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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, on November 2nd, 2012.

goat_cheese_pear_marmalade_cracker

You may have read before – brown food is hard to photograph. So I put this on a bright green plate, then added the white goat cheese as contrast. How’d I do?  This is a fabulous make-ahead appetizer. It’s worth the effort to make it – do try it. And by the way, those are not Ritz crackers – they’re Trader Joe’s version of them. They’re quite good!

I almost forgot to post this recipe – it was from a cooking class a couple of months ago. I was doing some background admin stuff on my blog  and ran across it – then realized I hadn’t written a story about it or shared the recipe. Every few months I have to transfer all the images from the posts to a CD for long-term safekeeping. So, I go through each image folder (I put all the photos into folders by recipe title, then they go onto a vaguely chronological ordered CD) and delete the extra photos that I chose not to use – wrong angle, bad light, parsley isn’t perky, shadows wrong, too far away – pear_marmalade_cookingyou know, those kinds of things. I had a photo of this from the class, but it was terrible. All brown everywhere. So I needed to make it in order to take a better picture! First I had to buy all the ingredients (didn’t have the pears or five spice powder). Then I had to wait 3 days for the Bartlett pears to ripen. Finally, then, got it made! I didn’t need an appetizer, but I decided to make this now, knowing I’ll be needing some for holiday entertaining. Here at right are the ingredients before I started cooking them. Just chopped,  raw pears, water, orange zest and juice, ginger I whizzed up in the food processor, five spice powder, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. Oh, and vanilla.

What’s great about this appetizer is that you can make the marmalade several weeks ahead. With all the sugar in the pear mixture, it should keep for awhile. My thought was to make it for sometime over Thanksgiving weekend. I made a double batch, so actually I will freeze half for using in December. The mixture doesn’t have enough sugar that it’s truly a “marmalade” by jam-making standards. So it won’t keep for months on the shelf in the refrigerator. Use this within a week, and freeze what you haven’t eaten. Just don’t invite the same people over more than once! On second thought, I think you’ll like this enough you won’t pear_marmalade_cookedbe concerned to serve this twice, even if it was the same group of friends. Or family.

There’s a photo of the finished marmalade – I left the cinnamon sticks in the picture just for more brown-on-brown contrast. The pears have a lovely, warming bite from the fresh ginger in it. The orange zest and juice add some nice sweet notes. Then it’s also got vanilla, cinnamon (stick) and five-spice powder. The five-spice gives it a real interesting depth. It’s kind of elusive – you might not know what it is unless someone told you. Makes it different. Really different. The pear marmalade needs something to cut the richness (although there’s not a bit of butter or fat in it – I mean the intense flavors), so the goat cheese is the perfect choice.  With a bit of the left overs, I paired it with grilled pork chops. It was lover-ly.

What I liked: the sweet, the bite from the ginger. Loved the Chinese five-spice powder in it. It’s a sweet appetizer – just know that. With some goat cheese to spread on a cracker and the marmalade piled on top? Yummy. This would also make a delightful hostess gift if you’re into making these kinds of things to give to friends. If you wanted to make it complete, give the hostess a log of goat cheese and a tube of crackers.
What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing. It’s a keeper.

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Goat Cheese with Asian Pear Marmalade

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, caterer and cooking instructor
Serving Size: 8
Notes: I used a mixture of half Asian pears and half Bartlett (something Tarla said was an option).

MARMALADE:
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 cup water grated zest of one orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar — packed
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 whole cinnamon stick
4 whole Asian pears — peeled, cored, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
ASSEMBLY:
11 ounces goat cheese — log type
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — garnish
plain crackers

1. In a medium saucepan, combine all the marmalade ingredients together. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until soft and mushy.
2. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Let cool to room temperature. Place the log of goat cheese on a platter and spoon some of the marmalade on top. Garnish with Italian parsley and surround with crackers. If you’d like a more sticky hold-together mixture, remove all the pears and drain through a colander, reserving all the fluid. Return the fluid to the pan and reduce it until it’s almost syrupy. Also, I removed about a third of the pears and mashed them, then put them back in. That way there will be some mushy pulp and some pieces.
Per Serving: 243 Calories; 14g Fat (51.1% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 140mg Sodium.

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