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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 Pork, Soups, on February 2nd, 2013.


When I ponder something new to fix for dinner, I can’t say that I ever think about choosing Malaysian food! I don’t know that I’ve ever had Malaysian food, for that matter, until now!

I’d defrosted some pork – one of the few remaining packages from the 4-H Berkshire pig we bought over a year ago. I still have some bacon and ham and that’s about it. Even though the package said it was country ribs, it was a very small package, so I decided to spread out the pork wealth by making something like stew. As is my usual method, I went to Eat Your Books, where I have listed nearly all of my cookbooks. I put in “pork stew” and within seconds I had a list of the dozens and dozens of recipes contained in my own cookbooks. Well no, it doesn’t really have the recipes, it just has the title and the list of ingredients (by name, not quantity), which makes it quite simple to deduce if I have the ingredients on hand. In this particular recipe, yes, I had the pork, coconut milk, onions, white wine, ginger, tomatoes, fresh mint and cilantro. I didn’t have fresh basil, but I overlooked that one.

I just love that website – it makes finding a recipe so simple. Once I chose this recipe, I glanced at what cookbook – how funny – it’s from my mostly new-favorite book – The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. And better yet, once I pulled out the book itself, I found that I had already flagged the recipe – but just hadn’t gotten around to making it! All serendipity – it was meant to be!

The cookbook version suggests Boston butt or pork shoulder. I assumed the cooking time wouldn’t be much different for the country ribs. It also has you make it all on the stovetop, whereas I had decided to use the pressure cooker, which worked like a charm. The preparation is the same – it’s just the difference of the cooking time (10 minutes by pressure cooker, and about 60-90 minutes on the stovetop).

The pork stew chunks are dredged in a spicy mixture of curry powder, cumin and paprika. I had a hot curry powder, so I didn’t add cayenne as listed in the recipe. (Although, I couldn’t really discern any heat in the finished dish, so it was more mild than anticipated.) They were browned well in oil, removed, then I sautéed the onions (it called for red, I only had a yellow one). Then you add in all the other ingredients, including garlic and simmer. That’s when I put on the lid and pressure cooked it for 9 minutes.  I had a bit of coconut milk left over (I made half of the recipe you see below) so I just added it in at the last, along with the fresh green beans. I simmered them just until they were barely cooked through. Because we limit white carbs, I only used about 2-3 T. of cooked rice in each bowl, ladled the soup around the outer rim (so we could see the rice), then sprinkled on the garnishes. The lime juice adds a really important taste element – be sure to add that part. I liked the flavor combination from the spices (paprika, cumin and curry). The garnish is a combo of fresh mint, fresh cilantro, basil (if you have it, I didn’t), peanuts (I didn’t have peanuts, but I did have sliced almonds so I chopped those up) and lime juice. That garnish adds a wonderful touch to the taste.

What’s good: just the overall flavor of the gravy or soup part – it’s loaded with taste. The pork was nicely cooked, although not overly so. It might have been able to take another minute or two in the pressure cooker. I’m sure this could be made the day ahead, even. Just make the garnishes at the last minute. And the left overs – they were wonderful.
What’s not: nothing, really.

printer-friendly CutePDF
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file (and remember where you put it), run MC, then File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

Malaysian-Inspired Pork Stew with Traditional Garnishes

Recipe By: Adapted a little from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Hesser), but it’s originally from Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: The original recipe called for pork shoulder or Boston butt. I used country style ribs because that’s what I had on hand. The green beans are my addition, although they were suggested as an accompaniment to the meal, so I decided to just add them into the stew itself. I served this with rice (but a very small amount). I served it more as a soup than a plated main dish. It’s certainly up to you. I liked the gravy – it was slightly thickened – if you want it more thick, simmer the mixture longer before adding in the green beans.

2 tablespoons curry powder [I used a medium-heat version]
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper — or to taste [I omitted because the curry powder had heat]
2 pounds pork country-style ribs — boneless, cut into 1-inch cubes, trimmed of excess fat [or pork shoulder]
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoon olive oil
2 whole red onions — thinly sliced [I used yellow]
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 plum tomatoes — cored and cut into small dice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/4 cups light coconut milk — [original used full-fat coconut milk]
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups green beans — chopped in 1-inch pieces [optional]
1/4 cup basil — roughly chopped
1/4 cup cilantro — chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint — minced
1/3 cup peanuts — roasted, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dashes of Tabasco sauce to taste
Cooked rice to accompany the stew

1. Combine the curry powder, cumin, paprika, and cayenne in a large bowl. Dry the pork cubes with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with the spice mix to coat.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 5-inch-deep Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork and brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter, and discard the oil in the pot.
3. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté, until golden brown, 11 to 13 minutes. When you’re browning the pork and onions, make sure you scrape up the pan drippings so they don’t burn. Add the ginger, garlic and tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes more. Return the meat to the pot, add the soy sauce, coconut milk, and wine, and bring to a simmer. Skim any film off the surface, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently until the meat is very tender, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. [I used a pressure cooker for 9 minutes.] Taste for seasonings, then add green beans and simmer on the stove top for 3-6 minutes until the green beans are JUST cooked through.
4. Combine the basil, mint, cilantro, peanuts, lime, Tabasco (if desired), and brown sugar in a small bowl and mix well. Place a generous helping of stew in each bowl, top with a couple tablespoons of garnish, and serve accompanied by rice. Alternately you can scoop rice into the center of a soup bowl, then gently spoon the stew around the mound and garnish it all.
Per Serving: 536 Calories; 38g Fat (65.4% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 71mg Cholesterol; 779mg Sodium.

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