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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

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.

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Posted in Chicken, on June 6th, 2012.

kellers_roast_chix_veggies

If I were to tell you that this dish is super-easy, would you believe me? Most of Thomas Keller’s recipes are long and arduous. Not this one. And to me, there’s really nothing quite so tasty as a freshly roasted whole chicken hot out of the oven. Read on.

lo_cropAfter being away for a few days (attending our oldest grandson’s high school graduation – see Logan, right) and after having numerous rich (and very enjoyable) meals, some in, some out, we were ready for a more simple, less caloric dinner once we got home. I picked up a nice big, fat 6 pound chicken at Trader Joe’s – a whole chicken.

Then, I was reading through some other people’s blog posts and learned about the Amateur Gourmet – have you ever read his blog? He won Saveur’s #1 rating for best overall blog. The magazine’s list of blogs is long. Really long, although some are categorized. Most of them I’d never heard of. Oh my, I’m in trouble . . . I already follow about 60 food blogs. How am I ever, ever going to keep up? But I had to go back through some older posts on the first ones I looked at. Anyway, on someone’s blog there was a link to watch a youtube video of Thomas Keller making one of his many chicken recipes. This one from Bouchon, the eponymous restaurant in Napa Valley.

whole_chicken_roastedThe video was really interesting. And it looked so EASY! So I scribbled down the simple directions and did it – with only minor modifications. I let the roasting chicken I’d bought sit out at room temp for about an hour to get it closer to room temp. To the inside cavity I added a thyme sprig and salt and pepper. Then I prepared all the vegetables (I used onions, celery, carrots and later on during the baking time added about a pound of sweet potato chopped up). You can use your own choice of veggies. Those were lightly drizzled and tossed with olive oil and put in the bottom of a roasting pan. I used a Teflon-coated 9×13 pan and loosely covered the bottom with the veggies.

Next you truss the bird so the wings and legs are tight up against the body (I didn’t do this one step cuz I was lazy), then rub it all over with some olive oil and sprinkle liberally (really liberally) with salt, pepper and I added some dried thyme. The birdie is placed on top of the veggies and popped into the oven. Keller’s 3-4 pound bird roasted in a 450° oven and was done in about 45 minutes. My chicken at 6 pounds took about 80+ minutes. I also lowered the temp by 25° too because the bird was so big. You want to get chicken to an internal temp of about 165°.

Once out of the oven I removed the chicken to a grooved cutting board and let her sit with a little dome of foil over her to keep her warm. Also covered the roasting pan with all the veggies in it – and they were pooled in a lovely liquid of juices and fat. Talk about tasty! I tasted one piece of sweet potato (to make sure it was cooked through – it was) and could hardly keep my fork out of the pan.

The veggies went onto the plate along with pieces of the dripping, juicy chicken. With a salad, that was dinner. Fantastic is about the only word to describe!

What I liked: first, how EASY it was. Secondly, the flavor – oh yes – the salt really made a difference. It was extra-specially juicy. And the veggies – I had to talk to myself about not eating the entire pan full of veggies all by myself. They were that good.

What I didn’t like: gosh, nothing. It was magnificent. Worth doing again and again.

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Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken & Vegetables

Recipe By: From a youtube video of Thomas Keller
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: The nutrition info assumes you will consume all the chicken skin, which you may not do! You can use your own choice of vegetables – these were my choices. Keller says one of the secrets to this chicken is the generous amount of salt on the outside. Most of it will stay with the skin, that you probably won’t eat anyway. It adds lovely flavor to the chicken.

3 1/2 pounds whole chicken
Salt and pepper sprinkled on the inside cavity
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt — (or more)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large thyme — sprig, for inside chicken cavity
VEGETABLES:
4 large carrots — peeled, chopped large
2 large onions — peeled, cut in big chunks
3 stalks celery — chopped
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
1 1/2 pounds sweet potato — (or use a turnip)
1 tablespoon olive oil — tossed with the veggies
Finishing salt for garnish, if desired

1. Allow chicken to sit out at room temp for about an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 450°. [I used a larger 6 lb. roasting chicken so cooked it at 425° for about 90 minutes.]
3. With a boning knife, remove the wishbone (makes for easier cutting after it’s baked – this is not a mandatory step).
4. In a roasting pan that’s a few inches larger than the chicken, add the cut and chopped vegetables. Drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil and toss with your hands.
5. Truss the chicken so the wings and legs are snug against the chicken body. [Note: I was lazy and didn’t do this step.] Rub the exterior of the chicken with the olive oil.
6. Place chicken on top of the vegetables [Since sweet potatoes cook quite fast, I didn’t add those pieces until 30 minutes before I thought it would be done]. Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt and pepper. [Note: I added some dried thyme to the exterior – not in Keller’s recipe.]
7. Place in oven and roast until the chicken is golden brown and has reached an internal temperature of 165°. Remove from oven and allow to rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes. Cover veggies so they don’t get cold. Slice chicken and serve with vegetables along side. If desired, sprinkle the top of the chicken with some finishing salt [I didn’t think it needed it since I’d used ample salt already].
Per Serving (assumes you eat all the skin): 835 Calories; 48g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 54g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 247mg Cholesterol; 971mg Sodium.

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