What was going on at 5 a.m. at your house?
Oh, that's right, some of you actually arise at that hour and . . . what? Run? Read scriptures? Sip hot chocolate while calmly jotting your to-do list?
And the rest of you dream weird dreams, the ones where the rooms keep changing or you fall from the sky or you're back in college, finding out you just missed the entire semester. Or you put a child back to bed and you dearly hope that he stays there.
Well, I was trying to finish Andre Dubus' Garden of Last Days. I gave out somewhere in the 300s of this heavy 500-page novel, but it wasn't for lack of interest. The plot gripped me like double-stick tape; I just couldn't hold my eyes open anymore.
It begins with April, a stripper at a Florida men's club. She and her three-year-old daughter rent from an elderly woman, Jean. Jean babysits the adorable tot while April dances. But one night, Jean doesn't feel so well. April can't miss work, so she brings her young daughter to the club, where the "house mother" of the dancers agrees to look after her.
Even before I tell you about the troublesome customer that gets kicked out of the club for breaking the don't-touch-the-girls rule, even before I explain about the young Muslim man who visits the club to sample Western decadence, you know April's babysitting arrangement won't end well.
And there you'll be, a lone light on in the house when the paper boy passes by and throws the morning edition on your front step.
This is the most cow-patty-laden book I've ever vouched for here. What else can we expect, when it's about strippers and the the sad horndogs that watch them? You'll have to make your own decision about how much you'll tolerate. But the story is also about humans trying to reach their dreams, or get a break from constant toil. Somebody takes a shortcut they shouldn't take. Somebody lets their temper get the best of them. Somebody just wants a blue Slush Puppie and her own bed.
And somebody (that's me) might be up late again tonight, gunning it all the way to page 535.
Before I got all caught up in Dubus' book, I had time to cook:
CREAMY CHEDDAR TOMATO AND CHICKEN STEW
16 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 TB canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, c
2 TB flour
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 14.5-oz. can chicken broth
2 1/2 cups grated white cheddar
3 TB heavy cream
1/2 baguette (8 oz.) halved crosswise and sliced
Cut up chicken. Season with salt and pepper. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 8 minutes; remove and reserve. Add onions and carrots and cook until soft and beginning to brown, 7 min. Add garlic, flour, tomatoes, tomato paste and cayenne and cook, breaking up tomatoes with a spoon, 2 min. Whisk in broth, then add reserved chicken.
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until chicken is very tender, 25 min. Stir in 1 1/2 cups cheese and cream until combined. Keep warm.
Before serving, place baguette slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheddar. Broil until cheese melts, 2 min. Serve stew with toasts. Serves 8 at 395 cals. each.
This recipe seemed like French country cooking at its best, a flavorful and warm supper on a nippy winter night. It came in the now-defunct Ladies Home Journal that appears to be a gift subscription in my husband's name. Perhaps his mother signed him up?
I do love to ask him if he found the spring wardrobe hints useful, if he enjoyed the Diane Sawyer interview and if he picked up any tips from "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"