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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 Beef, Pork, on July 29th, 2007.

We may be one of the few cultures to make baked meatloaf. Lots of other cuisines include a ground meat stuffed something (pastry, cabbage, etc.) or small orbs of some kind of chopped meat, but we Americans appear to have invented meatloaf (really, we did), meaning we started with finely chopped raw meat. Mostly I learned, earlier cooks used cooked meat to make any kind of chopped meat dish. I wanted to know more about the history of the dish, and found this:

  • The raw, ground meat commonly used to make today’s American meat loaf has a humble heritage. In the 19th century, we know the Industrial Revolution made it possible for ground meat to be manufactured and sold to the public at a very low cost. At first, many Americans were slow to purchase raw ground meat products and generally regarded them with suspicion. Cooks continued to mince their meat (often already cooked, as was the practice for centuries) by hand. Companies selling meat grinders to home consumers at the turn of the century endeavored to change this practice by providing recipe

Regarded as the ultimate comfort food, there are certainly lots of types of meatloaf. Some with fillers and additions (bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, carrots, onions, eggs, red bell pepper) and many variations of toppings (savory tomato, catsup type, even teriyaki style). But the most common is with a tomato-based sauce on top. I’m no different than the crowd, so this may not be one of the recipes you’re going to try since you may already have a favorite sauce. But for me it’s simply the sweet and sour sauce that is a must here. The recipe came from one of my old 1960’s era military officer’s wives cookbooks, and since I first made it, this has been the standard by which any and all meatloaves are measured. In our family, this is THE recipe, and mashed potatoes on the side are an absolute must. No rice. No pasta. It must be mashed potatoes.

And generally I increase the sauce because everybody loves to put more sauce on the potatoes. So early on I began doubling it. No problem. It’s easy enough to make. I’ve made this with partly ground turkey, and it’s also very good. I think my daughter Sara makes it with all turkey and her family loves it that way. When I make it now I use 50/50 beef and ground turkey. That gives the meatloaf a little firmer texture, which is what we (and most people, I surmise) miss about eating ground turkey. It just doesn’t have the “tooth” to it that beef does. I’ve made this using Splenda (it’s fine) and with Brown Sugar Twin (also fine). So we can still have this but with less carbs.

Back when our children were teenagers we asked each of the kids to choose a weeknight and be responsible for preparing dinner for the family. (We’re a blended family, so between DH and I we have 3 children, two daughters and a son, all in their late 30’s now and for most of their teenage years we all lived together.) We had to plan ahead so the ingredients were on hand, and mostly the kids were pretty good about it. They got to fix one of their favorite meals, and we were all appreciative (at least I think we were). I will tell you that this item was a real “regular” on the menu. Everyone in our family loves this meatloaf and they all learned how to make it because they had to do it.
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Meatloaf with Sweet & Sour Sauce

Recipe from a Military Wives’ Cookbook from the 1960’s
Servings: 6
Notes: Over the years I began to double the sauce recipe because we loved to spoon the sauce over the mashed potatoes, and we never seemed to have enough sauce. The original recipe said you could use either tomato paste or sauce, but we prefer the sauce. If using paste, increase the water in the sauce as it will be too thick. You want the sauce to stick some to the meatloaf, although most of it drips down into the pan.

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or mixed with ground turkey
1 whole egg — beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 ounces tomato sauce
1 medium onion — minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Italian herbs
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1. Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl combine beef, egg, crumbs, tomato sauce, onion and spices. Mix just enough to combine the ingredients; no more. Mound into a loaf shape and place in baking dish somewhat larger than the meatloaf with at least 1-inch sides. It’s better to use a higher sided dish than a lower, flatter dish.
2. In same bowl combine the sauce ingredients: tomato sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, mustard and Worcestershire. Mix to blend in the brown sugar, then gently pour over the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then slice and serve with more sauce on each slice.
Per Serving: 378 Calories; 25g Fat (60.3% calories from fat); 23g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 564mg Sodium.

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  1. jeanne bee

    said on July 29th, 2007:

    This brought back memories! My mother was a navy wife and this was a fairly frequent dinner!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on July 31st, 2007:

    How fun, Jeanne. Most likely there were thousands of military wives who found that recipe too.

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