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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 Chicken, on April 12th, 2017.

sicilian_chicken_green_olives

How many thousands of ways can there be to cook chicken? I never seem to run out of ideas (from recipes) to make it different and tasty.

Seems like I’ve been to a lot of cooking classes of late. My friend Cherrie and I really enjoy the ones given at a French restaurant in San Clemente, Antoine’s. The restaurant isn’t open for dinner (only breakfast and lunch). Chef Caroline always does a varied menu; sometimes it’s French, or some part of it, and she always has interesting stories to go along with them.

This chicken dish she whipped up right in front of our eyes on one of those free-standing single-burner induction cooktops. This is a one-dish chicken stew. In the photo, you can see polenta at the top right – that one is made with cornmeal but also with kabocha squash in it. LOVED it. That recipe will be up next.

First you sauté onion and carrots in some EVOO, then add 2 1/2 pounds of chopped up chicken thigh meat (boneless, skinless), along with oregano, basil and garlic. Red wine deglazes the pan; some raisins are added in and the dish is simmered another 20 minutes. Oh, there’s marinara sauce added, and a big bunch of pimiento stuffed olives (halved). It’s something like a spaghetti sauce (and you probably could serve it with pasta) but made with chicken, not beef or pork. The olives add a nice piquant flavor to the dish. I’m sure this dish would be better if you made it the day ahead – nearly every stewed dish is, including soups. It was delicious as-is, though.

What’s GOOD: the sauce is just wonderful – rich with flavor – and enhanced with the halved pimiento-stuffed olives in it. I like chicken thighs anyway (more flavor), so it was a no-brainer that I’d like this dish. It’s easy to make too.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – you do have to make something to go with this – a carb of some sort, but with a green salad, that would be dinner for sure.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sicilian Stewed Chicken Thighs with Green Olives & Tomato Sauce

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, Antoine’s San Clemente, CA
Serving Size: 8

4 tablespoons EVOO
1 large onion — diced
4 small carrots — diced
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs — cut into 2″ cubes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
8 large garlic cloves — chopped
1 1/2 cups red wine
30 ounces marinara sauce — jarred or home made
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups green olives — stuffed with pimiento, halved crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and carrot. Season lightly with salt and pepper, cooking until starting to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
2. Add the chicken thighs, seasonings and cook until starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine and deglaze the pan. Add the marinara sauce. Add water to the jar of marinara and shake vigorously, then pour into the pan with the raisins. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Add the stuffed green olives and simmer a further 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve. Can be made the day before, cooled, and refrigerated. The stew may need a bit more water when reheating. Or, place casserole in a 350° oven and heat for 30 minutes. Freezes well. Serve with polenta.
Per Serving: 287 Calories; 14g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 766mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 13th, 2017:

    Looks delicious. My to-try list is getting way out of hand! Will have to put it on the menu when we get tired of the Easter leftovers.

    Hope you enjoy it as much as I did . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on April 14th, 2017:

    An interesting recipe Carolyn but I wonder why it uses EVOO when Italian, Greek and Spanish cooks know that that is the best oil for salads and finishing dishes. They use second or third pressing for cooking with.

    I was looking at the following site and wondered if your locality is in bloom too? http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/ca.html

    It’s interesting that you picked that up, Toni. The chef said in this dish it needs the EVOO. I normally wouldn’t do that, either, but would use just “plain” olive oil. I don’t recall if she said why – perhaps it was for an extra boost of flavor since there are olives in it as well? I don’t know.

    As for the wildflowers, they are apparently profuse this year because we’ve had a tremendous amount of rain – after having 4-5 years of drought. The area, called Anza-Borrego, is about 3-4 hours drive east from where I live. Although, even where I live, the ground vegetation (even weeds) are prolific too. Flowers are in bloom everywhere. The photos at the website looked a bit “tricked up” I’d say (color enhanced) but yes, that’s in our California desert… carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on April 17th, 2017:

    So you don’t think the colours are quite natural? I don’t suppose it matters too much but it is good to be able to make some impact of the phenomenon. I shall never cope with the geography of your area – three to four hours driving from your home seems amazing to me. The only way to do that kind of driving over here is to drive to Scotland, otherwise we should end up in the sea!

    You have me LOLing. I think the colors were brightened with a photo program. At least some. And yes, 3-4 hours drive, all on a freeway (motorway), though. All of SoCal is a desert, but we’ve made it artificially green by importing water from all over everywhere. Well, I should qualify that – we have very high mountains within 2 hours of where I live, and they’re not in a desert, but everything down closer to ground level is a desert. What thrives are desert terrain, cactus and weeds that require little of no water.

    As for the driving, I recall counseling plenty of friends on them taking a trip to England, and cautioning them that unless they spend all their driving time on the motorways, not to expect to get very far in a day. A hundred miles in a day might even be too much. But that’s part of the wonderful charm of old-world England. The villages and little, narrow lanes and hedgerows, etc. I have so many fond memories of the driving (Dave and I both drove) we did in England over the years! Driving on the other side of the road has never been a problem for me. Some of the best trips Dave and I did were just driving here and there all over England. There are a few places I haven’t been (east of London), but nearly everywhere else we visited over the many trips. . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on April 27th, 2017:

    We are driving to Scotland tomorrow, doing the whole drive in a day and not on motorways [I get too stressed on them] at least, Dickie is driving, I keep him fed and watered. It is about 6.5 hours away. I am not a confident driver.

    Oh, how fun, Toni! I love Scotland. The last trip Dave and I did in Britain, we went with our friends from Bunny (Nottingham area) in the northern areas of England. Then Dave and I drove up to the Isle of Sky and drove all around everywhere; stayed in a lovely old castle owned by one of the O’xxx families of Scotland. Had breakfast each morning in their huge, huge dining room. Very lovely. The weather wasn’t very cooperative, and gosh was it windy of the Isles (maybe it always is?). You are too funny – you keep him fed and watered. LOL. Have fun, my friend. . . carolyn t

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