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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, 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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