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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 Beverages, on November 16th, 2012.

clove_scented_sidecar_cocktail

Once in a blue moon I’ll make a cocktail when we’re having dinner guests. Usually it’s just wine we offer, but the other day I was flipping through an old magazine, saw this recipe and decided it sounded interesting. Indeed it is – I liked it a lot. Of our 8 guests, only 4 opted to try it. I did. I tried. I liked. I’ll make it again, maybe real soon. But it’s one of those that could sneak up on you, so be careful and don’t guzzle.

All the ingredients I got out, at-the-ready, and just before guests arrived my friend Cherrie’s hubby, Bud, made these drinks. Now if you are a traditionalist with cocktails – the “give me the straight stuff” kind of person, you probably won’t like this. Maybe too frou-frou. There’s nothing in it, though, other than whiskey (Jack Daniels was what we had), orange and lemon juices, sugar, and then the cloves_sugar_mixtureglasses or tumblers are coated in sugar that’s mixed with ground cloves. A lot of folks, I suppose, wouldn’t want to sully a good shot of Jack Daniels whiskey with sugar! Well, I did, and I liked it.

A sidecar, from its origins in London over 100 years ago was equal parts cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, now known as “the French school”. Later, an “English school” of Sidecars emerged, as found in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), which calls for two parts cognac and one part each of Cointreau and lemon juice. So, whiskey was never part of a sidecar. Who knew? Certainly not me!

Maybe I’ve mentioned it here before, but the first alcoholic drink I ever tried (I was 20) was Jim Beam bourbon and 7-up. My former father-in-law thought it would be a nice introduction for me to try it – he made a very mild one. I actually didn’t mind it, and even recently when Dave and I were in Las Vegas and went to one of the bars in a casino, I ordered one. I’m not much of a drinker in any case. My parents didn’t drink at all, and when I went to college, drinking just wasn’t “done.” It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, when I was single again, my friends Kathy & Peter and I took a 2-3 month course at a local college in wine appreciation, and I began drinking wine now and then. After Dave and I married, I would have a glass of wine (just one) most evenings, usually while I was cooking dinner, but as I’ve gotten older I only drink wine (or anything alcoholic) occasionally. Part of it is because I don’t need the calories. And I’m not very fond of tannic wines anymore, at any time. My DH really likes sharp, tannic wines, and to open a bottle of wine for me alone (a lighter, smoother type) would be silly. It wouldn’t get drunk in a month. But if the sharp part is tempered some – like in Sangria (I do love Sangria, and Trader Joe’s has a great one, called Sangria Ole if you haven’t tried it), well,  I could be more often tempted.

sugared_rimsSo, with this drink – where the sharpness of the alcohol is blunted with something citrusy or sweet, well, I could probably drink one of these sidecars a couple times a week if someone would make them for me! Bud did have to read and re-read the directions a couple of times to make sure he was chunking the lemons and slicing the oranges, muddling some, adding sugar here, not there. Sugar-ing and clove-ing the tumbler rims, etc. He did a great job – if there had been enough for seconds I might have succumbed. But considering the amount of whiskey, well maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t as I might not have gotten dinner on the table! I’m such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. One drink and I’m a goner almost!

So anyway, these little numbers are fun. The recipe is from Sunset Magazine, in 2010. Tasty. Worth the trouble – but it would be nice if you’re the hostess – if you can get somebody else to do the prep and serve them for you. I’m always a one-armed paperhanger during the last 10 minutes before guests arrive. I used these silver mugs (they’re actually mint julep tumblers) to serve them in. And don’t forget to drop the one clove into each glass or mug before serving. And sip it all around the rim so you can enjoy the ground cloves which enhance the flavor a lot.

What’s good: the citrusy, sweet flavor – a very nice way to cut the sharpness of whiskey. A fun drink all around.
What’s not: probably the time to make it – not all that bad, but you do have to cut, squeeze, slice, mix, muddle, measure, and use a shaker too before you can finally pour out the drink.

printer-friendly (Cute PDF Writer) PDF
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Clove Scented Sidecar

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 12/2010
Serving Size: 2

5 tablespoons sugar — divided (you probably won’t use it all)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 whole lemon — cut into chunks
1 whole orange
Ice
1/2 cup whiskey
2 whole cloves — for garnish

1. Mix 2 tbsp. sugar and ground cloves on a small plate. Rub one lemon chunk around the rims of two cocktail glasses. Turn rims in the clove sugar.
2. Cut orange into two slices about 1/4 in. thick; cut slices in half. Put lemon chunks, orange slices, and 3 tbsp. sugar in a cocktail shaker. Using a wooden spoon, muddle together the fruit and sugar until fruit is broken up.
3. Add about 1 cup ice and whiskey to cocktail shaker. With lid securely fastened, shake vigorously to blend, then strain into the sugared glasses. Garnish each with a whole clove.
Per Serving (not accurate – it assumes you eat all the sugar plus the orange and lemon, which you don’t): 308 Calories; 2g Fat (6.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 18mg Sodium.

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