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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 Breads, Desserts, on December 2nd, 2008.

banana bread or banana cake

If you did a search on the internet for banana bread you’d likely come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities. And mine isn’t anything that unusual. But it is different in one proportion (more bananas than any recipe I’ve ever read). I devised the recipe myself one year about 20 or so ago, when I had a huge bunch of bananas that were about to expire. I consulted several cookbooks for recipes, and finally decided to improvise. This was the result, and I’ve been making it this way ever since. This version is very light in texture – not dense like banana breads can be. If you happen to make it in a cake pan you can call it cake and serve it with a side of vanilla ice cream, or some whipped cream. You can substitute light sour cream. You can use a bit less sugar. You can add nuts (walnuts or pecans) if you’d like. You can also toss in some chocolate chips too. You can increase the ingredients just a little bit and make this in a bundt pan and also call it a cake (and serve it with a drizzle of heavy cream as I did with the leftovers pictured above). Or make it in a large bread pan plus a small one and just call it banana bread. And if you happened to be out of vanilla like we were the other night, substitute almond extract with no problem. Just be sure to use overly ripe bananas. And did you know that you can put whole bananas in the freezer and they’ll keep for a few weeks. Just defrost slightly (not fully) and cut them open. The resulting flesh will be very soft, but it will still taste just fine in this baked bread/cake. Just don’t wait months to use them as eventually they’ll degrade and the flesh will be almost liquid.
printer-friendly PDF

Banana Bread

Recipe: A Carolyn original
Servings: 16

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 whole bananas — mashed
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Cream sugar and butter together, then add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Into a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Combine in another bowl the mashed bananas and lemon juice.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Into the sugar/butter mixtures alternately add the bananas and flour. Don’t overmix. Pour into well-greased loaf pans (1 large and 1 small, or several small ones) and bake 50 minutes (small loaves) or 1 hour (large pans). Test with a toothpick. Cool in pans before removing. If making slightly larger in bundt form, bake for 50-55 minutes.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 8g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 335mg Sodium.

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  1. Kiara

    said on December 3rd, 2008:

    I love bananas, so this recipes looks perfect for me.
    Thanks 🙂 Another thing you can do with frozen bananas is mix them with low-fat yogurt and make your own ice cream.

    You know, I’ve made banana gelato before, but haven’t made it with yogurt. Will have to try that. Thanks for the idea. . . Carolyn T

  2. Debbie McDonald

    said on December 17th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I have tried so many banana bread recipes and they were just so-so. I had 5 ripe bananas and decided to try your recipe. It is the best! I used half vanilla and half almond extract and then put some raw sugar on top. It made 8 small loaves and then in the larger loaf I put some butterscotch morsels. Butterscotch and banana go very well together. Thank you for a great recipe.

    Ah, I’m so glad! It IS a great recipe – I agree! I’ll have to try some of your variations as they sound like great enhancements! . . . carolyn t

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