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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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

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