Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bathrobe Day

April 27th --

Today, we have a big, thick one on the Finished Book Pile, The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton.

This is an older book, written when I was just a twinkle in my father's eye. But good story-telling never gets old. The book revisits the horses, lanterns and cloaks era, lots of "prithee" and "forsooth," which is always nice to get back to once in a while.

Seton set her story in England when matters between the king and the Puritans reached an impasse, prompting the Puritans to sail off to the New World. I think they expected gentle English meadows. What they got was a howling wilderness, a challenging place indeed.

Not that the story dwelt on the perils of pioneering. No, no, it was pulled along by plenty of frustrated romance. Then, somewhere in the middle, our Winthrop Woman is accused of being a witch, which made for some dull and improbable reading, since her accusers came off like cardboard characters. And I said, "Prithee, whence wenteth the frustrated romance?"

But then a hero from early in the story rode into town and the romantic stuff took off again.

So, even though my bathroom needed a thorough cleaning, the sheets needed to be changed, and I should have made a grocery list and written a couple thank-you notes and--whoopsie! Did I say I would call the people I visit teach tonight?--it was just . . . you know, sometimes you reach the point when you're so hooked, you just have to toss the to-do list and read those last 100 pages.

Yep, I spent the day in my bathrobe, with yesterday's mascara ringed around my eyes, turning the yellowed pages. And it was worth it!

The shame of it all is that my husband works at home. What's he to think when he's on the south side of the house being industrious and finds me on the north side, being hopelessly indolent? And he knows I'll be indolent again because, as I write this, the Royal Wedding is a couple days away and there I'll be, on the couch, remote in hand, hour upon hour. I promised him I'd at least make dinner on Royal Wedding day and he just laughed.

May 1st --

Ha! Yes, I did come through with dinner on Royal Wedding Day. Why, friends and family came over to watch it (I TiVoed it on two channels). I couldn't let them starve!

We ate:

Savory Beef Fajitas

Chocolate Oat Squares

We rounded out the meal with chips and salsa, and fresh pineapple. And leftover Easter candy. And doughnuts.

It was a day of decadence. But we got the Prince married off.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Can Russia Possibly Be Interesting?

Well, today we have, on the Finished Book Pile, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, an elegantly written and richly imagined novel by Olga Grushin.

At first, I wasn't so sure. A quick glance over the jacket copy left me reluctant to plunge in. The story centers on the 50-something protagonist. Who wants to read a book about someone in their 50s? I thought before I, of course, remembered that I'm in, er, that is, near, er, that is, closer than some of you to my 50s.

And who would want to read a book set in Russia, the most frozen and depressing place on earth? But Sukhanov's Russia is a place of champagne, fine wool coats, parties under chandeliers. He belongs to the privileged class, you see, although events fix that. Best say no more, lest I give things away.

The story can get a little confusing as it shifts between the real world and Sukhanov's dream world. It took me a couple rounds to recognize the we're-in-dream-world signals, but I picked up on it. At the very end, though, I wasn't sure what was real and what was not.

I liked it. And no cow patties.

As for your recipe, I've got a menu for you today. When I fixed this for guests, they accused me of cooking all day. Nope, this meal wasn't all that back-breaking. I spent a half hour in the afternoon, making (and I have posted this one before):

Cashew Turkey Pasta Salad (except I use chicken)

An hour or so before serving time, you can start on:

Creamy Chocolate Mousse

When the mousse is done, start right in on the main dish:

Raspberry Chicken Sandwiches

I find Taste of Home's version a little unwieldy, so here's my version:

1 cup chili sauce
3/4 cup raspberry preserves
2 TB red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 TB dijon mustard
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 TB olive or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 sandwich buns
6 slices Muenster or Provolone cheese
Shredded lettuce

Flatten chicken breasts to 1/4-in. thickness. Place in a ziploc bag. Add oil, salt and pepper. Seal bag and turn to coat.

Coat grill rack with PAM before starting the grill. In a small saucepan, combine chili sauce, preserves, vinegar & mustard. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Set aside half for serving and use the remaining sauce for basting.

Grill chicken, uncovered, over medium heat for 5-7 minutes on each side or until juices run clear, basting frequently the raspberry sauce. Top with cheese. Remove and place on buns. Serve with lettuce and more raspberry sauce. YIELD: 6 servings, 495 cals. ea.

My guests brought Sun Chips and a salad of spinach, strawberries and almonds. We ate hearty, then we played games in which the quiet ones among us revealed their competitive side.