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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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, Salad Dressings, Salads, on June 3rd, 2009.

grilled caesar

This snapshot is just part of a wedge - for the class we didn't get an entire one.

Every time I go to a Phillis Careycooking class I learn something new. That alone keeps me going back to her classes. But heading the list of good things about Phillis’ classes is the taste of the food. She is just a wizard with a spatula, a pounder, a stovetop grill and chicken! As I’ve mentioned here before, she has several cookbooks to her name (I own them all) and she’s working on another one, about entertaining.

Grilling Romaine lettuce isn’t exactly new. I’ve ordered it twice – out at a restaurant – but had never seen it done before. It’s easy. I may make this salad later this week because our daughter Dana positively loves-loves Caesar anything. So do the grandkids. And I thought this dressing was simply fab – and easy. I mean – it’s nothing more than mayonnaise with Caesar-type ingredients added to it. How easy is that? Phillis used capers (she doesn’t like anchovies), which was delicious in this rendition of salad.

The Romaine heads – use smaller ones if you can find them – or remove the outer leaves of a bigger one and use those leaves for something else – are cut in quarters (including the root end – which holds the salad together while it grills. Some of the dressing gets slathered on the two cut halves of the lettuce and it’s put on an grill for just a minute – all you want to do is get some grill marks if you can – on the cut sides, so you grill for just a minute on each of the two cut sides. If you happen to have really small Romaine heads, you can serve each person a half of one, in which case the lettuce might only need a minute on the grill. Any more than that and you might get lettuce mush.

Once off the grill you add some more dressing, then top it with the already grilled chicken, tomatoes, croutons and big wide Parmesan shards, shaved off of a block of good cheese. Simply delicious.
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Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad with Chicken and Caper-Parmesan Dressing

Recipe: Phillis Carey, instructor and cookbook author
Servings: 4

DRESSING:
3 large garlic cloves
3/4 cup mayonnaise — low-fat is okay
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon capers — rinsed, drained (or substitute 1 tsp anchovies)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
CHICKEN & MARINADE:
2 whole chicken breast, no skin, no bone
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
SALAD:
1 head Romaine lettuce
12 whole cherry tomatoes — halved
1/2 cup croutons — garlic flavored
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese — shaved in shards

1. Dressing: combine all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth. Can be made up to 2 days ahead, or at least 2 hours ahead.
2. Chicken: Trim and pound chicken breasts to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Combine marinade and add chicken, turning to coat well. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.
3. Grill chicken about 4 minutes per side or until cooked through. Cool slightly and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
4. Romaine: Remove any outer bruised lettuce leaves and quarter the heat lengthwise, keeping the root end intact (so the lettuce will hold together when it’s grilled). Preheat grill (if on an outside grill heat to medium-high; if an indoor stovetop grill, heat to medium only). Brush the two cut sides of romaine quarters with a bit of the salad dressing, then grill, cut side down, until lightly browned. This will grill about 2 minutes total, so 1 minute on each cut side. Do not turn the lettuce over onto the back side.
4. Immediately remove grilled wedges to a serving plate and brush some of the dressing over and under the leaves. Sprinkle salad with chicken, tomatoes and croutons. Drizzle decoratively with more dressing and top with Parmesan shards.
Per Serving: 712 Calories; 61g Fat (74.8% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 798mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    Well now, I am salivating and I have just eaten, (kippers and mushrooms, since you ask). In my view, the only way to eat lettuce is after it has been cooked. I can’t stand it when raw. Thank you Carolyn for sharing this recipe.

    Well, I don’t know that you’d think this was “cooked” exactly. You only want to get a few grill marks on it. Most of the lettuce is still raw and crunchy. So it might not qualify as cooked. I’m fixing it for dinner tonight for our family. Everyone but Logan, our grandson, who now raises chickens, is expectant and happy about it. Logan is thinking about giving up eating chicken. Oh my. . . carolyn t

  2. Marie

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    This is one of my favourite salads Carolyn! Yours looks fantastic! Thanks so much for your lovely e-mail the other day. I have been rather pressed for time so haven’t gotten around to answering it yet, but hope to do so later today!

    We made this for dinner last night and I thought everybody was going to lick plates. Our grandson had a second wedge he luved it so much. A definite keeper. . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on June 5th, 2009:

    Oh dear! You’ll just have to educate him to understand that chickens were put on this earth for us to eat! 😉

    Yes, I think we have him convinced that he doesn’t need to give up eating chicken. He misses his chickens (hmmm). His dad and a neighbor have been taking care of the birdies. . . carolyn t

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