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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 Chicken, easy, on July 12th, 2012.


What is that? A chicken breast on the bottom, with a piece of melting Mozzarella cheese on top, sprinkled with some pepper and Italian herbs, and topped with a mushroom Madeira sauce. VERY easy to make. You’d absolutely never – ever – know it’s low calorie.

Just because I tell you this recipe is a healthy one, please don’t go on by – you’ll be very surprised at the succulence of this chicken dish. My friend Linda T told me about a new cookbook she purchased. She’s been going to Weight Watchers for awhile, and I would guess someone told her about this cookbook there – mostly she mentioned it because the food is so good – but she also said the author includes Weight Watchers points with the nutritional info about each recipe.

The author, Marlene Koch, is a dietitian. She’s a wife and mother, and decided there had to be a way to incorporate her (and our) favorite things (like cheese, butter, and ooey gooey goodies, in her words) into everyday healthy cooking. So first she published Eat What You Love. That was a couple of years ago. (I don’t own that cookbook.) This year she published a second book, because she now has a huge following (she’s been on QVC apparently, and has written several other cookbooks about using Splenda in cooking). She has her own website, and she’s on Facebook, in case you’re interested. Her secret, of course, is everything in moderation. She uses foods (like Madeira wine in this recipe) that are full of flavor and then adds in just a little bit of oil and/or butter. The cookbook I have is her 2nd one in this genre of Eat What You Love, and it’s called Eat More of What You Love.

If this recipe is any representation of what else is in this book, I’ll be a happy camper. My husband had nary a clue the entrée was low in calorie and fat. He almost licked the plate. I’d made some plain rice and that was almost the same as licking the plate since it soaked up all the scrumptious sauce.

Truth be told, my DH and I never eat at the Cheesecake Factory. (A Chicken Madeira is on their menu, but one that loaded with fat and calories.) We don’t not go there because the food isn’t good, but because it’s about a 25-minute drive, and it’s always very crowded. It’s in a shopping center and it takes at least 10+ minutes to walk from the parking garage to the restaurant. Way too much trouble. Once in awhile my friend Cherrie and I will meet there for lunch (we usually share an order of their Shepherd’s Pie, which is SO good) and then go to a movie together. Otherwise, I never even go to that shopping center, period. Oh, yes, my DH and I did go there to buy a Sleep Number Bed (the best bed we’ve ever had, by the way) a couple of years ago.

Anyway, this chicken . . . it’s in the 2nd cookbook listed up above. My friend Linda told me this was one of her favorite recipes from the book – this was after I’d already chosen it as my first test. Starting with 4 chicken breasts pounded to about 1/2 inch thickness, you brown them in a tiny bit of oil, just until they’re browned on both sides and nearly cooked through. Remove them, then you make the sauce. I added mushrooms and let them sauté a bit, then added some red onion. It only took a few minutes and they were cooked completely. Then the wine and beef broth were added and allowed to simmer, to reduce down a bit. Lastly you add some Italian herbs and a tiny bit of cornstarch stirred into the last bit of beef broth. It’s just enough to thicken the sauce some. The chicken is put back into the pan. The cheese is put on top (I used fresh Mozzarella because I had some and didn’t have any regular Mozzie). I sprinkled the top with some pepper and some of the dried herbs. A lid was put on top and the chicken was simmered for about 3-4 minutes while the cheese began to melt and the chicken finished cooking. The rest of our dinner was plated, then I added a scoop of hot rice and the chicken with the sauce drizzled all over both the chicken and the rice. Oh, heavenly taste!

What I liked: Would you believe me if I said that I would have no idea this dish was low calorie and low fat? It was absolutely wonderful – full of flavor and texture. Delicious in every bite. I’d even make this for guests – it was that good!

What I didn’t like: wow, nothing whatsoever. A definite make again dish.

printer-friendly PDF

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

Cheesecake Factory® – Style Chicken Madeira

Recipe By: From the cookbook, Eat More of What You Love by Marlene Koch
Serving Size: 4
Serving Ideas: Do serve this with some kind of carb that will soak up the delicious sauce (rice or potatoes) but don’t over-season it as you want to taste the sauce.

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast halves — 4 small breasts
1/4 teaspoon salt — divided, plus 1/8 tsp
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper — divided
1 tablespoon canola oil — divided
8 ounces mushrooms — sliced
1/2 cup red onion — finely diced
1 cup Madeira
3/4 cup low sodium beef broth — divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons honey — or brown sugar [I used half as much agave nectar]
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon butter
2 slices fresh Mozzarella — or regular part-skim Mozzie slices, cut in half

1. Cover the chicken breasts in plastic wrap and gently pound flat to 1/2 inch thickness. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until well browned. Turn the chicken and cook for 3 more minutes or until barely cooked through. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining teaspoon of oil and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook for 3 more minutes or until softened. Add the wine and 1/2 cup broth and simmer until three-quarters of the liquid evaporates.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup broth and add to the skillet with the honey, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 minute or until thickened. Swirl in the butter, add the chicken back to the pan, and top each breast with cheese. Turn the heat to low and cover skillet for 2 to 3 minutes to melt cheese. Place chicken on plates and top with sauce.
Per Serving: 303 Calories; 8g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 76mg Cholesterol; 243mg Sodium. The cookbook said 330 calories and 7 Weight Watcher points.

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