16 September 2010

A Nod to Craig Claiborne ...

Let's talk about reading ... and books. I was always a voracious reader, from the times in my very early years of leafing through the World Book Encyclopedia in my parent's living room and reading a little bit about a lot of things, to the middle years of devouring Nancy Drew mysteries, right up to my high school years spent immersed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Vonnegut novels, and Ferlinghetti's poetry. Then, I went to college and was handed  'required reading lists'  and textbooks the size of the Inquisition stones used to press people to death. (insert scream here).  Suffice it to say, I spent the first three years after college reading nothing more serious than Rolling Stone, the occasional recipe card, and the Sunday funnies.

In that time, I re-connected with Silent Bob ( a long story) and married him. Within a year, I was pregnant and 'making a home'...  enter Craig Claiborne and The New York Times Cook Book. Now, I still have the original recipe cards that I copied from my mother's recipe box. There are things like tuna casserole, mock mincemeat, apple crisp, bread and butter pickles, peanut butter cookies, chocolate jumbles, pie crust dough, and scalloped potatoes. These were some of the staples of my family's dinners and snacks. I read and followed those recipe cards, diligently. Craig Claiborne, though, introduced me to a whole different world of sauces, meats, and cooking techniques that my mother never had time to finesse. I got his book through a membership offer for The Book-of-the-Month Club and I never looked back.  I finally enjoyed reading again!  His book brought me back to reading and referencing, something I'd written off after college. To this day, I pull it off the shelf now and then to look up a recipe that I haven't thought of  in ages or to refresh my memory on a sauce ( I always forget how to make bearnaise and hollandaise sauces.).  It is such a wonderful reference, written in easy-to-follow steps - never  intimidating.

So... this evening, I was thinking about a dish that my mother never made, but I had occasion to smell cooking on a few afternoons when I played with my childhood friend, Tracy. Her mother was very involved in a woman's group that played bridge, did charitable work, and, in general, hob-nobbed about in our small town.  She made this dish called Chicken Divan for her luncheons. Her kitchen smelled of sauces and broccoli and poaching chicken with a green smell that I later knew to be tarragon ( I asked her what the smell was ...).  My God! It was so foreign to the smells in my mom's kitchen.

Anyway ... tonight I was thinking about that dish and remembered when I discovered Craig Claiborne's recipe for Chicken Divan in his New York Times Cook Book.  I made Chicken Divan this evening, using Craig's recipe and it,  plus my memory of Mrs. Harkin's kitchen, was divine.


  1. Dear Susan, Such a lovely read and in celebration of hidden treasures on our book shelves. I think we all have our own Craig Claiborne's sitting on the shelf silently waiting for us to return :)

    PS - The new pot is beautiful!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  2. It was Irma Rombauer's "The Joy of Cooking" for me. I think our friend Cathy gave it to me as a gift back in the late 70's.


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