Spicy Chicken from The Dollhouse

I just finished The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, a fine tale, blending the old with the new.  A present day reporter begins researching the lives of women who had lived at a New York City women's hotel, the Barbizon, after hearing the poignant story of an older woman, still living there, while she is herself in residence. I loved this book - a terrific story with mystery, romance, history and some food as well.

From the Publishers:
"Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side by side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon's glitzy past.
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren't: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn't belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she's introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that's used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
Over half a century later, the Barbizon's gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby's involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman's rent-controlled apartment. It's a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby's upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed."

Darby's boyfriend, Sam, sous chef in a downtown jazz club, wanted to one day open his own restaurant.  He had been compiling a "Book of Spices", an interest which began while in the army, serving in Southeast Asia and working as a cook.  He loves trying new combinations, and recording them in diary form, with drawings.  This novel is sprinkled with his unique spice blends, which were very unusual for that time.  What a terrific idea!  I'm getting a little notebook of my own to record spice mixes, and of course will be copying down Sam's various combinations, and what he used them on.

He tells Darcy: I've been working on a new recipe.  Steak with a mixture of clove, turmeric, and honey."  Meanwhile, I'm dreaming of putting together a fruit salad he concocted with a dressing of cilantro, kaffir lime leaves and pepper, mixed with lime juice, then drizzled over chopped up papaya and mango. Oh yes.  Perhaps tonight.

At one point, Sam had the busboy "rubbing some powder from a bowl on a pan of chicken pieces."  That got me going, since I had thawed chicken breasts needing inspiration for our dinner.  I made my own bowl of spices: minced kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, salt, garlic and harissa, mixed together with lime juice and a bit of peanut oil.  Rubbed it onto the boned chicken pieces and let it sit for awhile before grilling - just a few minutes on each side.

Fabulous, especially served with emperor's rice (cooked in broth), and  pineapple chunks, sprinkled with fresh mint.  Just perfection, the spices came through beautifully.   I'll share this over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and with Heather for the September Foodies Read Challenge.  Please do visit and see what everyone's cooking and reading.


Wendy Klik said...

Sounds like a good read and a fabulous rub for that chicken.

Mae Travels said...

Experimenting with spice is a great idea. I have quite a few on my shelves, but usually follow recipes -- I should learn from you!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Cecelia said...

Mmm, sounds delicious! I'm always looking for ways to dress up chicken!

Carole said...

Interesting dish and book. Thanks. Cheers from Carole's chatter

Judee Algazi said...

I love using exotic and interesting spices in my food. Sounds like a good book and some inspirational food.

Beth F said...

I read a different book from this author and really liked it. This one sounds great too. I do like experimenting with herbs and spices.

Tina said...

You have sold me on this book, I am going to put a hold on it at the library now. Is that black rice? I've never had that before. What a great meal!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I have been wanting to read this one but your description has sealed the deal. Love the spice notebook idea too! ;-)