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Just finished 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.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading 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.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

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, on June 6th, 2012.

kellers_roast_chix_veggies

If I were to tell you that this dish is super-easy, would you believe me? Most of Thomas Keller’s recipes are long and arduous. Not this one. And to me, there’s really nothing quite so tasty as a freshly roasted whole chicken hot out of the oven. Read on.

lo_cropAfter being away for a few days (attending our oldest grandson’s high school graduation – see Logan, right) and after having numerous rich (and very enjoyable) meals, some in, some out, we were ready for a more simple, less caloric dinner once we got home. I picked up a nice big, fat 6 pound chicken at Trader Joe’s – a whole chicken.

Then, I was reading through some other people’s blog posts and learned about the Amateur Gourmet – have you ever read his blog? He won Saveur’s #1 rating for best overall blog. The magazine’s list of blogs is long. Really long, although some are categorized. Most of them I’d never heard of. Oh my, I’m in trouble . . . I already follow about 60 food blogs. How am I ever, ever going to keep up? But I had to go back through some older posts on the first ones I looked at. Anyway, on someone’s blog there was a link to watch a youtube video of Thomas Keller making one of his many chicken recipes. This one from Bouchon, the eponymous restaurant in Napa Valley.

whole_chicken_roastedThe video was really interesting. And it looked so EASY! So I scribbled down the simple directions and did it – with only minor modifications. I let the roasting chicken I’d bought sit out at room temp for about an hour to get it closer to room temp. To the inside cavity I added a thyme sprig and salt and pepper. Then I prepared all the vegetables (I used onions, celery, carrots and later on during the baking time added about a pound of sweet potato chopped up). You can use your own choice of veggies. Those were lightly drizzled and tossed with olive oil and put in the bottom of a roasting pan. I used a Teflon-coated 9×13 pan and loosely covered the bottom with the veggies.

Next you truss the bird so the wings and legs are tight up against the body (I didn’t do this one step cuz I was lazy), then rub it all over with some olive oil and sprinkle liberally (really liberally) with salt, pepper and I added some dried thyme. The birdie is placed on top of the veggies and popped into the oven. Keller’s 3-4 pound bird roasted in a 450° oven and was done in about 45 minutes. My chicken at 6 pounds took about 80+ minutes. I also lowered the temp by 25° too because the bird was so big. You want to get chicken to an internal temp of about 165°.

Once out of the oven I removed the chicken to a grooved cutting board and let her sit with a little dome of foil over her to keep her warm. Also covered the roasting pan with all the veggies in it – and they were pooled in a lovely liquid of juices and fat. Talk about tasty! I tasted one piece of sweet potato (to make sure it was cooked through – it was) and could hardly keep my fork out of the pan.

The veggies went onto the plate along with pieces of the dripping, juicy chicken. With a salad, that was dinner. Fantastic is about the only word to describe!

What I liked: first, how EASY it was. Secondly, the flavor – oh yes – the salt really made a difference. It was extra-specially juicy. And the veggies – I had to talk to myself about not eating the entire pan full of veggies all by myself. They were that good.

What I didn’t like: gosh, nothing. It was magnificent. Worth doing again and again.

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Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken & Vegetables

Recipe By: From a youtube video of Thomas Keller
Serving Size: 4
NOTES: The nutrition info assumes you will consume all the chicken skin, which you may not do! You can use your own choice of vegetables – these were my choices. Keller says one of the secrets to this chicken is the generous amount of salt on the outside. Most of it will stay with the skin, that you probably won’t eat anyway. It adds lovely flavor to the chicken.

3 1/2 pounds whole chicken
Salt and pepper sprinkled on the inside cavity
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt — (or more)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large thyme — sprig, for inside chicken cavity
VEGETABLES:
4 large carrots — peeled, chopped large
2 large onions — peeled, cut in big chunks
3 stalks celery — chopped
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
1 1/2 pounds sweet potato — (or use a turnip)
1 tablespoon olive oil — tossed with the veggies
Finishing salt for garnish, if desired

1. Allow chicken to sit out at room temp for about an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 450°. [I used a larger 6 lb. roasting chicken so cooked it at 425° for about 90 minutes.]
3. With a boning knife, remove the wishbone (makes for easier cutting after it’s baked – this is not a mandatory step).
4. In a roasting pan that’s a few inches larger than the chicken, add the cut and chopped vegetables. Drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil and toss with your hands.
5. Truss the chicken so the wings and legs are snug against the chicken body. [Note: I was lazy and didn’t do this step.] Rub the exterior of the chicken with the olive oil.
6. Place chicken on top of the vegetables [Since sweet potatoes cook quite fast, I didn’t add those pieces until 30 minutes before I thought it would be done]. Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt and pepper. [Note: I added some dried thyme to the exterior – not in Keller’s recipe.]
7. Place in oven and roast until the chicken is golden brown and has reached an internal temperature of 165°. Remove from oven and allow to rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes. Cover veggies so they don’t get cold. Slice chicken and serve with vegetables along side. If desired, sprinkle the top of the chicken with some finishing salt [I didn’t think it needed it since I’d used ample salt already].
Per Serving (assumes you eat all the skin): 835 Calories; 48g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 54g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 247mg Cholesterol; 971mg Sodium.

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