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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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 easy, Pork, on March 8th, 2014.

skillet_pork_chops_apples_onions

Did we have pork chops in the freezer? Check. Apples? Yes, one. Check. Onions? Yes, always one of those on hand. Check. Italian Parsley? Yup. Check. Lemon juice? Oh yes. Check.

I’m sure you’re all just like I am – we eat different meats in rotation. Sort of. Chicken, chicken, fish, chicken, pork, chicken, fish, and way down the rotation list, lamb. This particular night I was in the mood for pork and sure enough, we still had two more pork chops from the Berkshire pig. I think this dinner will be the last, however. We have a Berkshire ham, which we’ll probably have for Easter, and I think I have one more pound of ground pork. When those are gone, I’ll be completely empty of Berkshire. Sadly.

Lucky is the word for me when it comes to pleasing my hubby – Dave never complains no matter what I serve him. Only when we’ve had the same leftovers 3 times does he grumble a little. I rarely do that – I try to insert something else in between, or I try to re-invent the dish somehow. But with some things that’s not possible. When I’ve defrosted meat to begin with, made something, I don’t like to re-freeze it. It’s already been frozen and I’ve read that meat just loses flavor when you do that. I’ve been known to do it with soup, when the protein comprises very little of the taste in the soup itself. Like tonight, for instance, as I’m typing this, I have meatballs in the refrigerator, chilling. From a couple of pounds of defrosted ground beef. (I’m making something close to Ikea’s Swedish Meatballs – if it’s good, I’ll post it in a few days.) I made a big batch – bigger than I should have I think – and my only hope is that we’ll have a guest over to help eat it up. Because I don’t want to freeze them.

Okay, back to pork chops. I’d saved this recipe in MasterCook – and so my notes say, I found it on Oprah’s website, although it’s a Mark Bittman recipe. Must have been awhile ago. But I searched for pork chop recipes within my to-try recipes and this one just seemed the best fit. And talk about easy!

The chops were seasoned with salt and pepper, browned in a skillet. Some vermouth was added to the pan along with a minced-up shallot. The chops are removed, and then you add the sliced apples and onion and cook that for awhile with some chicken stock, then the chops go back into the pan for a little while – maybe 10 minutes – while the sauce reduces down a bit. That’s it. Add a tidbit of butter (as a finish to the sauce) and garnish with Italian parsley. Done. I had a smidgen of rice left over from the chicken tikka masala I’d made the other night, so I added just enough to give the plate a rounding-out. It was enough for the sauce to soak into, which was delicious.

What’s GOOD: how quick and easy the dish was to make. My DH loved it – but then, he loves pork chops just about any way I’ll make them. Loved the interplay between the savory sauce and the sweet apple. Apple and pork really do go together well.

What’s NOT: nothing at all, really. Liked the dish a lot.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Skillet Pork Chops with Apples

Recipe By: Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Basic (via Oprah’s website)
Serving Size: 4

2 pounds pork chops — preferably bone in (6 to 8 ounces each) 1″ thick [I used chops that were 1/2″ thick so cooked it for less time]
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine — or light-bodied beer [I used vermouth]
2 tablespoons chopped shallot — or red onion
3 medium apples — peeled, cored, halved, and sliced [I used less]
1 large onion — halved and sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock — or more as needed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons parsley — chopped fresh for garnish

1. Blot the chops dry with a paper towel. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the chops, turn the heat to high, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When they brown and release from the pan easily, turn the chops, season again, and cook this side the same way. The whole process should take about 2 minutes per side or 3 to 5 minutes total.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the wine—be careful here; the wine may splatter a bit when it hits the hot oil—and the shallot and cook, turning the chops once or twice, until the wine is almost evaporated, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer the chops to a plate and return the pan to the heat.
3. Add the apples and onion to the hot pan and stir until they start to stick, 1 or 2 minutes. Add the stock, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chops to the pan, along with any juices accumulated on the plate. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat so it bubbles steadily, then cover.
4. Cook, stirring occasionally and turning the chops once or twice, until the chops are tender, 5 to 10 minutes; add another 1/2 cup stock or water if the apples start to stick. When the chops are done, they will be firm to the touch, their juices will run just slightly pink, and when you cut into them the color will be rosy at first glance but turn pale within seconds. By this time the apples and onions will also be soft. Stir in the lemon juice and butter and taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the chops with the sauce on top, garnished with the parsley.
Per Serving: 535 Calories; 32g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

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