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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 Salads, on September 23rd, 2012.


I’m always surprised when I run into someone who’s never had panzanella before. I’ve been making it every summer for years and years. Probably for 20 or so. But maybe some people, when they read it, say huh? Thinking that it doesn’t appeal, or something? I really don’t know. But they’re missing out. Truly!

Over the years I’ve figured out what I love about panzanella: (1) the bread; (2) the tomatoes; (3) the combo of flavors; and (4) the texture of everything. In a way it’s like an unstructured gazpacho, sort of. The most important ingredients are the bread and tomatoes, though. The bread because it soaks up the juices from the tomatoes and whatever dressing you toss with it. The tomatoes, because this dish showcases true summer tomato succulence – the best thing about tomatoes – when they’re big, fat, juicy and flavorful.

A couple of years ago I posted a recipe for a Grilled Panzanella Salad. And it’s a good one – a bit more of a standard or traditional panzanella. This one today, though, veers off to the untraditional because I added a bunch of things that don’t normally go in one – like green beans, corn, arugula, fresh mozzarella, capers and tarragon. And I just LOVED this salad. It’s the best panzanella I’ve ever had. Period. I had my DH grill the bread for it, and he also grilled the corn and the bell peppers. I harvested tarragon, basil and tarragon from the garden to toss in it too.

I had  some beautiful, huge tomatoes which is why I decided to make this salad. What better way to taste the deliciousness of summer tomatoes. I chopped up some hothouse cucumber, scooped in a little bit of capers, a few Kalamata olives (pitted and halved). I added in the grilled corn (cut off the cob after the grilling) and the chunked-up bell peppers. Scoops of fresh arugula was added in along with the mozzarella balls. Then I added the grilled and cubed sourdough bread. I add the tomatoes last because I like the juices from the tomatoes to soak into the bread. Lastly, a wine vinegar based vinaigrette is drizzled over it0. Toss and serve! To raves.

What I liked: every solitary thing about it. Deliciousness with every bite!

What I didn’t like: Absolutely nothing!

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Summer Grilled Panzanella Salad

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: I prefer this salad made with relatively fresh bread – if it’s allowed to completely stale it gets hard. I let a sourdough loaf sit out at room temp overnight, then slice it, grill it and cut it up into cubes. The inside of the cubes still have some softness. Once the salad is completed, I like the bread to still have some dry bits (that happens only if you eat it instantly). If you prefer a wetter salad, just increase the dressing by about half. The fresh tomatoes provide a LOT of fluid which soaks into the bread anyway. The dressing just adds a bit of piquant. Don’t make this – under any circumstances – unless tomatoes are IN season.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic — mashed & minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
14 ounces sourdough bread
Olive oil spray
1 cup hothouse cucumber — chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons Kalamata olives — halved lenghtwise
3 whole bell peppers — red, orange and yellow
2 whole corn on the cob
1/4 cup fresh basil — chopped (use more if you like it as much as I do)
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon — minced (optional)
3 cups arugula — chopped some
1 cup fresh mozzarella — little balls or small chunks
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes — peeled, large chop
1 cup green beans — cooked and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine vinaigrette ingredients and set aside for up to 2 hours.
2. Cut sourdough bread into 1-inch thick slices. Trim crusts off the bread. Spray with olive oil spray.
3. Prepare grill and quickly grill bread on both sides so it has grill marks, but it’s still a bit soft inside, 2-3 minutes over a hot fire. Set aside and when cool enough to touch, cut into bite-sized cubes.
4. VEGETABLES: cut bell peppers into big flat pieces, discarding core. Spray veggies with olive oil spray. Grill peppers and corn so both have grill marks, but don’t over cook them. Set aside and leave at room temp. Remove corn from the cob. Chop peppers into 1-inch chunks.
5. SALAD: In a large bowl combine all the ingredients – everything except the bread and dressing. Pile the grilled bread on top. Stir vinaigrette vigorously before starting to toss the salad. Pour the vinaigrette as evenly as possible over the bread and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 477 Calories; 23g Fat (41.0% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 569mg Sodium.

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