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Just finished reading 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 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 November 17th, 2017.

sheet_pan_chix_thighs_bacon_sourdough_sw_potatoes

As a family of one, I sometimes don’t want to fix a standard sized meal, when there’s only me eating it. But that could be a mistake when something is as good as this sheet pan dinner comes to town.

My daughter-in-law’s sister Janice sent an email to the family recently, with a link to a recipe online at Food & Wine, that she raved about. I looked it up, added it to my MasterCook software and had it in the back of my head that I’d try it soon. As I glanced at the recipe again I realized I didn’t have white potatoes – but I did have one sweet potato. Okay, that could be substituted. I did have a red onion, and I had boneless, skinless chicken thighs – the recipe called for those thigh/drumstick combinations. I didn’t have a sourdough boule, but I did have sliced sourdough bread in the freezer. And last but not least, I didn’t have fresh oregano, but I prefer dried oregano anyway. I figured I could improvise. Since I want vegetables in my meals, I decided to add some yellow squash to the mix also, as there weren’t any veggies in the original (unless you count onion and potatoes). The original also called for slab bacon cut into square chunks. I certainly didn’t have that either, but I did have thick sliced bacon. It would have to do!

sheet_pan_chix_thighs_bacon_sourdough_sw_potatoes_closeupBecause of the substitutions, I lowered the oven temp by 15°, to 385° (from 400°). Why? Because the croutons (nothing but sandwich bread cut into cubes) might have burned at 400°. Plus, the chicken was in smaller pieces as well. I just thought it would be safer baking at a lower temp.  So, first I combined the bread cubes, sweet potatoes, red onion wedges and bacon. That was drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with red chili flakes, dried oregano plus salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix it all up so everything has a thin coating of oil. Into the oven it went for 15 minutes. Although the combo is spread on a large sheet pan (rimmed) you kind of bunch it up in the middle (but still in a single layer) and I actually laid the bacon slices over the tops of all the onion wedges. Meanwhile I combined the boneless skinless chicken thighs that I cut into more manageable pieces and the yellow squash and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and oregano. Those things were added to the pan, trying to put the squash on the outside edges (because they’re a wet veggie and would weep water) and the chicken draped over the top of the center stuff. Another 40 minutes in the oven and the chicken was done with a bit of browned edges, all the veggies were perfect. If you have some parsley, sprinkle it on top and serve immediately. For a family meal, just put the pan on the table (on a towel maybe) with a big spoon or spatula to serve with; otherwise, pour it all out onto a HEATED platter and serve. I promise, you’ll hear mmmmm’s.

What’s GOOD: how incredibly easy this is, providing you have all the ingredients on hand. I made a smaller size (using one package of Costco’s boneless, skinless chicken thighs) but it was enough for 4 meals. If you have hearty eaters, well, it might feed fewer. Flavor is magnificent – probably from the bacon and the oil, plus the chicken fat that slowly oozed out of the meat as it roasted. I could hardly keep my fork out of the pan when I was packaging up the leftovers.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Bacon & Sourdough Croutons

Recipe By: Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe, 2017
Serving Size: 8

8 ounces sourdough bread — cut into 1″ cubes
2 red onions — peeled, chopped in wedges
5 slices thick-sliced bacon — cut in 1″ pieces
3 small sweet potatoes — peeled, cut in 1″ chunks
2 tablespoons dried oregano — divided use
3 tablespoons olive oil — divided use
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs — cut into big chunks
Salt and pepper and more dried oregano
3 large summer squash — either zucchini or yellow
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 385°F.
2. Prepare a large rimmed sheet pan (line with foil for easy clean-up). Add bread, onions, bacon and sweet potatoes on the pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle most of the oregano all over and season with red chili flakes, salt and pepper. Using your hands, toss these ingredients so most of them are oiled. Spread out, but still leave it in a centered mass, but a single layer.
3. Bake for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, lightly oil the squash and chicken in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper and oregano.
5. Remove pan from oven. Place the squash around the outside edges and place the chicken pieces on top of the middle mound (so the juices will drip into the mixture below it).
6. Return pan to the oven and roast for 40 minutes until the chicken has begun to brown around the edges and the squash is roasted. Remove and serve immediately. Sprinkle with chopped parsley if desired.
Per Serving: 403 Calories; 18g Fat (40.2% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 509mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 19th, 2017:

    I’m looking for quick and easy meals for the weekend after next, when my daughter and her four sons will be staying for three days so we can go to the Nutcracker performance and bake and decorate cookies. There won’t be much time for cooking and leaning up. This should be just the thing! I love the idea of roasting onions with bacon draped over them. That sounds fantastic!

    In the last month I’ve prepared this dinner 3 times. And I’m not tired of it at all. You can also change up the contents a little bit with different potatoes, or squash, or adding butternut squash. But as I think I wrote in the post, it’s the bacon and sourdough bread croutons that put it over the top, for me anyway! Let me know what you think! … carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on December 7th, 2017:

    I made this as planned last weekend, and everyone liked it–especially the croutons! Since I had bone-in chicken thighs–that’s what was on sale last week–I used the link to the original recipe in Food and Wine and followed those directions, but I used your guidelines for fat, and I used thick sliced bacon, as you did. It was still very rich. Those croutons are amazing–part crispy and part soft, moistened with chicken juices and bacon fat and flavored with oregano–wow! It was kind of like stuffing, which is my favorite dish in the Thanksgiving meal. Next time I think I’ll go with you and use skinless, boneless thighs, or at least skin the thighs, as the bacon and olive oil provide plenty of fat. And I’m eager to try it again with butternut squash.

    I had enough leftovers that I could turn them into a soup the next day. I cut the potatoes, chicken and onions up and added some carrots and celery and some chicken broth. I re-crisped the croutons in the oven and topped the soup with them.

    Your version sounds great, too, Donna. The nice thing about sheetpan dinners is that they’re versatile. So glad your family liked it, and how clever to turn the leftovers into soup! . . . carolyn t

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