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Just finished reading 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 Desserts, on July 30th, 2012.

wattleseed_ice_cream

Ever heard of wattleseed, or wattle seed (one or two words, you’ll see it both ways)? It’s the seed from a specific type of Australian acacia shrub. It’s not a variety grown anywhere but Australia, otherwise I’m certain we’d have  wattle seed on our spice shelves.

wattleseedflowersMy daughter-in-law brought me a very small package of  several Australian herbs and spices some years ago after a trip, and I’d planned on using all of them, but we had a bug infestation in my pantry, and they loved the wattleseed and everything else in the other packages too.

So it wasn’t until we visited Australia a couple of years ago and I sought out some wattleseed (not on every grocery store shelf, I discovered) that I now have some to try. I’d intended to make something with it right away, but I stored it in a jar and promptly forgot about it. The picture at left was taken near Hobart, Tasmania, and shows my DH’s hand holding the acacia flowers out in the sunlight. The seed pods from this shrub were and still are harvested by the Aboriginal people in Australia. They use it in a variety of cooking methods – in a drink – in stews. Eventually non-Aboriginal people discovered the interesting flavor profile it has, and began using it in other (mostly dessert) dishes.

ground_wattleseedWhen we were in Australia we ate some wattleseed gelato. Oh my goodness, was it ever good. Tasting it, it conjures up hazelnut and vanilla  on my taste buds. It has tiny dark and light flecks in it which look something like the tiny seeds in a vanilla bean. It’s the kind of mottled color of ground coriander (see picture at right), but bears no flavor resemblance. Some people taste chocolate and coffee in it too. I’ve not found any source for ground wattleseed here in the U.S. (although I read somewhere that any U.S. grown wattleseed is poor quality and not worth buying – I haven’t found it in any case). Here’s a link if you’re wanting to buy this from Vic Chericoff, the man who really put wattleseed on the world culinary map in the 1980’s. Maybe one of our friends will visit Australia sometime soon and I’ll be able to ask them to buy it for me – although as I mentioned, we had trouble finding it. My DH was so patient with me – we walked all over a farmer’s market in Melbourne trying to locate some – finally did at a butcher shop, of all places. They said they used it for a particular kind of seasoned roast.

Anyway, after all that info about wattleseed, let’s get to the recipe, okay? The only recipe I had was wattleseed ice cream which I researched a couple of years ago after we returned from Australia. Going online I also found a recipe for a cake, which I made, and will post here in a few days – it was kind of like a pound cake using wattleseed and citrus. There aren’t lots of recipes for the spice, surprisingly. There is a short list here, and here. You may not remember a post I did from our trip to Australia about the ANZAC biscuits – I wrote up a recipe provided by our Aussie guide’s sister who brought a plate full of them to our tour bus when we stopped near where she lives in New Zealand (they’re cookies developed during WWII to ship to soldiers at the front because they’re sturdy and because they couldn’t get eggs and butter during the wartime shortages, yet they’re still very popular today). Anyway, I did find several wattleseed ANZAC biscuit recipes.

Some years ago Emeril made wattleseed ice cream on one of his Food Network shows, and it’s his basic recipe I used, although I did make a couple of changes. Vic Chericoff mentions Emeril’s recipe on his website and makes suggestions like not adding vanilla, as he feels it’s redundant since wattleseed has vanilla undertones all by itself. He also doesn’t think you should strain the custard mixture of all the wattleseed segments because they add a lot of color and interest to the ice cream. I used a really fine-mesh strainer and most of the seeds still went through it, which was fine. Usually you strain the ice cream base because you want to remove any possible egg “stuff.”

When you use wattleseed, you want to extract as much flavor as possible, hence adding the ground wattleseed to the cream you scald helps accomplish that. Other than wattleseed, the base mixture is very similar to every other egg-based ice cream base you’ve made. In my case I poured the base into a plastic bowl, nestled it into a bigger bowl filled completely with ice, then I added another bowl on top filled with ice – all this to chill it faster. And chill it below 38°. Chilling the base as fast as possible doesn’t allow for as many ice crystals to form (makes for smoother ice cream).

So, after making the ice cream base – and chilling it quickly, I made it in the ice cream machine. Since it was so cold, it only took about 40 minutes. I scooped it out into a quart-sized plastic container and froze it. When I served it about 3 hours later it was still slightly soft and smooth in the middle – made for easier scooping.

Serving it to our friends Cherrie and Bud, who have never been to Australia, and had never heard of wattleseed, they were blown away. I mean blown away by the taste. Dave and I relived our Australia visit too.

What I liked: well, there’s no question I like this stuff or I wouldn’t have run all over in markets throughout Australia trying to find wattleseed! Good. Tasty. Ah yes. I have just enough to make one more wattleseed something and it will be ice cream. Wattleseed has such a unique flavor spectrum. It’s worth seeking out somehow. Any of your friends going to Australia? Get them to buy you some! Buy me some too, okay?

What I didn’t like: well goodness – nothing at all. Loved it! As long as you can find wattleseed!

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Wattleseed Ice Cream

Recipe By: adapted from Emeril Legasse (food network)
Serving Size: 12
NOTES: Don’t serve this with anything too powerful in flavor as you want to taste the wattleseed. If you don’t have wattleseed, don’t even make this ice cream – it’s just a vanilla type plain ice cream base but it’s a neutral flavor so the wattleseed nuances will shine through.

2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup fat free half-and-half — [I used Trader Joe’s]
2 tablespoons ground wattleseed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon wattleseed extract — [optional – I don’t have this ingredient]
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
5 large egg yolks

1. In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the half-and-half, cream and fat free half and half, powdered wattleseed, vanilla, wattleseed extract (if using), sugar, and salt, over medium heat. Bring the cream to the boiling point to scald it. Remove from the heat.
2. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl. Add the cream mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, to the beaten eggs, whisking in between each addition, until all is used. Pour the mixture into a saucepan, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (optional).
3. Chill the custard mixture in a bowl with ample ice to bring it down in temp (below 38° which is the temp for standard refrigeration) if possible. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for churning time. Scoop into a plastic container and freeze solid, about 3-4 hours.
Per Serving: 225 Calories; 14g Fat (57.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 131mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium.

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