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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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Posted in Chicken, Sous Vide, on June 14th, 2017.

sous_vide_red_chile_chicken

I know most of you don’t have a sous vide, so just skip this one. But if you do, you DO need to try this recipe. It’s a winner.

Now that I’m a family of one, I don’t use my sous vide very often. My DH and I were just at the point of perfecting steak on the barbecue, but pre-cooked in the sous vide. I very rarely make steak for myself (alone), but if I did, I might try it again. Sometimes it’s just easier to use the older method (searing, then putting it off-heat in the barbecue, closed, until it reached about 120°, then quickly searing it again for a minute of so until it reached 125-128°F).

Anyway, I’ve subscribed to Milk Street, the new magazine from Chris Kimball (formerly the geeky guy from Cook’s Illustrated – he started the company many years ago). He got ousted by their board and started up his own, very similar business model. No TV shows yet, but they say it’s coming. The magazine is different than C.I. in that the articles are shorter, and it’s filled with color photos, which I like. It’s the identical format (shape, size and frequency of issues) and I also listen to the podcasts from the new Milk Street kitchens.

Image result for ancho chilesSo, anyway, the May-June issue had a double-spread about sous vide. In it J.M. Hirsch writes that you can make a perfect poached egg in 45 minutes at 145°F. I may have to try that one. There are much cheaper sous vide instruments (using your own container) than when I bought mine. Mine was several hundred dollars. New immersion pods start at $79 (Sous Smart) and $129 (Anova). And another new one that uses a phone app to run it (they liked that one a lot, called Joules) for $199. They perfected this chicken recipe and it sounded so intriguing I just had to try it. I halved the below recipe (using one packet of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Costco, which contained 2 nice-sized breasts) and I actually  used ordinary ziploc bags instead of digging out my vacuum sealer. You lower the filled bag in water until it reaches the zip portion (but it’s unzipped at this point), then press out all the air and zip it. Am not sure the zip tab type would work for this. Anyway, that worked just fine using Ziploc. Picture at left from chefsinfo.com.

sous_vide_chicken_in_bagI made one other change – I didn’t have any ancho chiles (dried) in my pantry. Anchos are dried pasilla chiles, which have such a very unique flavor. I need to get some, because I’ll be making this recipe again. So instead, I used guajillo, which are mild flavored and similar. Otherwise, I followed the recipe except for browning the chiles. Seems kind of redundant to me. The sauce you make is quite easy to do and it’s full of flavor, but hardly any heat at all. I refrigerated the chicken packets for an hour or two while I heated up the sous vide, which should have kind of marinated them. I have a rack for my sous vide and I used it to make sure the chicken packets were kept submerged completely. Timer set for 1 1/2 hours and then I made the sauce and cooked some fresh asparagus and my dinner was done.

Oh my. The chicken was SO tender, and absolutely perfectly cooked through and juicy. I could practically cut it with a fork, though I did use a knife. Loved the chile flavor, the smokiness of the dried cumin. Couldn’t taste the cinnamon. The chiles completely dissolve in the sauce (because you whiz it up in the food processor). The sauce was an absolute cinch to make and dinner was ready with a bit of cilantro on top. Don’t dilly dally once they’re done as the chicken is hot and you don’t want to eat it lukewarm. A definite make-again dish.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was good. The chicken was PERFECTLY cooked and as juicy as chicken could possibly be. Easy to do in the sous vide. You could easily make the marinade/sauce ahead of time and combine them just before cooking. I have a second packet left over and from the article I understand it will be just as tender and good as the first time. Loved the sauce – mild and very flavorful. Not hot because anchos or guajillos are mild chiles.

What’s NOT: not much unless you don’t like the hassle of cooking sous vide.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sous Vide Red Chile Chicken

Recipe By: Milk Street magazine, 2017
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola oil
2 ounces dried ancho peppers — stemmed and seeded
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano — Mexican type if available
2 large garlic cloves — smashed
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
SAUCE:
2 tablespoons butter — salted if available
1 tablespoon lime juice
GARNISH:
1/3 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Preheat sous vide to 145°F. (And yes, after 1 1/2 hours of immersion, the chicken breast will be perfectly cooked, even though the water temp is below the usually accepted cooked chicken temp.)
2. In a medium skillet, heat oil until it shimmers, then add chiles and toast until lightly browned, about 20 seconds (I skipped this step). Transfer to a food processor, saving the oil in the skillet. Process until coarsely chopped (I had to tear some of the pieces into smaller ones), about 30 seconds.
3. In a small saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add the chile mixture, oregano and garlic. Cover and remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. In the food processor combine the sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and the little bit of reserved chili oil from the frying pan. Add the chile-water mixture and process until smooth, about a minute, scraping the bowl as needed.
5. Place each chicken breast into a vacuum-seal bag and add an equal portion of the chile mixture to each one. Squeeze the bag a bit to coat the chicken evenly. Seal each chicken breast, then refrigerate for a few hours if time permits. If not, place breasts in sous vide. Chicken packets must remain completely under the water, not floating. Once the temperature reaches 145°F again (usually just a few minutes), set a timer for 90 minutes.
6. When chicken is cooked, remove from sous vide. Pour the juices from inside each bag into a saucepan and simmer until liquid is thickened slightly, about a minute or two. Off heat add the butter and lime juice. Serve the chicken drizzled with the sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 15g Fat (42.5% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 1484mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 14th, 2017:

    Oh, goody, a sous vide recipe to try! I got my Sansaire just a few months ago and am always looking for something new to try. The first time I used it, I did a whole meal–creme brulee, then steak, a cabbage dish, and a potato dish. The creme brulee and the steak were great, but I wasn’t impressed with the vegetables. The potatoes weren’t done enough to mash well, and the cabbage was almost impossible to submerge–had to weight it down with a brick! I look forward to trying the chicken breasts because I need ideas to keep them juicy–I’d rather eat thighs, but my husband prefers white meat. He doesn’t like spicy, but I think I could get by with anchos or guajillos.

    I was really happy with this recipe – you’ll be pleased with the tenderness and juiciness of the chicken. Hope you’ll be pleased! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on June 15th, 2017:

    What did you think about the saltiness? Two and a half teaspoons of salt seems like a lot for 4 servings, unless it was kosher salt. Would it be a mistake to cut back a bit?

    I’m trying to remember – I probably didn’t use that much, but I really can’t recall! It can’t hurt anything to reduce it. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on June 30th, 2017:

    Did this when my sister came to visit last week. She and I loved it, but it was too spicy for my husband; it’s hard to reduce the spice when the sauce is based on dried peppers as a main ingredient. But my chicken breasts were quite large, so I pulled off the tenders and trimmed the rest down to a nice sized serving. The extra went into another bag and was cooked along with the chile chicken. It still made for some very tender and juicy chicken. Next time I would think ahead and figure out a way to season it. I’ll make this again. It’s a great way to keep chicken breast meat moist.
    I’m glad it worked out – if you change things, let me know what you do so I can try it too! And I’ll write it up here on my blog! . . . carolyn t

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