My mother’s 97th birthday was April 7. She used to make some damned fine chicken cacciatore. So in celebration of her birth month, I invited my friends who used to dine on her cacciatore for dinner in which I tried to recreate Ma’s cooking. I had her well-loved and well-worn recipe, but I was nervous that I couldn’t duplicate it.

As any cook knows, recipes are only suggestions. You add a little more of this, a little more of that, to make it your own. I was pretty sure I knew how Mom fudged the details—because the things she would add would be the same as the things I would add.

I was still nervous.

Still, I persisted.

Friday, I got out the old cast iron Dutch oven and went through the paces. The cat, who hadn’t smelled chicken cooking in my house for a long time, followed me from room to room meowing because she wanted to make sure she got her share. (She did.) I let the cacciatore cool then stuck it in the fridge overnight. On Saturday, all I had to do was reheat it and cook the spaghetti and garlic cheese toast.

My mother had this theory of feeding people which boiled down essentially to “too much is never enough.” Many who have eaten at her table learned the hard way to wear loose clothing and to eat sparingly of the oer d’oeuvres because Mom’s servings were large—with a rich dessert to follow. Also, asking for seconds usually meant you got a plate heaped as full as the first.

I didn’t honor that tradition. (Sorry, Ma.) We had plenty to eat but we’d all agreed there would be no oer d’oeuvres and I let everyone choose their own serving size. Rich dessert afterwards, yes. We’re none of us ascetics, after all. But somebody else was responsible for the sweets. (And he did a fine job, bringing a tiramisu and serving portions almost as large as the diners’ heads. Mom would have been proud of him.)

I’m happy to report that the cacciatore tasted just like Mama used to make. I was so happy that I could recreate such a well-loved taste from my past. It let me know she was still with me.

Still with me, but still missed.

The lovely and talented mnfaure is dreaming dreams for the future. She would like input on her idea for running workshops in Provence combining a writers’ retreat and French cuisine. Please visit her and let her know what you think of the idea. Everything’s in the planning stage at this point, but dreaming is so much fun!

Crazy busy days lately, at work, at home.  I’m having company for dinner tomorrow night and have spent the day cleaning and organizing.  We’re doing a low country boil and it should be fun.  Shrimp and sausage and halibut and potatoes and onions and spicy crab boil seasoning.  I won’t be able to have any beer with that, which is a great pity, as the only weekend we could all get together was the weekend before an important (but routine) blood test and I’ve given up sugar in all forms.

But none of that is the subject of this post or why I felt compelled to sit down a half hour before midnight to put it down.  I haven’t had much time to blog lately and there’s a build up of effluvia.  I was afraid if I didn’t take a moment now, some vitally important inane information might be lost to history.  So, here it is: what I’m done with is not housekeeping or cooking, it’s Laurell K. Hamilton.

I hadn’t read anything by her in a long time, but I found myself curious to see what was up with her.  The last Anita Blake book I read actually had some semblance of a plot, contrary to several of the ones that had come before.  I mean, a plot having more to do with being “forced” to have sex with dozens of men and endless discussions amongst the characters as to what had just happened, why it had happened, and why the sexcapades were totally, completely against her real true morality, but she couldn’t help it.  She just couldn’t help it.  At heart, she was really a “good girl.”

Uh, anyway, I stuck with LKH a lot longer than I should have, though most of my friends had given up on her, mostly because of the not-Anita characters.  I really loved some of them and wanted to know what was going on with them, although most of the ones I really liked got short shrift in the cavalcade of porn the books had become.  I’m stubborn, I guess.  So I picked up Blood Noir last night and decided I’d wallow in it, to see if that promise of actual plot in The Harlequin meant LKH was finally snapping out of her narrow focus.  The first several chapters were an extended sex scene between Anita and two guys, plus endless discussions of what had just happened, why it had happened, and why the sexcapades were totally, completely against her real true morality, but she couldn’t help it.  She just couldn’t help it.  At heart, she was really a “good girl.”

And I realized that I really no longer gave a damn about any of those characters.  Finding out what might be going on with them was no longer worth slogging through the slush these books have become.  I like me a good sex scene, have no trouble walking on the pervy side, but I do prefer to have my sexy fiction have some actual fiction in it to go along with the ol’ boogaloo.

I moved consequently LKH’s books from the TBR pile to the recycle pile.  I don’t think they’ll be wending their way back out again.

And no telling when I may get to set down more inane content again.  Watch this space.

Am tired. That is all.

(spinach and Humbolt Fog smoky blue veined goat cheese + fontina)
(chicken, spices, green onion)

1.  It’s been busy at work and I haven’t had time to do much else besides work.  What a bummer.

2.  The read-through on my WIP progresses nicely, but the first ten chapters or so are the easy part of the ms., the part I’d reworked several times before pushing on through the rest of the story.  This part holds up pretty well.  I shudder to think of the Middle to Come, or the Chaos of Ending.

3.  I finally got my DVD player hooked up after an embarrassingly long hiatus.   I don’t watch many DVDs, obviously, but I’d accumulated enough gifts that I thought I really should start looking at them.  “I haven’t got the DVD player hooked up yet,” was wearing kind of thin to those who queried.  Actually, the cable company had hooked it up when they installed my new DVR box, but it never worked properly and I knew the connections were wonky on the TV end.  I’ve got  one of those huge, honking old 27-inch TVs that weigh a ton, and I knew it would be a chore to shift it around to check those connections, so I was unmotivated.  Lazy swine, am I.  Sure enough, I finally hefted that monster around and it was “There’s your problem” all around.  In about two seconds I had DVD capacity.

4.  I made pork, onion, and green olive empanadas over the weekend.  Muy bueno, if I do say so myself.

5.  I also watched the first five episodes of True Blood, season one. I’d been leery of it, since I loved the books.  I’m actually quite liking it, with a couple of biggish exceptions.

General discussion of series, no real spoilers, but skip to #6 if you don’t want to know.

So far most of the episodes have pretty closely followed the story arc of the first book in the series, Dead Until Dark (which is probably still my favorite of the bunch).  All this time I couldn’t understand why everyone said, “Sam? Eww!” when I said I hoped Sookie wound up with him.  Now I understand: for some reason, the producers have decided to turn Sookie’s one true friend through all the books, the one who’s always loved her for who she is not what she can do for him, the one who’s always been at her back…into a skeevy guy who sleeps with all the women who work for him.  Very unhappy with that.  I also think the guy who plays Eric is seriously miscast.  He’s this tall, effete male modelish kind of guy, when Eric is a large, physically imposing, ex-Viking warrior.  It does not work for me.  This actor is, however, blond like Eric.  He knows how to put on a nice pout when I thinking brooding is more called for…but Bill does enough of that for twelve vampires, so perhaps the producers wanted…contrast.  Yeah, that must be it.

6. When in Ralph’s market Saturday shopping for empanada ingredients, I turned back to my shopping cart to find a woman with her hand in my purse.  I’ve been mugged three times.  I know better than to leave my purse unattended like that, but I had a brain fade, I guess.  When I turned and caught her, she said, “Oh!” and pushed the cart out of the way, like that was her intent all along and her hand just happened to slip into my purse.  She reached behind me, not the cart, to grab some crutons off a shelf and walked away.  I did a quick reconnoiter of my belongings and determined nothing was missing.  I kept close tabs on my purse for the rest of the shopping.

It seems like I spent the whole day yesterday cooking.  I didn’t, but I did work for my food.  I got a late start to the market, about 2, but got some luscious short ribs.  As soon as I got home I had to start chopping veggies and garlic, dredging and browning ribs, sauteeing, then adding everything to the pot with the broth.   We had a couple of cups of homemade beef broth in the freezer, but I supplemented it with Swanson’s.  I ain’t proud.

Then I could rest up for an hour and a half while everything bubbled away (about 4:30). I cleaned up the worst of the kitchen mess, then went to sit out in the back with Min and read a little.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, as I said yesterday, the first we’d had in awhile.  Today’s another fine day.  I enjoyed sitting in the sun.  (And my apologies to those of you enduring a late in the season snowstorm.)

About a half hour before serving time I added some sliced shrooms to the pot, then got the wheat noodles on to boil.  If I do say so myself, the meal was worth all the work.  Just delicious.  Below’s the recipe if you’re interested.  I got it from and modified a bit.  It wasn’t all that hard, just a lot of prep work up front, but no more than if you made this in a crock pot.  I also use more onions and garlic then is called for here because I’m a barbarian who likes to punch up the flavor, and I may have added more celery and carrots as well.  Okay, so maybe my wrist got a little heavy on the wine, too.  I also added the mushrooms in the last half hour of cooking because I like mushrooms in stuff like this, dammit.

Smothered Beef Short Ribs

  1. 1/2 cup olive oil
  2. 4 pounds beef short ribs
  3. salt and pepper to taste
  4. 1 cup all-purpose flour (I use wheat flour as it adds a really nice dimension to the flavor)
  5. 2 cups chopped onions
  6. 1 cup chopped celery
  7. 1 cup chopped carrots
  8. 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  9. 3 bay leaves
  10. 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  11. 1 cup red wine
  12. 8 cups beef stock
  13. 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Season the ribs with salt and pepper to taste and dredge them in flour. Fry the ribs in the oil in small batches, adding oil as needed, to sear the meat. This should take 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Set ribs aside.

In the same pot, add the onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and then stir in the garlic, bay leaves and thyme and cook for 1 more minute.

Deglaze the pot with the red wine, scraping up all the bits on the bottom. Add the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer. Add the ribs and continue to simmer for 2 hours, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the parsley and serve.

It’s the first sunshine we’ve had here at the coast for a few days, and most of the last week has been overcast and gloomy.  Summer hasn’t arrived yet, and spring is still trying to make up its mind.  Min kitty likes it when I hunker down at home and write, but I’m thinking I really should go out and soak up some Vitamin D.  Lethargy after a tough week at work and knowing I have a four day weekend has made me, well, lethargic.  So here I stay.

I do have to go out eventually to buy the ingredients for the dinner I’m cooking tonight: braised short ribs with red wine and veggies.  If I can find the short ribs.  Ralph’s had some lovely ones last weekend—but that was last weekend.  No telling what they’ll have today.

And so, I think I’ll stop whiffling and go . . .