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Just finished reading The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

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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Without just stating my age, let’s just say that I’ve entertained family and friends for holidays, for a whole lot of years. So I’ve had lots of experience making big meals and small meals that seem to go well with holiday entertaining.

After trying to write up this list by holiday type, I gave up and have just listed special foods from my blog that lend themselves well to entertaining. Usually I don’t serve pumpkin for Christmas, and I don’t serve beef at Thanksgiving, but I’ll bet you can figure it out . . . most of these are kind of “special” meal preparations. Some may be more labor intensive, but they’re not all tedious or hard. More likely they’re festive, and maybe use more pricey meat options.

Appetizers:

Sausage Pinwheels
Baked Brie and Apples
Ginger Picks
Bombay Cheese Ball
Goat Cheese Pesto Appetizer
Walnut Fennel Dip
Muhumara – Red Bell Pepper Walnut Spread
Beef:

Beef Tenderloin in Puff Pastry
Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Steak Diane Flambé
Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese
Sizzling Ribeyes with Red Pepper Sauce
Filet Mignon with Wine Hollandaise
Filet Mignon with Mushroom Port Sauce
Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Cambazola Toasts
Herb Garlic Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Mushrooms
Filet Mignon with Bacon and Port Sauce
Grilled Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Sage
Chicken and Turkey:

Bombay Chicken (a big, lovely casserole)
Kosher Turkey and Turkey Gravy
Spatchcocked Turkey
Country Captain Chicken (another big, lovely casserole)
Fish:

Grilled Salmon on Watercress Salad
Halibut Osso Buco
Salmon with Maple Syrup and Thyme
Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique
Lamb:

Leg of Lamb with Sausage, Pecorino and Pine Nuts
Pork:

Kurobuta Ham with Mustard Sauce
Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Mustard
Grilled Rack of Pork with Rosemary, Garlic and Sage
Breads and Breakfast Breads:

Buttermilk Scones (my favorite)
Bishop’s Bread (a loaf type Christmas favorite with chocolate and Maraschino cherries)
Chocolate Scones
Irish Soda Bread with Orange Zest
Welsh Cakes (kind of like scones, but cooked differently)
Pumpkin Raisin Bread (a yeast-raised bread for toast or turkey sandwiches)
Sour Cream Coffeecake with Chocolate
Custard-Filled Cornbread
Refrigerator Raisin Bran Muffins
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Brunch or Big Holiday Breakfast:

Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Strata – an OMGosh fantastic breakfast dish
Pineapple Upside Down French Toast
Spiced Fruit
Breakfast Eggy Muffin
Breakfast Egg Muffins (yes, these are different)
Ham and Egg Cups with Pesto, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Make-Ahead Coffeecake
Bananas Foster Croissant French Toast
Twisted Bacon Spirals (baked)
Southwest Eggs Benedict
Brunch Gratinée Eggs
Cookies: (except for the chocolate chip ones, these are all Christmas kinds of cookies)

Cranberry Noels
Blue Chip Chocolate Cookies
Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies
Harlequin Pinwheels
New York Special Slices (like Nanaimo Bars)
Rock Road
Chocolate Kiss Treasures
Brandied Apricot Bars
One Bowl Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Wellesley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee
White Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickery Squares
Almond Spice Wafers (like Moravian Sugar Cookies)
Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Midnight Crackles
Silver Moon Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies
Baked Cinnamon Toasts (OMGosh, so good)
Thin Ginger Cookies
Chocolate Chunk Brownies (thick, rich, decadent)
Desserts:

Classic Brownies
Banana Caramel Chocolate Chip Cake
Grandgirl’s Fresh Apple Cake
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Chocolate Steamed Pudding
Gourmet Cheesecake
Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Pear and Chocolate Tart
Chocolate Grand Marnier Decadence Cake
Triple Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Sauce
Pumpkin Praline Custard (low calorie, believe it or not, and easy)
Pumpkin Spice Gingerbread Trifle
Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting
Mocha Pecan Roll
Cranberry and Porter Trifle
Chocolate Sponge Roll (used to be my standard Christmas dessert)
Apple Crumb Pie
Cranberry Pudding Cake
86 Proof Chocolate Cake
Ginger Apple Cake Torte
Cajun Apple Cake with Brandy Drizzle
Purple Plum Torte
Teddie’s Apple Cake
Salads:

Apple Cherry Walnut Green Salad
Spinach and Berries Salad
Minted Watermelon and Feta
Celery, Date, Walnut and Pecorino Salad
Cranberry, Pecan and Apple Salad with Lime Dressing
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus
Winter Greens Salad with Bacon, Orange, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
Vegetarian:

Cheese Fondue (our family favorite)
Vegetable Coconut Curry (lots of work, but worth making)
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Southwest Corn Cakes
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Rice with Pecans, Garlic and Spinach
Mushroom Risotto (pressure-cooker, easy)
Garbanzo Bean, Feta and Cilantro Salad
Butternut Squash Risotto (leave out the pancetta for vegetarian)
Saffron Risotto Cakes
Cabbage with Corn, White Beans, Raisins and Thyme
Vegetables and Sides:

Baked Onions with Thyme
Brussels Sprouts with Brandy, Orange and Dried Cranberries
Zucchini Gratin
Hashed Brown Casserole
Marinated Brussels Sprouts (a cold salad)
Green Beans with Shallots and Balsamic Vinegar
Asparagus with Chile Butter
Green Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil (I must make this 20x a year)
Gulliver’s Creamed Corn
Mashed Potatoes with Mascarpone Cheese
Peas with Pancetta
Monterey Scalloped Potatoes
BLT Smashed Potatoes
Armenian Rice Noodle Pilaf
Crumbled Asparagus
Swiss Chard with Cranberries
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Garbanzo Bean Salad with Feta and Cilantro
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pine Nuts
Corn, Sugar Snap Peas and Bacon Sauté
Haricot Verts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce (oh-so easy)
Meyer Lemon Harvest Grain Salad with Asparagus