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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 Pasta, Vegetarian, on July 30th, 2007.

About 20 years ago a wonderful restaurant opened near our home, called Zov’s Bistro. Owned by Zov (pronounced like the letter oh) Karamardian, it was open for weekday lunches and a few nights a week for dinner. As the restaurant grew, and Zov’s well-executed Mediterranean food became more well known, they opened every day but Sunday. Zov is a wonderful philanthropist in our community, and loves to share her native Armenian cooking, although she has broadened the scope to include recipes from many different cultures around the Mediterranean. Now the restaurant houses the bistro, a bakery and a she’s opened a couple of other locations as well.

puttanesca-sauceBut back in the earlier days of the Bistro, Zov taught a cooking class starring some of her family favorites, of which this recipe was one. It’s not on the restaurant menu, unfortunately, or I would have it more often. I have no recollection what else she made that night, but I fell in love with this simple pasta dish, and have been making it ever since. You need to enjoy garlic, as it plays a prominent role. And the sauce needs to sit for awhile (at least an hour, or up to 2-3 hours) to develop its flavors. You can make this any time of year – it’s nothing more complicated than canned tomatoes, garlic, green onions, olives, capers and olive oil tossed with hot pasta and sprinkled with real Parmesan. It has some other things in it too that enhance the flavor, and you garnish with a lot of fresh basil. The anchovies (buy good ones if you can find them . . . they have so much more flavor than the cheap cans at the supermarket . . . go to an Italian deli if you have one) give it some character, but you never know they’re there. This is a great meal for a warm summer night.

So, I have a fun story to relate about this recipe. We had dinner with our son, Powell, and his wife the other night, and I mentioned that I had written up this recipe, which has always been a favorite of his. I’d forgotten that when he first met Karen he offered to help her with catering food for an art event a couple of weeks later. She wasn’t a caterer, but had offered to help a friend and was happy to have some help with it. Powell enjoyed cooking and loved entertaining when he was a bon vivant bachelor. Anyway, back then Powell had phoned me to ask advice on what recipes I had that might work for such an event where they could do no actual cooking, so they’d have to make everything ahead. This recipe was a standout for doing ahead, no question.

According to Karen, she was mightily impressed when Powell made this in a very large quantity for her event. According to Karen, her thoughts were along the lines of wow, this guy may be a keeper. It was a black-tie event, and the two of them served this dish and a bunch of others to the crowd of people. Toward the end, with Powell standing nearby in his tux, a businessman approached him and asked for his card. Probably Powell looked at him askance. Uhm. The guy said, we’d like you to cater something for us at our home. Powell laughed and said, we really don’t DO catering, etc. The guy said, well, what do you do and Powell explained that he is in the investment banking/bond biz. The guy looked at him and said what in the world are you doing here? Powell & Karen had a good laugh over that. So, a romance was made that night, according to them, over a big bowl of Pasta a la Puttanesca.
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Pasta a la Puttanesca

Recipe from Zov Karamardian, of Zov’s Bistro, Tustin, California
Servings: 10

1 bunch green onions — chopped
6 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups tomatoes, canned — drained
1/2 c parsley — minced
1/2 c basil, fresh — minced
1/2 c capers
1/2 c olives — black, Mediterranean
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
2 ea anchovies — mashed
1/2 c Parmesan cheese — imported, grated
1/4 tsp hot chili flakes
1/8 tsp black pepper — cracked
2 pounds pasta of your choice (I prefer small spaghetti or linguine)

1. Heat the small quantity of olive oil in a small skillet and add green onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add minced garlic. Allow to cook together gently for 2-3 minutes. Do not brown.
2. In a large, non-metallic bowl combine the tomatoes, pitted olives, capers, anchovies and add the onion/garlic mixture. Add parsley, basil, chili flakes, pepper. Slowly stir in olive oil and allow to sit at room temperature for about an hour. Fold in cheese just before serving. Can be made a day or so ahead, but add fresh basil and cheese at last minute.
3. Cook pasta of your choice, drain, and pour into large bowl. Pour room temperature puttanesca sauce on top and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately adding strips of chicken on the top if desired. Recipe says you can serve it warm or cold. Or, place a serving size of hot pasta on a plate and add about 1/2 cup of mixture on top. Traditionally you should use Kalamata olives in this, but any other kind of Mediterranean cured olive will do.

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