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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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 Appetizers, easy, on October 13th, 2012.

pumpkin_cream_cheese_ball

That, right there, is savory pumpkin deliciousness. A pumpkin cheese ball. You can’t exactly tell what’s inside – it’s mostly cream cheese, with some flavorings and a bit of pumpkin puree. And it’s a bright light pumpkin color. I should have taken a photo of what it looks like inside. Next time. It’s formed into a ball and rolled in chopped pecans. Made a lovely appetizer.

There’s almost nothing I like more at this time of year than pumpkin things. Oh, well, maybe I should also say I like vests, sweaters, blue jeans, fuzzy shirts, sweat shirts even. Warm shoes. And socks. But in the food realm, it’s all about pumpkin. My favorite is pumpkin pie. Hands down favorite. I inherited this craving/disability from my father who was a pumpkin pie lover from way back. Our son also has this bug – this pumpkin pie sickness, if you can call it that. His favorite thing is pumpkin pie the morning after Thanksgiving. I’ve been known to go down that road myself, but not every year. I try real hard to resist. When our son was a strapping teenager and even into his 20s he begged me to provide him with an entire pie just for him. His. Alone. And I did. Year after year. Once his sister Sara was old enough to bake them, she made an extra pie just for him. Every Thanksgiving we tease him about it and he just grins, hoping somebody will place an entire pie into his open hands. With Costco making such wonderful ones, most of us in our family don’t bake pumpkin pies anymore. Last year I wrote up a whole post about Costco’s pumpkin pies – about the statistics – how many they sell, how they’re made. It was very interesting. Click HERE if you’d like to read about it.

So, my first venture into pumpkin-land this year was this appetizer. (I also made pumpkin scones, which I’ll share in a few days). I scoured my pumpkin cookbooks and found this recipe in an old Libby’s (pumpkin) cookbook I purchased at the grocery store some years ago. Who would know better about pumpkin recipes than Libby?

It was cinchy easy to make – softened cream cheese is mixed up (in a bowl, or I did it in the food processor) with a small amount (really) of pumpkin, some cheddar cheese, garlic, Worcestershire, curry powder (just a little bit) and lemon juice. Once mixed, I chilled it for about 2 hours. If you don’t, the mixture is just too soft and gooey to form into a ball. What I did was put plastic wrap into a ramekin, scraped the cheese mixture into it and folded the edges up. It chilled overnight. When I removed the plastic wrap it was pretty easy to mold it into a more-round shape and dip it into the chopped pecans. Use plain crackers (those in the photo are Trader Joe’s pita chip crackers – one of my favorites). The cheese ball flavors are slightly on the delicate side so don’t overwhelm it with a flavored cracker.

What I liked: how easy it was to make; the smooth flavor and the hint of curry. Next time I might add a small  garlic clove – the garlic was fairly pungent in this.
What I didn’t like: nothing, really. The cheese is a little hard to handle (gooey) but hey, that’s minor.

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Savory Pumpkin Cheese Ball

Recipe By: From Libby’s booklet, Favorite Pumpkin Recipes, c. 2000?
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you don’t love garlic, you can easily remove it. The curry powder is very subtle, but if you are at all curry-averse, just eliminate it. I think I added more than 1/4 tsp of lemon juice. Taste and see.

6 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese — shredded (I used medium)
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 small garlic clove — smashed
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup pecans — finely chopped

1. In a food processor combine softened cream cheese, cheddar cheese, pumpkin, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and lemon juice. Process until smooth, stopping at least twice to scrape down the sides.
2. If time permits, cover workbowl and chill for 1-2 hours (until the cheese has firmed up).
3. Scrape all the cheese out of the food processor work bowl and press the mixture into a ball, starting with damp hands, then dip the top 1/2 of the ball in the finely chopped pecans. Place on a serving platter and provide plain crackers along side. If desired, sprinkle just a little tiny bit of finely minced parsley all over the top. If making ahead, combine cheese mixture into a ball, but don’t press the ball into the nuts until just before serving.
Per Serving: 110 Calories; 11g Fat (83.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 22mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium.

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