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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 August 5th, 2017.

grilled_chile_chix_strawb_salsa_lime_crema

That photo doesn’t do justice to this easy grilled chicken dish. This chicken was very easy to put together and was so nice with the strawberry salsa and the lime cream on top.

On the spur of the moment I invited 2 widow friends over for dinner and asked if we could do a potluck. One brought a nice green salad (with mandarin oranges and sliced almonds in it) and the other friend brought a tiny little chocolate cake (made from a Duncan Hines boxed mix that comes with the frosting). I had some cream of cucumber soup that I’d made the day before, so after having a glass of Trader Joe’s peach bellini and a few bites of Brie, served with my Roasted Figs that I’d kept in the freezer, I grilled this chicken.

A few hours before I made the marinade (easy), the strawberry salsa (easy) and the lime cream (super easy). The chicken was in the marinade for about 2 hours total. I am still learning how to grill, since my DH was the grillmeister in my house. I’ve had to learn. My most trusted tool is my instant read thermometer, and it was spot on with this, when the chicken reached about 152°F. I served the two condiments so my guests could add what they wanted. I sliced wide strips of the hot grilled chicken and piled them onto a very hot plate. Dinner was lovely. The company was fun and happy. We laughed and enjoyed the view outside my dining room windows. As I write this, it’s been stinkin’ hot and humid (so much so that we’ve been having tropical showers), so we had to eat inside. A couple of days ago it was nearly 100°F, which is very hot for July. My A/C has been running nearly 24/7. As much as I hate keeping the air on nearly all the time (it’s expensive first of all), I have decided I want to be comfortable. End of story.

I’d definitely make this again. It’s a recipe from a 2005 cooking class I took with Phillis Carey. I changed just a few things from her recipe. I used jalapeno chile instead of serrano (serranos are hotter); I cut down on the quantity of chile in the marinade and the salsa (because I didn’t think my guests would want so much chile-heat). I used strawberry balsamic vinegar (because I had some) in the salsa, and I used sherry vinegar in the marinade instead of raspberry (straight) vinegar (because I didn’t have any). We DO have to improvise, right?  I pounded the chicken breasts to an even thickness of about 1/2”, and they grilled perfectly in about 4 minutes per side on a medium-heat grill. The only mistake I made was not oiling the grill grate before starting, so the chicken stuck a little bit. No big deal, though.

What’s GOOD: the chicken was super tender and juicy. If you remove it from the grill when it reaches about 150-152°F, you’re sure to have juicy chicken. Past 155°F and it’ll be more dry. I loved the strawberry salsa – so “summer” and picnic-y if there is such a thing. Next time I’ll add more lime zest to the cream (I doubled the amount in the recipe below). It made a lovely presentation.

What’s NOT: nary a thing, really. You do have to make the salsa and the crema, but neither one takes much time to do. Even the chicken marinade took very little time.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grilled Chile Chicken Breasts with Lime Crema

Recipe By: Adapted a little from a Phillis Carey class, 2005
Serving Size: 6

CHICKEN:
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 whole serrano chile — minced (or jalapeno)
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar — or sherry vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
LIME CREMA:
1 cup Mexican crema — “Cacique” brand (green lid) or sour cream
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
STRAWBERRY SALSA:
3 cups fresh strawberries — diced
3 tablespoons fresh mint — minced
3 tablespoons sugar
1 serrano chile — or jalapeno
1/2 cup red onion — minced
3 tablespoons strawberry balsamic vinegar — or other fruit balsamic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. CHICKEN: Trim and pound breast to an even 1/2 inch thickness.
2. In a ziploc plastic bag add chile, garlic, chili powder, vinegar, olive oil and S&P. Add chicken, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours. Remove from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Rub an oil-soaked paper towel over the grill. Grill chicken 3-4 minutes per side to cook through. Chicken breasts are done when they’ve reached about 150-152°F.
3. CREMA: Stir lime zest and juice into crema. Refrigerate a few hours, or up to 4 hours.
4. SALSA: Place strawberries, mint and sugar in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Add chile, onion and vinegar; toss together lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Let salsa rest at room temp for at least 20 minutes before serving. Spoon over chicken and top with lime crema. Note: Serve with black beans or cilantro rice.
Per Serving : 390 Calories; 23g Fat (53.8% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 85mg Cholesterol; 104mg Sodium.

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