited friends over for dinner a week or so ago, so I decided to fix this new recipe I’d acquired at a cooking class recently. I took photos of it at the time, intending to share it here, but then accidentally deleted all the photos. Duh! So I just had to make it sooner rather than later, that’s all.

Avocado Tip:

Did you know that if you rinse cut avocado pieces or slices in tap water it will sit, unaided, for several hours without turning brown? True. Very useful in this recipe.

This recipe does take a bit of prep, but once you have everything ready to go, it’s easy enough to start the risotto itself. You can do all that prep a few hours ahead. I made the marinade but didn’t put the shrimp in it until it was near to dinnertime. I’d prepped all the salsa mixture and I cut up the avocado too. One of the quick tricks Phillis Carey shared with us was about rinsing avocado in water. I guess I’d not heard that one before – if you rinse avocado in cold water, it will sit for a few hours without turning brown. Very simple, eh?

The risotto on its own, without the salsa part is fairly bland. But you add in the tomatoes, green onions, avocado pieces AND the lime juice (a must) it transforms this rice dish to spectacular. The Parmigiano doesn’t hurt, either. The raw shrimp slumber in a citrus marinade for about an hour, then are briefly grilled (you could do this on a stovetop grill too – or even do it in a frying pan if that’s easier). The risotto is like lots of other recipes – uses chicken broth, stirred a lot, then at the very end, when the Arborio rice is almost done (al dente is how you want it – with just a little bit of bite) you add in the colorful stuff – the tomatoes, avocado (and I added in some corn cut off the cob because I had some and remembered how good another of Phillis’ recipes was that included corn in a risotto). I added just a little more lime juice because I loved the tartness of it – be careful and don’t use too much.

Once it’s ready, have everything in place to portion out, garnish and serve before it gets cold. You’ll hear raves at the table, I promise. Even my DH commented to me the next morning how delicious this was. Phillis also said the recipe works equally well with salmon, halibut or sea bass instead of shrimp. I loved the shrimp, though.

purple_plum_torteOur friends brought a very simple baby arugula salad with a sweet lemon juice dressing that was a perfect foil to the risotto. And just because it was so good, I’m also showing you a photo of the dessert I made – it’s already on my blog – a very special dessert since plums are in season these days. This dessert, Purple Plum Torte,  is on my favorites list too – an all-time, highly-requested recipe from the New York Times. If you haven’t made this dessert yet after reading my blog about it, you’re missing a great addition to any menu. I served it with almond-flavored whipped cream.

What I liked: the piquant taste in the risotto (from the lemon and lime juices, I’d guess). I love everything in it and about it.

What I didn’t like: gracious . . . nothing at all. So worth making.

printer-friendly PDF

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

Risotto with Avocado Tomato Salsa and Citrus Grilled Shrimp

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking class, 5/2012
Serving Size: 4-5

1 pound large shrimp — cleaned, raw, tails left on (optional: salmon, halibut or sea bass)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon cilantro — minced
1 1/2 whole avocados
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice — or more to taste
3 small plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
2 whole green onions — finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine — [I use vermouth]
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — finely grated
1 whole avocado — sliced, then rinsed in cold water
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
4 sprigs cilantro — for garnish
1 cup fresh corn — [optional, my addition]
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, for garnish

1. SHRIMP: In a plastic zip-loc bag combine the shrimp and marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (no longer or the shrimp will begin to “cook” in the acid from the citrus). Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade and thread onto bamboo skewers (use flat ones if you have them, otherwise use two skewers to thread 4 shrimp each). Once you are cooking the risotto, grill the shrimp at the last minute, at medium heat (350) for a total of about 3-4 minutes per side. Don’t over cook them!
2. SALSA: Toss avocado with lime juice in a small bowl. Add tomatoes and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. RISOTTO: Place broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, keeping it hot while the rice cooks. In a large skillet (use wider rather than taller) heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Do not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat rice evenly with the oil and onions. Cook, stirring often, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed.
4. Continue adding hot broth, one cup at a time, stirring constantly between additions, and only add more broth when rice begins to dry. Continue adding broth and stirring until rice reaches an “al dente” state (still a litle bit of bite to each rice kernel). Gently fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, avocado, salsa and cilantro. Add corn (if using) and stir just to warm all the ingredients through. Add more lime juice if you like that flavor – taste it first.
5. SERVE: Spoon generous cups of risotto into bowls and top with a slice or two of avocado, cilantro sprigs, additional cheese. Nestle the shrimp (tails standing up) into each bowl.
Per Serving: 787 Calories; 40g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 68g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 150mg Cholesterol; 1208mg Sodium.

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