Tag Archives: Chicken Marbella

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Empty Calendar, Full Days

Last weekend, we experienced one of the rarest of occurrences. There was not a thing on our family calendar. The coming weekend spread before us on paper, a completely blank pair of days. There were a couple of things we thought we might do. The annual Fall Arts Festival would be in our town, an unusually lovely art show with fine artists’ booths that wind along a path in a redwood grove. The Jewish New Year began Sunday night, and I knew I wanted to cook a special meal. But unusually, we had all of the two days and nights to leisurely do those things and whatever else struck us.

We rode bikes to the art show fairly early on Saturday. We immediately saw good friends and beautiful art and artists, some of which also appeared as old friends, as they’ve been happy fixtures at the Festival since we started attending 20 years ago, the very weekend we first moved to Mill Valley. The grove had the moist redwood-duff smell that I’ll always strongly associate with my first days here. Still other Festival memories? Being seven months pregnant and buying a backpack of books at the adjoining library sale and laughing that they were balancing me front to back, and taking Anna to the Festival the next year when she was almost a year old. (This picture was taken that day.)

This weekend, we joined younger families in taking in a sweet and magical marionette show (its qualities only enhanced by being performed in what is known as the “fairy ring” of redwoods). I marveled at how very enraptured and still the audience of small children was as they sat on their tarp and on tree stumps. Other talented friends of ours, father and daughter Austin and Caroline de Lone, sang and played a variety of instruments through a fabulous set to which other of our friends wandered over, lured by the beautiful music. We saw more friends and got into long, deep discussions under the trees.

The looseness of the day called for meandering. There was a bliss to the spontaneity and complete lack of schedule. We didn’t have to be anywhere else, then or later. Still later, we ran into another friend while buying food for a simple dinner and ended up inviting her over. This so rarely happens — people call first and plan and shoehorn events into busy schedules far in the future. And yet the way the whole day played out struck me as the way things are supposed to be. This certainly seemed like a way to build community, by taking the time to stop and engage with people we meet in our daily travels.


Sunday brought more relaxation. We read. Anna did homework and worked on her essays for college. We leisurely planned dinner and I went shopping and later made two of my favorite dishes, Chicken Marbella and honey spice cake. Michael made mashed potatoes. At one point Anna called our attention to colorful oak leaves that were falling and swirling in the wind outside, and we all talked about how much it looked and felt like Fall.

At dinner we talked about the New Year and the big change to come of college. We dipped apples in honey to signify a sweet new year. We lingered at the table an especially long time, precisely because we had time. We even cleaned up in a leisurely way.

While many people relish an empty calendar, still others are afraid when confronted with one. Both of these extremes should tell us something. Lots of us are so conditioned to being booked up that free time is a rarity, and sometimes even a burden. This weekend showed me that an empty calendar can result in exceedingly full and rich days.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman


Saluting Silver Palate’s Sheila Lukins


The hoopla surrounding the book and movie, Julie and Julia, has been wonderful, of course — for amateur cooks, for foodies, for bloggers. Anything that gets people back into the kitchen after seasons of take-out (if, indeed, that’s where they head post-movie) and certainly anything that makes us stop and truly appreciate the pioneering Julia Child, with her trilling voice, kind demeanor and no-nonsense insistence that any of us, too, could pull off chicken Cordon Bleu, is inherently good. For my mother’s generation, Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the guide that perhaps their own parents — in a harder era during which, for many, cooking was an artless enterprise, synonymous with “getting food on the table” — were not.

My own cooking was informed by a different set of guides. So it was with dismay that I learned that Sheila Lukins, co-creator with Julie Rosso of the Silver Palate cookbooks and empire, had died, at just 66, of brain cancer.

When I moved to New York, after college, in 1982, I quickly experienced the personal revelation that was fettuccine Alfredo. “Pasta, Etc.” stores were springing up around Manhattan, with their ready-made sauces and varieties of pasta. Growing up, pasta meant spaghetti, and usually at a restaurant. Home meals tended to revolve around chicken, meat or fish, and were dishes without a lot of variation, week to week, that my working mom could easily prepare and get on the table. (Kitchen leisure was reserved for baking projects and Thanksgiving Day.)

Then I discovered the Silver Palate stores, with their amazing chicken salads and chutneys and raspberry and walnut vinaigrettes. I snapped up the Silver Palate Cookbook and learned to make such staples on my own. The book was such an obvious labor of love — as had been the Moosewood Cookbook before it, which I belatedly found — with its hand-drawings, personal notes, and unique recipes that I could easily replicate. It had clearly been created by people who adored food and combining ingredients in interesting, tasty ways. Their recipes were (to me) informed by global cuisines, which became especially apparent when the pair split forces and Lukins traveled the world to research and create her astonishing Around the World Cookbook, which, along with the Silver Palate Cookbook and the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, I am continually inspired by.

Barely a week goes by when I don’t cook from, or at least reference, one of these books (along with the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook.) Into my repertoire have gone their Chicken Marbella (which is so popular among my generation of home cooks, especially for dinner parties, that it is mentioned in Lukins’ New York Times obituary.) Four Seasons Pasta, Pasta Putanesca, Game Hens in Raspberry, Seven Vegetable Couscous, Salmon Mousse, and June’s Apple Crisp are just a few of the recipes that I turn to time and again. Just this weekend, my daughter and I made Three-Ginger Cookies from the Good Times cookbook, which, as its name implies, is a fun compendium of recipes and occasions to enjoy them with others.

Sheila, you gave me a lot.

While racking up influences from my early ’80s burgeoning cooking and entertaining life, I would be remiss in not mentioning Martha Stewart’s own first book, Entertaining. It’s hard to remember that, prior to the Martha Stewart many of us know now, this extremely talented, energetic, and comparatively anonymous caterer put together a gorgeous collection of recipes for parties that one could just happen upon in a bookstore. Not a rumaki was to be found within its pages. Like Silver Palate, Entertaining was a revelation as far as food and style — verve, really — and is another book I’ve referred to repeatedly over the years.

I wonder which books will be the touchstones for the cooks who are coming of age now.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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