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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

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 and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. 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-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.


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 Desserts, Miscellaneous sides, on July 14th, 2007.

As a confirmed chocoholic, I know my chocolate. And chocolate sauces. I don’t buy ready-made. Why bother to buy it when you can make it so easily? Maybe twice a year I make this sauce, my favorite, Regal Chocolate Sauce, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. When the grandkids visit I sometimes buy the Hershey’s squirt bottle, which they love. But, this sauce is far and away my favorite.

Year ago I was in a Newcomer’s Club, and the group decided to publish a cookbook of members’ recipes. A couple of my recipes are in the book, plus this one, from a friend I made in the club. Over the years I’ve tried several loads of other variations. The Los Angeles Times did an in-depth investigation into home made chocolate sauces some years ago and I tried a couple of them. Nope. Didn’t measure up in my book. I have tried recipes using heavy cream, a lot more butter, corn syrup instead of sugar, and various types of chocolate including milk. A friend shared her mother-in-law’s coveted recipe. Nope. Not that one, either. Why do I bother to try all these others? I have the best recipe already. It’s incredibly easy. What I like about it is that it doesn’t get chalky as it ages in the refrigerator. And you can make it in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring bowl, or heat it on the range if you want to have more control. You never want to overcook pure chocolate. Then pour it into a glass containier, cool and refrigerate. Then when I need it, I merely remove the lid and heat briefly – very briefly – in the microwave, until it’s just thin enough to pour and you’re done.

I’ve even tried the recipe using Scharffen Berger chocolate, and Valrhona too. They are good, and you can certainly substitute them for the German chocolate. What is it about the German chocolate? I’d forgotten what was unique about it:

  • German’s Chocolate dates back to 1852, when an American named Sam German created a sweet baking chocolate bar for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. This new chocolate had sugar added to it, as a convenience for bakers. But that all important apostrophe and “s” were soon dropped from “German’s.” In 1828, Dutch chocolate maker C. J. Van Houten invented the cocoa press. This machine squeezed cocoa butter out of the beans and treated the cocoa with an alkalizing agent to improve the color and flavor. The process became known as “dutching,” and cocoa processed this way is called Dutch chocolate.

So, Dutch chocolate, because of the use of an alkalizing agent is a milder form of chocolate. I’m a dark chocolate fan, so it’s interesting that I prefer the milder chocolate in this sauce. And speaking of Dutch chocolate, you may not have heard about this fabulous liqueur, Vermeer Dutch Cream. It’s very similar to Bailey’s, but it’s chocolate based rather than coffee/chocolate. It is made with Dutch chocolate. You have to seek out a retailer for it, as it’s a bit hard to find. It would make a great gift to a friend who is a chocoholic, or try it yourself. (As with Bailey’s, you should keep it refrigerated, and shake it up each time you intend to use it.) Note that the bottle has a Vermeer painting on the front The Girl with the Pearl Earring, the one that inspired Tracy Chevalier to write the novel about her (wonderful book, by the way, if you haven’t read it). Here’s a photo of the bottle, at left.

So, back to chocolate sauce – try my Regal Chocolate Sauce. You can use any form of chocolate you like. Try it on a little bit of good-quality vanilla ice cream with a few toasted almonds on top. Oh yes. (Photo at bottom from Vermeer Dutch Cream’s website.)

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MasterCook 5+ import file – click link to run MC or right click to save file

Regal Chocolate Sauce

Recipe from a friend I met in the 1970’s
Servings: 6
COOK’S NOTES: It keeps in the refrigerator for months, and is easy to reheat (at medium power setting) in the microwave.

4 ounces German chocolate squares
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 dash salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine chocolate, water, sugar and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until sauce is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Serve hot or cold over ice cream. Makes 3/4 cup.
Per Serving: 144 Calories; 9g Fat (48.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous sides, on May 17th, 2007.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I wrote up the Stacked Enchiladas? They had these crispy, crunchy onions as a garnish with drizzled Mexican crema? Well, the Stacked Enchiladas are long gone, but I’d put the remains of these onions in a little plastic baggie in the refrigerator. You know how sometimes you poke around in there and find all kinds of gems? Maybe moldy gems. Perhaps something unidentifiable? And then, perhaps some tasty gems when you’re trying to throw together something in a hurry, and it doesn’t LOOK like there’s anything in the darned thing? This was lunch yesterday – Dave and I shared this one sandwich. It was some wonderful Citterio rosemary ham from Trader Joe’s, a little smear of Best Foods mayo, some pale ale mustard, sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, a few thin slices of avocado, a good grinding of freshly ground black pepper, and then I topped it with the vinegary red onions and some feathery leaf lettuce. Lo and behold – a magnificent sandwich. It’s the crunch that is the lure for me. I’ll make these again just for other dishes. I used some of the onions in a tuna salad sandwich a week or so ago, which were also delicious, and still had some left. These aren’t nibbling onions – they’re far too sour, vinegar-y (just like they’re supposed to be) but laced on a sandwich they’re sensational. Here’s a repeat of just the onions.

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Vinegary Red Onions

1 whole red onion, peeled, thinly sliced
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
Place onions in a medium skillet. Add vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until cool, stirring often. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days. Serve with a slotted spoon. Note: obviously these keep far longer than 3 days. It’s been 2 weeks and counting.

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