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Currently Reading

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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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.


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, Salads, on August 27th, 2008.

Cornish Game Hen (or Chicken Breast) Salad with Green Beans

Eons ago when I first started going to cooking classes there used to be a cooking school here in Newport Beach called Ma Cuisine. It closed down after about 7-8 years, but I have several recipes from classes I took there, that are still standards for me. This is one of them. Another one is my osso bucco. And a third is a plain risotto made with champagne. I haven’t blogged either one of those, have I? I don’t seem to make osso buco very often, or risotto either, anymore. Love both, but they’re so labor intensive, eh?

Right off the bat I’ll tell you that I wouldn’t make this salad for just my DH and me for a weeknight dinner. Or even a weekend dinner for two. This is the kind of thing you want to make for guests, when you’d like them to ooh and aah over how you’ve slaved in the kitchen. And, in fact, you do slave a bit to make this, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s just that there are several steps (the marinade, the green beans, the dressing and the garnish). They’re all separate, but combined when you put it together just before serving. This recipe is long. I admit it, but don’t be discouraged. Nothing about the salad is difficult.

The original recipe was made for Cornish game hens. But sometimes, like this time, I simply couldn’t find them, so I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead. The group we entertained was probably happier for it anyway. Some people don’t like fussing with the bones, etc. of game hens. Particularly men, I find.

I’ve changed the recipe just a bit over the years. First, I added the orange juice to the marinade. In the class the instructor talked about wanting to “freshen” the game hens of their raw poultry smell, so she always squeezed the juice of a full orange over any poultry, then let it drain. Then she prepared the marinade. Since oranges are not a cheap commodity anymore, I just add the juice to the marinade. Then, I also grill the chicken breasts if I’m using them (not the game hens – they’re done in the oven only) , especially if it’s a warm summer night and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen. If you are using the chicken I don’t add the capers – just the brine. The capers never make it out of the marinade anyway when you use chicken, so I use only the brine to flavor the marinade. If you like capers, sprinkle some on top of the salad along with the tomatoes and shallots.

As you can see from the photograph, part of the aesthetic of this dish is the presentation. The salad is assembled just before serving – well, it’s layered, I should say – on a very large platter. This won’t fit on a 12-inch large plate. No way, no how. So bring out the big one, whatever you have, for this dinner. We were serving 9 people, so I had to pull out all the stops and bring out the big platter I use for Thanksgiving. Nobody could see the autumn embossing in the center of the platter anyway. The multi-colored greens are tossed with the herby dressing, then mounded on the platter. Then you add the haricot verts (the baby green beans) that were cooked just until barely done. Those are tossed in a bit of the dressing (separately) to make sure they’re covered completely. If you can, arrange them in a nice line-up, or kind of spoked around the platter. Then you arrange the hens or chicken breasts on top of the green beans. If I use chicken breasts normally I will cut each breast in two strips (looks nicer, that’s all). Then, the finale is the mini-diced tomatoes and shallots that have been tossed in their own little dressing (olive oil and sugar, plus some pepper). They add such a great fillip to the whole dish. Try to get them on TOP of the hens or chicken so each person has some of it with each serving.

If you go to my recipe page (index), and click on one of the categories, you’ll see that I don’t have all THAT many recipes that I call “favorites.” This is one of them. So, take note. If you trust me by this time that when I tell you a recipe is a keeper, then this is one.
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Cornish Game Hen (or Chicken Breast) Salad

Recipe: Adapted from a Ma Cuisine Cooking Class
Servings: 8
Serving Ideas: This is a very colorful salad to serve to guests. It can easily be a complete meal – it has protein, salad and vegetables. Or, you can make this just one dish of a more varied meal. The green beans “make” this dish (my opinion) because they’re unusual in a salad. And the tiny, diced tomatoes and shallots sprinkled on the top provide a very colorful garnish. The beans are briefly tossed in a bit of dressing and make a pretty bed for the hens or chicken breasts. But, you could substitute other vegetables for the beans (like asparagus). This dish is ideal for a warm summer evening as much of it can be made ahead. Just cook the hens or chicken an hour before serving so they’ve just barely reached room temp when you’re ready to serve it. Everything else can be done ahead and just assembled at the last minute. Be sure to use a very large platter as the salad is huge, and you want people to see if before you begin serving it. Stand by for oohs and aahs.

1 medium orange — halved, juiced
1/2 cup lemon juice — fresh squeezed
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic — peeled and minced
1 tablespoon capers — Nonpareil, or just caper brine
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon — ground
1 teaspoon black pepper — freshly cracked
1 teaspoon salt
8 whole Cornish game hens — 3/4-1 lb each, or 8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 pound green beans — preferably haricot verts
4 medium tomatoes, red ripe
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — freshly ground
1 large shallot — peeled and minced
6 cups salad greens (colorful is better)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar — 6-7% acidity
1 teaspoon lemon juice — fresh squeezed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3/8 cup oregano olive oil — or extra virgin olive oil
3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. MARINADE: Wash and halve (or quarter) Cornish hens, removing back bone. Or, wash off the chicken breasts, dry with paper towels, then between pieces of plastic wrap briefly pound the thick end of each breast to a more uniform thickness.
2. In a large plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, stir to combine, then add the game hens or chicken breasts. Refrigerate for about an hour or up to 4 hours.
3. GREEN BEANS: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Drop in cleaned green beans (or haricot verts) and cook for 5 minutes, or until just tender. May need to do several batches. Drain and place in large bowl with ice water. Set aside.
4. TOMATOES: Meanwhile, seed, core and cut tomatoes into 1/2 inch or smaller dice. Place in glass bowl; add any extra juice from the tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes with olive oil, granulated sugar (or sugar substitute), black pepper and minced shallot. Toss well; allow to rest at room temperature.
5. GAME HENS: Preheat oven to 425. In shallow roasting pan lay hens flat, skin side up. Cover with marinade and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 25 minutes, basting frequently. Allow hens to cool before serving.
6. DRESSING: In blender or Cuisinart drop garlic cloves and mince up fine, then add salt. Let sit while you assemble the other ingredients. Add vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, mustard and pepper and whiz until combined. Combine the 2 olive oils into one measuring cup and while blender is running, add oil slowly as it emulsifies. Taste and correct seasoning, if necessary, adding more salt or pepper if needed.
7. CHICKEN BREASTS GRILLED: Preheat a barbecue grill to medium high. Drain marinade and dry off chicken pieces with paper towels. Grill for 4-5 minutes per side. Do not overcook or they will be dried out and chewy. Remove from grill and allow to cool to room temperature. You may cut the breasts in half, on the diagnonal, into two wide strips, to make a more attractive salad.
8. ASSEMBLY OF SALAD: Combine lettuces in a large bowl and dress with some of the salad dressing (see directions below). Pour dressed greens onto a very large decorative platter. Toss green beans with about 1 T. of dressing and place in the middle of the mound of lettuce.
9. Place hens or chicken breasts on top and sprinkle chopped tomato mixture on top of with some over the top of the green beans. Serve immediately.
Per Serving (assuming each person eats a whole Cornish hen, a lot less if you use chicken): 984 Calories; 76g Fat (69.9% calories from fat); 60g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 339mg Cholesterol; 702mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 27th, 2008:

    That looks so delicious. I haven’t seen a Cornish hen in years and I agree about eating bones in company, they are just too fiddly. Did you use your alligator chopper for the tomatoes? They are sold here now, about $40.00!

    Yes, indeed, I did use my aligator chopper for the tomatoes. I think I paid $30 for mine, here. I just love the thing – I had all those tomatoes minced in about 4 minutes flat. Carolyn

  2. sandrar

    said on September 10th, 2009:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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