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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 December 18th, 2007.

You’re really missing out on something wonderful if you don’t make chicken and dumplings once in awhile. One day a year or so ago, in reading The Orange County Register, the Food Editor Cathy Thomas wrote up all the joys and virtues of chicken and dumplings. It set my mouth to watering, and I promptly made hers. Oh my. Was it ever GOOD. Actually, the chicken was Jamee Ruth’s version, from the book The Cookware Cookbook (had never heard of it, actually). It’s relatively simple, although it calls for ingredients I don’t often have on hand (6 leeks, for example and 6 shallots). The gravy/broth is just delicious, helped along with the addition of apple juice of all things. This is worth a trip to the grocery store. A good recipe for a chilly winter’s evening. I like to remove the chicken from the bones (and remove all the skin too so DH won’t eat it). Just reheat briefly.

Serve it in a wide soup bowl, with the light dumplings on top. And I highly recommend Marion Cunningham’s recipe for Feather Dumplings which has fresh bread crumbs and onion in them. The minced onion gives a nice little crunch in the dumpling. Something a little different, but they’re worth making. From her book Lost Recipes: Meals to Share with Family & Friends. Although surely this dish is one you ordinarily think of as homespun, it would be wonderful to share with family, and good friends. Here it is in the bowl with the dumplings.

If you have leftovers, when reheating, put the chicken mixture in a saucepan, heat just to a low simmer, then gently lower in the leftover dumplings. Top with a lid and allow to simmer very slowly for just a few minutes, then serve. I also find that the broth/gravy can have some added water. When I made the chicken and dumplings this time, after completing all the cooking (except the dumplings), I ladled out about 7/8 of the leeks with some broth and whizzed them up in the food processor. That made the gravy a bit thicker, which is a good thing.
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Chicken and Dumplings

Recipes: Dumplings – Marion Cunningham; Chicken – Jamee Ruth
Source: Cathy Thomas, Orange County Register
Servings: 8
NOTES: If you prefer, you can remove all the chicken from the bones – in which case it’s not necessary to do the dredging, etc. Just brown the chicken pieces.
Serving Ideas: Serve this in a wide and deep soup bowl. The broth is just fabulous, which you want to consume with every bite.

CHICKEN:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 pounds chicken pieces — skin-on
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
6 whole leeks — cleaned and sliced
6 whole shallots — diced
5 whole carrots — cut in 3″ pieces
3 stalks celery — diced
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup apple juice — or pineapple juice
[Optional: green peas and mushrooms]
FEATHER DUMPLINGS:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup onion — finely minced
1 whole egg — beaten
2 tablespoons butter — melted
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — minced
Black pepper to taste

1. Prepare the chicken (called the soup): In a shallow bowl or pan combine the flour, salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour. Melt butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot on medium-high heat. Cautiously add half of the chicken using tongs. Do not crowd the pieces. Brown nicely on both sides, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and brown remaining chicken and remove to a plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add leeks and shallots, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until softened and starting to brown or caramelize. Add the carrots, celery and thyme. Stir and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add the broth and fruit juice and bring to a boil on high heat. Add the chicken on top, reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes (no more than that, or the chicken will dry out and get tough). Remove from heat and cool. The goal is to remove the fat from the broth, so you can separate the vegetables and put the broth in a flat pan to cool faster. Chill, remove fat, then you can reassemble the dish with the chicken on top. Reheat to a simmer.
3. Dumplings: In a small mixing bowl stir together the flour, bread crumbs, baking powder and salt. In another bowl lightly beat the milk, onion, egg and melted butter. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones to make a wet paste. Don’t over mix. Add parsley and pepper and mix just until combined. Drop small spoonfuls (about 12) onto the top of the bubbling soup. [Add mushrooms here.]Cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. [If adding peas, heat frozen peas under hot-hot tap water and add a few to each bowl. If you cook them in the stew, they turn gray/ugly.] Ladle soup, vegetables, chicken and a dumpling or two into wide soup bowls.
Per Serving (probably not accurate, too high): 445 Calories; 15g Fat (30.7% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 151mg Cholesterol; 1013mg Sodium.

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  1. Jancd

    said on December 19th, 2007:

    I made your Bishop Bread today and it turned out great. I was surprised that there is no butter or oil in the recipe, but I trusted the recipe and am happy I did. I had it in four small loaf pans and will be giving three away for Christmas treats. Thanks for the recipe. Jancd

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