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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

Read Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore).

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Brunch, Pork, on October 20th, 2008.

baked eggs with chorizo and cannellini beans with green salad

So, I was browsing through some of the blogs I read, and I happened on Chez Loulou’s post (I so enjoy Loulou’s blog – she lives in France, and has THE most interesting photos in and around the area she lives in – always very entertaining – I even tried to make a watercolor of one of her photos) about a breakfast or brunch dish that she’d made recently. It actually came from another blog Loulou reads (ah yes, I’m going to need to add yet another blog to my growing numbers that I read every few days), called Stonesoup. That blog originates from Australia, although the author is multi-national, I think. She’s lived all over the world, but currently resides in Sydney.

Perhaps it was the chorizo in this dish that intrigued me. Or maybe it was just because I’m always on the lookout for some easy entrée dishes that can stand in for dinner. Don’t you have evenings when you just aren’t inspired, or just don’t have the time? That’s me once in awhile (yes, really, there are times when I just don’t feel up to cooking anything much). So, that got me to thinking about meals – like this egg and bean dish – that is called a brunch dish – but could certainly be served for another meal like dinner.

I well remember that my mother sometimes on Sunday nights after we’d had a large midday dinner, would serve us creamed tuna on toast. She managed to make one small can of tuna spread between three people. She made a simple cream sauce, always added some lemon juice to it, then at the last minute she added the drained contents of one 6-ounce can of tuna, and we’d eat that spooned over one slice of white toast. It was a light meal, and perfect for the day in question. But then, there were Sundays when my mother would serve waffles for dinner. Why or how it ever became a tradition in our family I don’t know, but probably once a month we’d have regular waffles with sausage patties for dinner, with the finale being one last waffle piled with strawberries and whipped cream. As a kid, I thought that meal was heaven on a bun. My parents used to entertain other families for Sunday waffle suppers. My mother and dad are both gone, so I can’t ask them how that tradition ever got started. As a young adult I did have some waffle suppers, but my recollection (this would have been back in the 1960’s and 70’s, they weren’t met with much glee as I thought. I always told guests what we were having, so it wasn’t a surprise, but still I could tell people didn’t love it as much as I did. My DH doesn’t think waffles should be eaten at any meal except breakfast. In years past I tried the waffle supper thing on him, but he ate it reluctantly.

So, maybe it was that background of waffles on Sunday nights that made me look at this recipe with more interest. We don’t eat hearty breakfasts – if we do it seems to mess up our eating for the whole day. We’re not hungry for lunch, but then we’re starving by about 3-4 in the afternoon. Therefore, when I read this recipe I didn’t even think about breakfast at all. I thought – great idea for a light dinner. It took me 2 days to decide I wanted to make it.


Loulou’s and Stonesoup’s recipe is straight forward – you cook up some chorizo (I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy their very meaty and lean version), some onion and garlic, a bit of Mexican oregano, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and canned cannellini beans. Little indentations are made in this mixture and eggs are gently cracked into them, then you bake it in the oven until done to your liking. This dinner took about 40 minutes to make from start to finish. My DH didn’t know what to think when I presented this dish at his place mat – for dinner. I had asked him first if this dish sounded good to him. I won’t say that he was over the top about it from reading the ingredient list, but generally he’s very willing to eat anything I put in front of him. So I made it the next night.

Truly, I enjoyed it a lot and Dave did too. I liked the flavor combination. It was hearty (beans). Very tasty. Easy and quick. I learned a couple of things, however. I revised the recipe to serve 2, since I didn’t know whether we’d eat leftover fried eggs on this chorizo bean bed. So I halved the recipe and tried to adapt it. I used a very large frying pan that can go in a hot oven, but the bean mixture then was quite thin. You must make this in a dish or pan that has enough depth to make the indentations for the eggs. And 15 minutes in MY oven was way too long at 400, so I revised the temp to 375. The eggs were almost rubbery, but not so overdone that we couldn’t eat it. My DH actually liked them that way since he doesn’t like runny eggs. So I’ve revised the cooking time to 10-15 minutes also. You need to determine your own preference. Definitely don’t use convection, either, as you don’t want hot air fanning the eggs! I also want this dish to have a bit more fluid – so use your own judgment about how much of the liquid to cook off. Ours was almost too dry, probably from being in the flatter pan. But it still tasted great.


Then you need to know about the leftovers – there was definitely enough to serve 3 adults using my recipe below. Dave and I both had a small portion of seconds, and there was still some leftover. So, what to do with those, you ask? Easy – I made soup. To the about 1 ½ cups of leftover beans I added some more tomatoes (I still had half a can of tomatoes), a small can of corn, some broth, chile powder, some ancho chile powder, heated it up and sprinkled shredded Cheddar on top. It was scrumptious!
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Baked Eggs with Chorizo & White Cannellini Beans

Recipe: Chez Loulou’s blog and she got it from the Stonesoup blog
Servings: adapted to serve 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo
1 small red onion — chopped (or yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic — peeled & sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your hands
8 ounces canned tomatoes — peeled, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
4 whole eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Heat oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or frying pan. Cook chorizo over a medium heat until well browned. Remove chorizo from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add onion to the grease in the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until softened and not browned. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes before adding oregano, tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Season and bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened but still has a bit of liquid to it.
2. Stir in the beans and chorizo and using a spatula, smooth the top. (Make sure the pan or casserole you’re using allows some depth to the mixture so you can make the indentations needed – below – so the eggs won’t spread all over.) Bring back to a simmer and remove from the heat. Using a spoon, make 4 egg sized indentations (fairly deep) in the bean mixture and crack an egg into each hole. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until egg whites are just cooked but the yolks are still lovely and runny. Remember that this dish holds its heat so the egg will continue to cook after you remove the pan from the oven.
3. Divide between 2 warmed plates or bowls and serve immediately with some green salad on the side.
(I’m purposely not including the nutrition count because my software program thinks chorizo is about 100% fat – it adds over 600 calories per serving – the chorizo I buy at Whole Foods is extremely lean and meaty. The 1/2 pound produced about one teaspoon of fat.)

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