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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading a really sweet memoir, called Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas. The author is very young, considering she’s written a book already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is reading a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

Also read another book by Haruf, called Eventide. It’s a bit of a carryover from Haruf’s book Plainsong (see review a paragraph or so down). Haruf is a “spare” writer. There is sufficient description. You definitely get a sense of place and the people, but there isn’t much emotion elicited. You have to scratch it out in between the lines. He’s a wonderful writer IMHO. I’ve now read 3 of his novels. This book takes place in high and deep Colorado country, and it’s a small town, with small town kinds of goings-on. There are some unsavory characters, and the heartwarming ones too which make the book worth reading. Good over evil, for sure. Worth reading. Too bad Haruf died in 2014. His books will be missed.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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, Restaurants, on January 13th, 2008.

When my DH says this is a keeper, I listen up. He doesn’t say those words all that often. He enjoys my cooking and does tell me all the time how much he appreciates this dish or that. But those particular words just don’t come out of his mouth frequently. I heard them for this dish. He was intrigued enough by the appearance to ask me what was in it, how I cooked it. He keeps thinking that one of these days when he takes a several-day sailing trip on our boat, going out to Catalina, or one of the other islands within sailing distance of our shores, that he’s going to cook a nice dinner for his crew. (I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I don’t go on these jaunts because I get deathly seasick, or I’m so drugged up with Dramamine that I don’t function much, or suffer from very blurred vision if I use the scopalamine patch. All in all, I just don’t go. DH reminds me occasionally that he didn’t marry me for my sailing abilities. That’s for sure. He also didn’t marry me for my dancing style, either, but that’s another story.)

So anyway, he was curious about the chicken and nearly licked the plate. The recipe came from a restaurant out in our California desert – a French place called Cuistot. We’ve eaten there several times, and enjoyed the food. A reader wrote into the Los Angeles Times (December 12, 2007) asking them to get the recipe, which the chef provided. I believe the article said this is a common bistro kind of preparation. It’s easy – from start to finish it took me about 45 minutes, with 25 of those minutes the chicken was in the oven. You heat the oven to a phenomenal 500 degrees F. Yikes. But it works. If you have a heavy-duty skillet that can withstand that kind of heat, go for it (that’s what the recipe indicates). I wasn’t sure enough to subject my Look brand nonstick skillet to that temp, so after browning the chicken pieces I popped them in an ovenproof pan. Then I deglazed the browning skillet and made the sauce while the chicken was baking. It sped up the dinner process since I was able to take the chicken directly from the oven to the plate and spooned sauce on it immediately with a bit of the drippings from the blazing hot pan.

This is the kind of dinner you could throw together quickly – providing you have shallots on hand and fresh tomatoes. Most home kitchens would have the garlic, butter, red wine, vinegar and chicken broth. I forgot to add the garnish in my haste to get the plates on the table.

You see, I was late getting home – went to see Kite Runner at 3:55 and didn’t get out of the movie until 6:15. And, oh my goodness, was that a movie! I’d read the book a year or two ago, right after it came out. The photography was excellent – even though it was filmed mostly in China. The bulk of the real story takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it certainly looked authentic. The story is heart-wrenching to say the very least about it. Highly recommended. And, of course, the book is better, but I thought the movie was exceptionally well done.

So, after a 30-minute drive home, it was late for dinner before I even started. Bang, clang, and I served it in a jiffy. And now this will go into the KEEPERS file. DH even asked that the next time this is on the menu, he’d like to make it. Now that makes this a real red-letter dinner! He’s never said that. Ever.
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Sautéed Chicken with Red Wine Vinegar Sauce

Recipe: Cuistot Restaurant, Palm Desert, California, via the Los Angeles Times
Servings: 4
Cook’s Notes: I sliced the garlic (as usual, I didn’t read the recipe real well when I started – sheepish grin here), but discarded it after baking, since it was for flavor, not eating anyway. I also used chicken thighs and breasts, because that’s what I had on hand. Surely in my cache of vinegars I have cabernet vinegar, but in my haste I decided not to hunker down on the floor perusing for bottles behind bottles. And, I cooked the sauce longer than I should have – I kept reducing the liquid, but I’d already put in the tomatoes, so they weren’t just flash fried and still fresh-looking. Tasted great, though. We had the leftovers for dinner last night. DH again mentioned this chicken was “wow” in his book. We both agreed, though, that more sauce is needed, so next time I’ll double that part.
The chef recommends Cabernet vinegar for the red wine vinegar in the recipe.

4 pieces chicken breasts — skin-on chicken breasts or whole legs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter — divided
4 whole garlic cloves — skin-on
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
3 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
2 whole plum tomatoes — peeled, seeded and diced
Chopped chives or parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle each piece of chicken lightly on each side with one-eighth teaspoon salt and a grind or two of pepper.
2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the chicken, skin-side down, along with the garlic cloves. Sauté over medium-high heat, until the skin is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the chicken and repeat on the other side.
3. Place the pan, with the chicken skin-side up, in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until cooked through. The meat will be firm and the juices will run clear, and a thermometer inserted will read 165 degrees.
4. Remove the chicken from the skillet, cover and set aside in a warm place. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings from the pan, and return to the stove over medium heat. Add the shallots, cooking until they caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add the red wine and vinegar and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes and stir to combine; adjust seasoning. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter, swirling to thicken the sauce.
5. Return the chicken to the sauce and heat 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through. Sprinkle with chives or parsley and serve immediately.
Per Serving (assuming you consume the chicken skin, which we did not): 583 Calories; 33g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 62g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 201mg Cholesterol; 443mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on January 15th, 2008:

    This the best recipe for Chicken I have ever cooked and tasted. I get my chicken from and this was a great way to cook what i got. I am always looking for cool new ways to cook my food, and this was really a change for the best!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on January 16th, 2008:

    So glad you enjoyed it. We sure did too, and it will become one of those go-to recipes when I’m in a hurry but still want something full of flavor.

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