Friday, March 30, 2012

Amy Tan's Mother's Potstickers!! - Weekend Cooking!

I just finished reading "The Bonesetter's Daughter," by Amy Tan, and I wanted to find a great Chinese recipe to make to go with the book, because I enjoyed it so much. I did a bit of googling and came up with Amy Tan's Mother's Potsticker Recipe. I think that it was utter serendipity that it was her mother's recipe because "The Bonesetter's Daughter" is all about mothers (and daughters, as the title implies!).

I have to say right away that what I made is not really her mother's recipe because they make the dough from scratch and I used wonton wrappers because of time constraints.

I am not going to repeat the recipe - it is in the article where the above link leads. It is a really nice article. Apparently, Amy and her siblings get together every year on the anniversary of their mother's death and make her famous potstickers. But, they can never get them quite right - because they were their mother's specialty. We have similar stories in my family. No one has ever been able to reproduce Aunt Mary's fried chicken or Gran's biscuits though we have all tried.

To make the potstickers, I chopped the Napa (see picture) and used ground pork and the other ingredients in the recipe. My wonton wrappers were square and they needed to be round(!) So, I took the lid ring of the small type of Ball jar and "traced" it with a small paring knife. The wrappers came in two stacks, and I did each entire stack at once and just cut through all the layers! (See picture.)

Then, I stuffed and "pleated" them and spread them all over the counter. After which, I boiled them in batches, and them fried their toasty little bottoms in MORE batches. And, then I made the sauce and served them. They were WOLFED down. These were a HUGE hit...
In "The Bonesetter's Daughter," Ruth, who was born in America tries to sort out the family secrets from back in China. And, there are secrets. And, adventures from the days of the revolution.

But, what I liked the most is what I liked the most about Amy Tan's other books, like "Saving Fish From Drowning," and that is that she mixes the real and the fantasy until I am not sure which is which. I like that! You know who else does that? Salman Rushdie. And, that is why it was fitting that I found "The Bonesetter's Daughter" and Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" - beautiful hard cover editions sitting side-by-side at Goodwill for three dollars each!
Here is an example from "The Bonesetter's Daughter" of the lines between fantasy and reality being blurred. LuLing uses her daughter, Ruth, to "channel" her own mother (the bonesetter's daughter). She has Ruth draw in the sand. Ruth does not know what to draw, so she thinks, "Well, I'll just draw some lines." She does, and then LuLing gets all excited, because Ruth has just drawn a Chinese character! That leaves you, the reader, wondering...was that a coincidence? Is Ruth really channeling her grandmother? And, in a way, the reader is left to answer there questions for his or herself.

It goes without saying, but I give Amy Tan two thumbs up, and the potsticker's two thumbs up - even if they were not as good as her mom used to make...
I am linking this post up with Weekend Cooking over at bethfishreads. The button is in my right column!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trifecta Writing Challenge...4...3...2...

Ashleigh ran up the stairs two at a time, shedding her backpack on the landing and her Sperry's in the hall. Everything had taken so long! After school there was band and then swimming, and then Richard with his special orders at Burger King!

Ashleigh was intent upon entering the Trifecta Writing Challenge - she never missed it - she knew she was going to be a writer after college, and this was great practice! In vain she tried once, twice, three times to log onto the internet...nothing! The router was always screwing up!

She called Richard and had him log on.

"Just tell me the word that I have to include in this week's entry!" she demanded, urgently. "I already have a hundred twenty five words written, but I always hit exactly three hundred and thirty three. Its kind of my thing."

"Sooo," Richard drawled. "You just need me to read you this one word, and that's it?"

"Yes!" screeched Ashleigh. "No! No, I need the definition too. And, please hurry. I have to submit it by 8:00!"

"How can you have the story partly written if I have not given you the main word yet?" asked Richard, clearly dragging out the time to his amusement and Ashleigh's despair.

"Because I am just that good!" she replied impatiently. "I could make it work even if you didn't give it to me until the very end. I'm on word number two hundred forty three right now."

"Well, that's very interesting," Richard answered, lazily. "The definition is: 'of inferior quality or worth - tawdry, sleazy."

"Two sixty five," muttered Ashleigh. "I still need time to copy this onto a jump drive and run it over to your house. So, what's the word? I only have forty words left to write."

"Well, it can also be 'contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities."

"Is the word 'Richard?'" asked Ashleigh. "Thirteen, twelve...."

"Sounds like you are getting down to the wire."



This post is for the Trifecta Writing Challenge! I'm new to it, and its addictive!

Wondrous Words Wednesday - More Les Mis!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. If you want to play along, run over to Wondrous Word Wednesday at and link up!!

So, this week I am continuing to read my way through Les Mis AND I am reading my first ARC ever of a YA book called "Sykosa," which is the name of a Japanese American girl who has had some horrible tragedy befall her. The book keeps alluding to it - but, I still don't know what it is!!! The vocab is pretty easy in that one though...but, Les Mis has a few zingers in it! :) Below is a long sentence that actually forms its own paragraph, and describes one of Jean Valjean and Cosette's hide outs. It comes from page 866 of my edition of Les Miserables, as follows:

"The house, built of stone in the Mansard style, wainscoted and furnished in the Watteau style, rock-work within, peruke without, walled about with a triple hedge of flowers, had a discrete, coquettish, and solemn appearance about it, suitable to a caprice of love and magistracy."

OK! First, the house is furnished in the Watteau style...what's that? Wiki says that there was a man named Watteau who was a French painter. "He revitalized the waning Baroque style, and indeed moved it to the less severe, more naturalistic, less formally classical Rococo." So, I think this is saying that the house was furnished in the Rococo style. I found a blog called That is where I got this great chair pic. Please click on the link to see more over-the-top Rococo style!!

The excerpt from Les Mis also talks about "peruke." So, I looked that one up too!

Well, I looked peruke up a million places, and the definition I got was that it was one of those French 17th or 18th century wigs?!?! So, I looked up peruke architecture, but I got nothing. So, I think that this is a metaphor where Hugo is comparing the outside of the house to an ornate wig. What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Writing Trifecta!!!

Today, I am participating in Trifexta Week's how it works...they give us 33 words of a (very) short story and then we complete it with exactly 33 MORE words! Then, you my loyal subjects/followers go to Trifecta and (please) vote for me! Or, actually vote for your favorite - I can take it. So, I am copying the original 33 words in bold, and then my 33 will be in italics, as follows:

“There’s nothing cute about it,” he said. The register of his voice indicated decision more so than discussion.

She disagreed heartily and privately, staring past his head and out the window behind him.

There, on the lawn, were the fifty flamingos that Bob's sister had paid a company to install on his fiftieth birthday.

His beautiful bias-cut lawn had been violated. Bob had been flocked.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Cooking - Late Night Bacon

Lately I have written a lot of very serious Weekend Cooking posts. I have written a couple anti-GMO seed rants. I have written a couple about classical literature - Hemingway and Hugo. And, you probably have the impression that I am a very serious, old, intellectual type. And, you are right.

No!! NO!! Well, I guess I am a little old - if you are twenty or something. Anyhoo, I decided to seriously lighten up this week. And, besides, I came across the most hysterical food related thing that I just HAD to share. So, without further blathering, I bring you...Late Night Bacon.

The Late Night Bacon Meme is apparently not brand new, but it is new to me (see aforementioned description of me). Hopefully, it is new to some of you too :)

So, here is the deal, as told by KnowYourMeme.Com -- "In November 2010, celebrity chef and cooking show host Rachael Ray’s Food Network recipe article “Late Night Bacon”[1] suddenly began receiving the attention of trolls who pointed out the article’s verbose instructions on how to cook bacon in the microwave. The recipe article was originally posted in May 2004.
Baffled by the overly simplistic recipe, some readers began responding to Ray’s article with tongue-in-cheek reviews of the instruction in the comments section.

LocalBoyMakesGoo: “Tried this recipe last night. The bacon was great, but the paper towels tasted awful.”

I LOVE BACON!: “It’s only 6:54pm… can I make this yet? Or does it need to be later?”

midnightsky: “I think a nice glass of water would wash down this bacon well. So I get the glass out of the cupboard… but I’m not really sure what to do next. I would appreciate any help. Thanks.”

OK, Libby here again. So, to participate you are to troll the recipes section of looking for silly recipes and then leaving comments! Here is a hint - I read that Rachel Ray has a good one for Pineapple Wedges, and Paula Deen has a "must read" recipe for English Peas. If any of you actually do this, let me know!!! Although they may not wish to claim me this week ;) I am linking this article to Weekend Cooking (see the button in the right column) at!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Indie Bookstore: Shakespeare and Company

Let's support this brand new (new today!) meme at Chapter 1 Take 1 called Indie Bookstore Friday. Please read my rant below and tell me what you think!!

"On a cold windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive." -Ernest Hemingway, "Shakespeare and Company," A Moveable Feast

Sylvia Beach was an American living in Paris. She opened the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and soon the American ex-pat writers who had come to Europe for the First World War and then had stayed on in Paris - the Lost Generation - made her store their hang out. I read Hemingway's, "A Moveable Feast," which I have quoted above, a few years ago. The book illustrates how kind and helpful Sylvia Beach was to the aspiring writers. She let them have books on credit or on loan; she would help them get published; AND I found out through my internet research for this article that she actually published James Joyce’s "Ulysses." (As you know "Ulysses" is considered to be a masterpiece and many think that it is among the best books of all time.) The picture above is of Sylvia and James Joyce.

After the Second World War, George Whitman took over the store. He continued to nurture a different lost generation. It was the time of the beatniks and he was friends with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. He would let them sleep in the writers room.

I am trying to make a several points here. The first is that indie bookstores are run by people passionate ENOUGH about writers and writing to sink their time, money, brains, and hearts into these shops. They are not franchise owners looking for a business opportunity or college students looking for a part-time job. This is their vocation. You could argue that some of the franchise owners and employees of the chains are also very passionate about books, and I would not show them any disrespect by arguing with you.

I would just bring up my second point, which is owner of an independent store has the latitude to nurture writers, readers and relationships that a franchisee might not have. Sylvia Beach PUBLISHED Joyce's book. George Whitman COOKED for them in the back of the shop. Sylvia Beach EXTENDED CREDIT. A franchisee is limited by his contract in what he can and cannot do. An indie is flexible.

That flexibility and ability to respond personally to customers brings me to my third point. Lately, I have been blogging about the independent food movement (See my posts on "Food Rebels, Guerilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin' Mamas" and "The Heirloom Life Gardener." I am behind this movement for several reasons, and you can read those posts if you are interested. But, one of the reasons is that Big Food is putting food decisions in the hands of fewer and fewer companies. We are becoming limited by what they choose to produce. Could the same be said of Big Bookstores?? Are we putting our literary choices in the hands of fewer and fewer people? What might be the result of this? Think about it. Sylvia Beach published "Ulysses." She HAD to because no one else would touch it - it was scandalous.

My final point is a plug for all my fellow book bloggers. As the indies become fewer, we book bloggers are in some ways stepping into the void. We are providing that personal support for writers - even if it is virtual, its there. And, I think that it means a lot to them. The READERS of the world are like Sylvia Beach and George Whitman. They/we have an important role in providing emotional support and financial (through book sales) support to writers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wonderous Words Wednesday (Edible Version)

Corn Smut.

Sounds like some kind of farm porn or something - right?

Wonderous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme at (See button below.) Each week, we talk about a new word that we have come across in our reading and what it means.

I finished "The Heirloom Life Gardener" at the end of last week. And, then I read "The Bonesetter's Daughter" at the beginning of this week. I decided to go with the gardening book for today because of the oh-so-dramatic pictures :) OK, so you have probably surmised that corn smut was mentioned in the gardening book and that it is what is shown in the picture. It is a fungal infection that corn gets (oh my!) and is considered a delicacy in some countries (OH MY!).
The gardening book also mentioned "cassabanana."

Our gardening hero found these in Mexico. And, I found a wonderful Spanish blog where I got these pictures. Here is his incredible cassabanana flan masterpiece (if you click on his website there are step-by-step directions with GREAT pictures!):
Here's a pic of cassabananas that I found on Wiki"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Heirloom Life Gardener - Weekend Cooking

While perusing the new books shelf at my local library, I came across, "The Heirloom Life Gardener" by Jere and Emilee Gettle. The Gettles are the founders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

The book starts with Jere's life as a young boy. Amazingly, he knew what he wanted to do from a young age - and he started doing it! The book talks about his early gardening efforts. There are several sections (and I wish that they had been longer) about expeditions that he made to Mexico, Thailand, and Guatemala when he was in his early twenties in search of heirloom seeds.

This post was written as part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly meme hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to head over to Beth Fish Reads, grab the button, and link up anytime over the weekend.  (The button is on your right...)

The book then takes us through his marriage and the founding and growth of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. And, then, the last half or so of the book is the 'A to Z Growing Guide,' which is a vegetable-by-vegetable compendium of tips for gardening.

The book also discusses the importance of heirloom seeds - the big seed companies are making our food supply less and less diverse...

And, at this point, I want to digress for a minute. I have another blog. Its called I post photos on that blog. Nature shots. And, through it I have "met" Michelle at her Rambling Woods blog. So, I was linking to her this past week and I read on her site where GMO seeds are harming the monarch butterfly!! So, here I am reading this book about how GMO seeds are bad for the food supply, and I stumble upon this information about these same seeds being bad for nature! It turns out that they kill milkweed, and milkweed is the food of the monarch!

So, GMO seeds are an issue that book bloggers, food bloggers, garden bloggers and nature bloggers have in common! In terms of the impact on the food bloggers...just look at some of the pics I borrowed from the Baker Creek site(!) I am using eggplant as an example -- but why would we want to restrict ourselves to 1 or 2 types of eggplant when there are SO MANY kinds out there waiting to be explored!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Heirloom Life Gardener - Book Beginnings & Friday 56

I am reading - among other things(!) - "The Heirloom Life Gardener" by Jere and Emilee Gettle.

I am participating in a meme called Book Beginnings at A Few More Pages. We share the first line or two of a book with one another and discuss it! (You should try it!)

So, here is the first sentence of this book -- go ahead and laugh, because it sounds a trifle over-enthusiastic. "There is a grow-your-own-food revolution happening in America right now, and vegetables have never been more exciting."

See what I mean? But, the authors are passionate about what they do, and I admire that. They are the co-founders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

I am also participating in the Friday 56 meme at Freda's Voice. Here is what page 56 has to say, "Every so often I dream that its summer and that its either freezing or snowing on my garden, on top of my tomato plants. For me, this is akin to a nightmare, actually."

So, I am going to report on the whole book this weekend for Weekend Cooking! This is bigger than gardening...we have to use and protect these heirloom seeds or the food supply will not be diverse enough. It will be in danger because of the lack of diversity. It is like the Irish Potato Famine - the crops were wiped out by one blight because they were all the same variety of potato.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tears of the Giraffe

"Tears of the Giraffe" by Alexander McCall Smith is the second of the "No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" books. I have been reading them in odd order -- every time one shows up in the library I read it. Thus, I have read several books in the series, but have only just finished the second one.

If you have not heard of Mma Precious Ramotswe yet - you are in for a treat! The New York Times Review of Books calls her, "The Miss Marple of Botswana." To learn more about Mma Ramotswe and the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency you can follow this link to my review of the first book.

The purpose of TODAY'S short post is just a little FYI. I read this whole second book wondering where the 'tears of the giraffe' came in. It was a delightful second book full of more detective work - a missing son, a cheating wife, etc. But, at the end Precious buys a basket with a 'tears of the giraffe' design in it! I googled it - of course - and here it is! See the tears?!? The basket is from a website selling handmade baskets from Botswana!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays is a meme over at where we answer a question (on a Monday(!)). Today's question is: What book do you wish you were reading right now? Where would you take it to, if you could go anywhere to read for a while?

Ok, first question first...I am reading Les Miserables right now, and honestly, that is the book I wish I were reading. But, today I have to do traffic studies and pick up the place a bit (I work at home). The plan is to tackle the list and as I tick off items I get to read a certain number of pages as a reward. This system actually works well for me.

Next, is WHERE I would read if I could go anywhere... That is actually a bit tricky. The first thing that sprang to mind is various of my bucket list world-travel locales. But, it would be crazy to go there to read. And, I don't actually like reading at the beach or poolside. I am a readhead so I am not a great sunbather ;) So, I would have to say that my spot would be my Victorian balcony - already in existence - but, alas, no furniture yet. So, my wish would be that it were furnished in white wicker. kind of shabby chic and Victorian to keep the period correct. I need an actual BED out there I think - LOL! The matress can have plastic on it so it does not mildew. But, I need a lot of pillows, some lemonade, relaxing music, all my work done...yep...
(I got this picture from

Saturday, March 10, 2012

People of the Book...and Cake!

Today for I am doing a review with benefits ;) I am going to tell you about a GREAT book (5+ stars) and a rather obscure cake recipe that I got as a result of reading it! First the book: "People of the Book." Have you heard of it? It is by Geraldine Brooks and it is the story of a very special book and its travels around Europe.

This post was written as part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly meme hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to head over to Beth Fish Reads, grab the button, and link up anytime over the weekend.  (The button is on your right...)

The book that the novel is about is an actual book - the Sarajevo Haggadah. A Haggadah is a book that everyone uses to follow along and read from during the seder - the Jewish ceremony held during Passover. This particular Haggadah is VERY special for several reasons. First of all, it is very old, and secondly, it is illuminated (has pictures) and most haggadahs do not have pictures. These are really special, old pictures, as well. I have included some examples (from Wiki) of the pictures here.

So, the novel, "People of the Book," is a fictional story about the real book - you with me so far? In the novel, Hanna Heath, uses clues to trace the history of the book. She traces the book as it travels across Europe - and we get to travel with it for centuries! What I found touching was that the book was saved during times of turmoil in Europe by non-Jews. Muslims saved it during the Nazi period. And, that brings us to the double meaning of "People of the Book." That is actually a term of respect that some Muslims use for Jews and Christians...we are all "People of the Book," in that all three religions hold the Old Testament more or less in common, and as such we are all cousins. So, this was the PERFECT title for this novel, as it is about the Haggadah and it is about good people of many faiths working to preserve it! How very interesting, Libby, you are saying to yourselves. But, "I was told there would be cake." (haha!) OK, I am getting to that...our heroine, Hanna, has to work really hard to learn more about the book. At one point, she checks in with her mentor in Vienna. While there, she is served coffee and Waves of the Danube Cake.

So, I am reading along, and see this reference, and naturally, I look it up and and I come across a baking blog Hungry Squirrel Cakes that has pictures and the recipe.

She has the recipe on her blog so I am not going to copy it here - click on Hungry Squirrel Cakes, above, if you want to make it and impress all your friends! Basically, the cherries weigh down the cake in places as it rises in the oven and that creates a pattern of 'waves' in the cake when seen from the side. So, I have followed the squirrel's recipe and present you with the following: (I am also including a YouTube video of the "Waves of the Danube" waltz because I like to set the mood!)
So, first you make a yellow cake...
Carefully (so as not to mix the two) cover the yellow batter with chocolate batter...

Add the cherries...
Bake. Then add the creme layer, and then CAREFULLY add the chocolate layer..
Then, cut and admire the waves and FORCE your family to admire the waves (even though that cherry to the right in the picture sank like a rock in the Danube...)

I am linking this post to Novel Food at I was sooo excited when I stumbled across their concept! They put together blog posts of food derived from novels that have been cooked up and photographed by bloggers all over the net! You should check it out!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Pilgrimage 2012!

Take the Book Pilgrimage 2012! I wanted to get this up in time for those of you who are now planning summer vacations, summer camps, etc. It is the Book Pilgrimage 2012 Challenge! Basically, the challenge is to read a book, or books, and then visit (make a pilgrimage!) to either the location where the book is set or to the author's home (or grave). Then, blog about the book and the book pilgrimage! There is a Mr. Linky below.

Here is an example that includes one of my plans for this summer. I am going to re-read that best seller of the 1800s - "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Then, I am going to visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati, AND I am going to Ripley, Ohio, BECAUSE there really was an Eliza and she really crossed the semi-frozen Ohio River at Ripley and went to John Rankin's house, a stop on the underground railway! So, I am going there and I am going to stand at the spot where she crossed and take pictures. And, I am going to visit the Rankin House.

The thing is, this is convenient for me because all of these locations are less than an hour away.

I will also be in Florida and time permitting, I will read "Cross Creek," and visit the Cross Creek State Park.

The point that I am trying to make is that you do not have to make a long pilgrimage - unless you want to do that. There are great sites to visit in every state and country! As a matter of fact, I am hoping to hear from book lovers in other countries to learn about places and authors that I have never heard about. So, if you do not plan to go anywhere, find something local! And, if you are planning a vacation, see whether you can include a book pilgrimage. Or, go all out and plan a pilgrimage as a stand alone trip. I know a lot of Twilight fans have made special trips to Forks, Washington, the setting for the books, and I would love to read about one of those trips!

Here is a link that has a lot of ideas - Europe is at the beginning, scroll down for South America, and then the United States. You can also google the park or historic societies in your state or country.

Also, please keep checking back here by hitting the "Pilgrim's Badge" on the top of my right column. I am going to share book pilgrimage ideas as I find them, or as people share them with me. One of the things that I am going to look into is the fact that I have heard that there are big plans at some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites around the country! Also, I do not know much about this, but I heard that there is a big push to save Edgar Allen Poe's house, which is, or was, facing demolition(?) Here is a list of American authors' homes I recently found. Stay tuned!!! I'm so excited!!

Friday Book Beginnings - The Miracle at Speedy Motors

Hi! I thought it might be fun to try this Friday Meme hosted by Katy at It is called "Book Beginnings," and here is how it works (I borrowed this next paragraph from her blog:)

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

There you have it...not too complicated! Well, I am reading BOTH "Les Miserables," by of course, Victor Hugo, and "The Miracle at Speedy Motors" by Alexander McCall Smith. I am plodding though Les Mis, and then when I need a break, I switch to Alexander McCall Smith.

So, without further ado, here is the first line of "The Miracle at Speedy Motors:"

The correct address of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's foremost solver of problems - in the sense that this was where she could be found between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon, except when she was not there - was the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, c/o Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Gaborone, Botswana.

Now, I get to tell you my impressions...and that is difficult, because this is not my first impression. This book is part of a series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series...and I love it! The books in the series are pretty light. The main characters are really likable people. The setting is Botswana. I did not know much about Africa before starting this series, but I must confess that I thought the whole continent was an unhappy place. Not so! Smith was a law professor at the University of Botswana, and he knows the place. His prose transports you to Botswana and let's you relax there among the acacia trees.
I got this AMAZING picture from the blog of a fellow blogspotter who is a Peace Corp volunteer in Botswana(!) For more about her and Botswana, you can check out her blog:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Les Miserables Matelote

I am reading Les Miserables as part of the read-along at There is a button in my right column. At the same time, I ALWAYS love participating in Weekend Cooking at (another button to the right).

During my reading of Les Mis, I accidentally stumbled upon a way of combining the two! Here is what happened...

I was reading a passage about a group of young students, as follows, "He was, moreover, one of the students who had learned most during their course in Paris; knew that the best coffee was at the Cafe Lemblin, and the best billiard table at the Cafe Voltaire; that you could find good rolls and good girls at the hermitage on the Boulevard du Maine, broiled chickens at Mother Saguet's, excellent chowders at the Barriere de la Cunette, and a peculiar light white wine at the Barriere do Combat."

I paused there in my reading because I thought that it would be fun to see whether any of those places in Paris were still around!

I googled that passage...and ANOTHER TRANSLATION of Les Mis popped up. It was the same, except the roasted chicken was now called "spatchcocked" chicken and chowder was called "matelote." Now I was really curious! Spatchcocked chicken is a type of butterflied chicken. I talked about it on Wonderous Words Wednesday this past Wednesday if you want to take a look...there is a great video of someone expertly spatchcocking a chicken.

Next, I had to figure out what a matelote was. I googled that, and it turned out to be a dish made of fish, wine, mushrooms, and pearl onions. I found the recipe and made it!

The recipe can be found at

This classic French fish chowder is not as well known as Bouillabaisse, but it is wonderful--often known as the fisherman's coq au vin. Coming from an inland region of France, it traditionally uses eel or other fresh fish--and either red or white wine. Cognoscenti quibble over names and ingredients, as if soup has the rigid requirements of puff pastry. I say, enjoy whatever version appeals to you--and serve it as a meal to 4-6 lucky people, with boiled potatoes, salad, and French bread on the side. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2-3 strips bacon 1 large onion, sliced 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 cups wine (either a red Burgundy/Cote du Rhone or a dry white Cote du Rhone/French vermouth) 2 cups fish stock or clam juice 2 Tablespoons minced parsley 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon thyme big pinch of black pepper big pinch of allspice 1 pound mushrooms, small or cut to mouthful size 20 small boiling onions, unpeeled and with crosses cut into their roots 2 pounds of freshwater fish (preferably eel, but perch or trout or catfish is great), cut in slabs. Traditionally the slabs include skin and bones, but it's a lot easier to eat fillets. In fact, the popular "catfish nuggets" you find in the market are hard to beat.

Garnish: "Canapes"--little white bread triangles freshly sauteed in butter.

Fry the bacon in a large saucepan. When crisp, remove the bacon and reserve. Add the onion and garlic to the bacon grease and saute until tender. Pour in the wine and the stock, add the parsley, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, and allspice, bring to a simmer and let it cook for 30 to 45 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the remaining additions. First, put the little onions into a pan of boiling water and cook them for a few minutes. Drain--the peels will come off easily. Melt a couple Tablespoons of butter over a medium high heat in the same pan (water poured out), then add the mushrooms and toss until they are nicely browned. Remove them to a bowl. Add more butter to the pan and throw in the peeled onions, tossing them until they are patchy brown. Add them to the mushrooms. Deglaze the pan with water and pour all that brown goodness into the simmering broth.

When 15 minutes away from serving, bring the soup to a boil and add the fish. Let it boil slowly for 8-10 minutes, until the fish is just done, then remove the fish to a serving tureen and keep warm. Scrape the onions and mushrooms into the broth, turn to a high heat, and boil hard for 5 minutes to reduce the soup and concentrate its flavors. Pour over the soup, garnish with the buttery canapes, and serve immediately.

The onions turned out to be a fun surprise! I had not worked with unpeeled pearl onions before, and thought that it was going to be a lot of work. But, as you can see, I followed the recipe and boiled them in their skins for a while. The water turned a lovely color, and I remembered that in days gone by onion skins were used to create dyes. When I was done boiling them, I threw some ice cubes on top. When they were cool enough, I squeezed them and they shot right out. It was fun. And, look how pretty they were!
By the way, I am including this in Novel Foods! If you like to read about food derived from novels - like this post(!) - click the link and check it out!!