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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 Desserts, on July 28th, 2007.

apple crispI would be ever so negligent if I didn’t post one of my favorite recipes, my mother’s Crisp Apple Pudding. I’ve been making this for as long as I’ve been cooking (that began in 1962). It was written out in my mother’s small recipe journal, something she began when SHE got married in the 1930’s, a recipe from her mother. And she passed this recipe on to me when I got married. My mother is gone now. Bless her heart. I loved her so much. But she lives on in this recipe for sure. I think of her every time I fix this.


This recipe has something unique – after mixing up the crumbly topping and sprinkling it over the apples, you gently sprinkle cold water over the top. When baked the top is nice and crunchy tender.

I believe – but I’m not sure – that this recipe came from a vintage (probably 1930’s version) Betty Crocker Cookbook. Or maybe it was a Better Homes & Gardens. Did they publish cookbooks back in the 1930’s? I think one time in a used book store I saw a very old, stained copy of one of those books and glanced in it, and sure enough, it looked like this recipe. It has one very unique technique that I’ve not seen in any recipes I’ve studied. Even today. I did a search just now, and after looking at probably 40-50 apple crisp recipes, with variations of toppings (this one has no oatmeal or brown sugar in it), not a single one of them sprinkles the flour/sugar topping with water. That’s what gives this apple dessert its crispness, a different texture for sure. I love it – of course, it’s what I grew up having when my mother made this, so it’s what I think is the “right” kind of apple crisp. Note that this dessert has a whopping 5 grams of fat per serving.

apple crisp before bakingOne year either Bon Appetit or Gourmet did a very in-depth article about crisps, buckles, pandowdies and slumps. They are all similar, but not quite the same. And this technique was not in there, either. I even wrote a letter to the writer of that article about it. Never heard from her. Oh well. Her loss!

So, here is my mother’s recipe: Sliced apples, piled into a 8×8 Pyrex or metal baking dish, with a floury-egg-sugar based crumbly topping, dotted with a little butter, and sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit more sugar. THEN, it’s sprinkled with water to give that topping an honest-to-goodness crust. Once baked the topping melds together into a crust, and rises a little bit since it has baking powder in it. Allow to cool about an hour, then serve with warm cream or whipped cream. Ice cream is okay too, but whipped cream is better, I think. I’ve cut down a little on the sugar – I think originally it called for 1 cup, so if you like it sweeter, go ahead and add the full amount. And I hate to say this, but in a pinch, this is marvelous for breakfast.
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Crisp Apple Pudding

Recipe: From an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook, I believe, but via my mother.
Servings: 6-8
NOTES: The preparation of this apple dish is a little different because of the water sprinkled over the top. It gives the pudding a wonderful crispy top. This travels well, although it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Can be served with whipped cream or Cool-Whip.

1 cup flour
7/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 whole egg — beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
4 large apples — peeled and sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Spread sliced apples into an 8×8 pan. Sift together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the egg and mix well. Spread this mixture over the top of the apples, spreading as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the top with the spices and the 2 T. of sugar. Using your fingers or a small spoon, sprinkle water over the topping, sprinkling as evenly as possible. Dab the butter on top, in small pieces.
3. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until top is brown. Allow to cool about an hour, or until it’s room temperature.
Per Serving: 309 Calories; 5g Fat (15.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 133mg Sodium.

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  1. randi

    said on September 30th, 2007:

    Just pulled this recipe out of the oven and was puzzled why mine had a very different (dry) look than yours.

    Oooops, just realized I skipped the *dotting of the butter* step. I will have to try this again because it sounds so GOOD…especially the Apple Crisp PUDDING part!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on October 1st, 2007:

    Randi – hope you sprinkled the top with the water – that’s the most important step. Really this dish is more like a cobbler than a pudding. But that’s what Betty Crocker called it and who am I to change a name, I guess? Hope you enjoyed it anyway!

  3. Amanda

    said on September 25th, 2008:

    Originally found this recipe on your old blog and followed the links to get here. I just made a recipe of the same name but a bit different and was search out similar ones. I have added a link to this recipe from my blog post 🙂

    Amanda – thanks very much. I do love that recipe. Now that apples are about come back for a new season, my mouth is watering to make it again. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the link . . . Carolyn

  4. yvette

    said on January 23rd, 2010:

    I made this dessert last night for Joe and dinner guests.
    I served it warm, with vanilla ice cream.
    Everyone asked for seconds.
    We all voted that this should be a repeat dessert!

    I’m so glad it was a success, Yvette. It’s certainly a family favorite around our house! . . . carolyn

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