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Just finished reading 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 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, 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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