I recently posted a review of Mary Tabor’s memoir (Re)Making Love and I loved the book so much (and all of Mary’s writing) that I couldn’t just leave it at that. One of Mary’s literary talents is her ability to seamlessly weave stories from many genre’s and literary forms. A particular delight in (Re)Making Love was the inclusion of recipes along with her recollections. The fusion of sense memory and the beautiful prose was nothing less than magical. I share with you now some of the dishes Mary served up in her memoir.
Roasted Chicken and The Professor (Chapter 11)
Mary meets a professor on Match.com while she’s a visiting writer at University of Missouri. He’s on the east coast while she’s safely in the Midwest and chatting online. After virtually meeting him, she received 10 emails that total 28 pages. The recipe below is from chapter 10 when Mary rejects him despite his declaration that she is perfect for him.
She ends up in this chapter cooking for another man. About the recipe for this love, Mary writes:
“When it was all over and the chicken was sitting majestically crispy on the counter and ready to eat and she had sprinkled chopped thyme into the juices and done the only basting Thomas Keller requires –at the very end while the chicken is resting—she knew that she could take care of herself…[she] cooked a chicken for a man she was smitten with. And boy was she smitten.”
Foolishly, as she later admits, for another man, whose actual initials are mrs., a widower, who is a perfect fit in ways she explains and he agrees, but he’s overwhelmed in mourning for his lost love.
Thomas Keller’s recipe at Epicurious (epicurious.com) under Mon Poulet Rôti
One 2- to 3-pound farm-raised chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better. Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult, and if you roast chicken often, it’s a good technique to feel comfortable with. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
[more at chicken recipe at epicurious)
Mussels with Potatoes & Spinach
D.’s Favorite Meal (chapter 23)
In this chapter Mary prepares Mussels with Potatoes & Spinach for a widowed real estate investor “m.” While there had been a connection between them, he’d rejected her with a deafening silence after they’d slept together and after he canceled at the very moment he was to arrive and she’d put the finishing touches on her homemade dinner for him. His heartrending excuse? That his daughter, still in pain from the loss of her mother, needed him. Mary writes him a moving and understanding note. You gotta read this to believe it because what Mary didn’t know was that he was in fact pursuing a woman from New York who would later reject him over her own mourning for the death of her partner in the Twin Towers. This rejection, Mary questions with empathy for the widowed girlfriend of m.
Mussels with Potatoes & Spinach is D.’s favorite meal.
Mary says, “Just as the meal was coming together the real estate investor called and canceled.”
“That night I prepared Mussels with Potatoes and Spinach, one of D.’s favorite dishes, and for the actual first time, I cooked, meaning I did not throw together a meal, but cooked with the right-tool-for-the-task verve in my condo’s pared down kitchen.
I considered: No way I could do this for D.
But I am doing it for m.! Does this mean I have come through?
Kitchens and men are all about love, despite what your stomach tells you.”
This chapter is a special treat because Mary’s prose can’t help but spill over into the recipe. It’s as if I were there cooking with Mary as she shared her husband’s favorite dish along with her cooking secrets and memories of her life with D. before their separation.
Mussels with Potatoes and Spinach from Gourmet’s Five Ingredients (a great little cookbook. Recipe slightly adapted here)
(start to finish 35 minutes)
1 lb small red potatoes
3 T. olive oil
1 T minced garlic (I use more)
2 lb mussels (preferably cultivated, meaning less gritty, cleaned and beards removed)
½ lb baby spinach (I use more)
1. Simmer potatoes in enough salted water to cover by one inch until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain under cold water. Pat dry; cut in half or quarters
2. Heat two tablespoons of oil in large, heavy skillet (I use my cast iron pan) until hot but not smoking, then sauté potatoes with salt (I use Kosher coarse salt), turning as they brown (don’t turn too often or potatoes will crumble instead of getting crisp—and that’s what makes this dish great), about 10 minutes.
3. In a 5 to 6 quart pot, while potatoes are sautéing, cook garlic in one tablespoon of oil until fragrant (don’t burn the garlic; burn garlic ruins a dish). Stir in mussels and ¼ cup of water (white wine also works, but I use a little more when I choose wine), cover pot and cook until mussels open (take them out as they open), about three to five minutes (discard unopened mussels).
4. Add spinach to the pan with the potatoes that are now crisp and toss until spinach welts. Serve potatoes and spinach with mussels.
I used to put the spinach, potatoes, and mussels together in the Italian ceramic bowl D. gave me, the bowl he now has in his apartment—it’s on loan? Oh, how I fantasize! – the bowl that thrives with color (red, black, blue) and molded striped blue and white handles, the line carta di credito along the side in script.
Looking for the Map
Russian Chicken Burgers with Stroganoff Sauce (Chapter 26)
A very honest and touching chapter. I think Mary’s Wattpad fans (all 350,000 readers!) share my sentiment that Mary captures heartache with all its tragedy (and hope). Her patience in the face of fear is compelling.
“I cannot tell you how profound I find this chapter. I feel as though this is a pivot in the memoir. Truly, Mary, this is an exceptional piece of writing.”
“This is one of the most courageous of all your writes, Mary. I enjoyed it, as I did all of the previous, but there’s a tone to this one, hidden behind the boat building, the great jokes, the wonderful broken vase story, and the great recipe that I will make (oh, yeah, babe, sounds terrific) that makes me feel the pain of D.’s rejection, the devastation of the failing marriage, and the confusion about what it is that D. wants from you. And once again I feel your broken heart, healing and ever stronger for the repair, like the vase.”
“Great jokes – great recipe. Loved the parable about the vase. How true that it. D. certainly needs more than a map. He needs GPS to the brain. Your writing is so brave, so beautiful. Just love.”
D., while looking for his map, told me that he had built his boat. How many divorced men do you know who live in Annapolis and have bought a boat? D. has built a metaphorical boat. He wants to have dinner. He wants to go to a movie with me. Does he want to be with me? Hard to tell.
He tells me he needs to figure out how to sail it. He tells me if I wait, the boat will be there. There will be room on that boat for me.
1 ½ lbs. Skinless and boneless chicken breasts
1 cup fine soft bread crumbs
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
pinch cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil (I use olive oil)
fresh dill for garnish
1. Cut the meat (remove cartilage) in 1-inch cubes and put in food processer; blend to coarse texture.
2. In a mixing bowl, place meat. Blend ½ cup of the bread crumbs with the cream and add to the meat. Add cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Blend with hands.
3. Divide mixture into four balls, pat down to flatten, roll in bread crumbs. Press to make sure crumbs adhere. Heat oil in skillet. Cook the patties until browned on one side. Turn and cook 10 minutes on each side.
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup finely chopped onions
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add onion and paprika, Cook, stirring until the onion is wilted.
2. Add vinegar and thyme. Cook, stirring until vinegar reduces.
3. Add the cream and cook until mixture reduces to about half.
4. Add the sour cream, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling point.
Thank you, Mary for your beautiful writing!
You can find Mary L. Tabor’s work at:
photo credit: Bowl of Mussels, Mary L. Tabor
photo credit: MLT Portrait, Kevin Allen, http://www.kevinallenphoto.com