What’s for Dinner? How About Quick and Easy Chicken Marsala

We all have fall-back recipes that we know how to make well and that we know will taste good. Some fall-back recipes are simple fare, such as soups or sandwiches. And some are a little bit “fancier” that can function as a great meal for guests on the weekend or as just an ordinary weeknight meal.

For me, one of these go-t0 dishes is Chicken Marsala.

Chicken Marsala was one of the first dishes that I mastered and I made it for friends at a dinner party several years ago. It’s always a big hit, no matter if I make it for a lot of people or just for dinner one night.

You’ll definitely enjoy it!

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Chicken Marsala

Serves 4

(Photos in this recipe depict servings for more than four people)

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1  to 2 tablespoons of garlic powder (depending on preference)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • Marsala wine*

*Do NOT use the “cooking wine” version of Marsala.

Equipment:

  • Skillet
  • Shallow bowl

 

Instructions:

1. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, oregano, garlic powder, rosemary, parsley, and ground black pepper.

2. Over medium heat, add enough olive oil to the skillet so that the bottom of the pan is coated in a thin layer of oil.

3. While the oil is heating, dredge each chicken breast in the flour mixture. Each piece of chicken should be completely coated in a thin layer of flour and spices.

4. Carefully place the chicken in the pan. Try not to knock too much of the coating off in the process.

5. Brown the chicken on each side, for approximately 5-7 minutes per side. The flour will create a slightly crispy exterior.

This photo shows what the chicken looks like both with the pre-cooked flour coating and what it looks like when one side has been browned.

This photo shows what the chicken looks like both with the pre-cooked flour coating and what it looks like when one side has been browned.

 

6. Once all pieces of chicken are browned on each side, reduce heat slightly and add approximately 1/2 bottle of Marsala wine. (If you feel 1/2 bottle is not enough you can always add more. 1 full bottle is plenty for 8 pieces of chicken.)

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You’re ready to add the wine!

My go-to Marsala wine.

My go-to Marsala wine.

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The wine should nearly cover the chicken in the pan.

7. Bring the wine to a simmer over medium heat and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the wine has reduced and thickened. If you are having difficulty determining whether the wine has reduced, simply taste the sauce. If the alcohol taste is still very strong, continue simmering.

8. Serve with your favorite side dish such as potatoes, rice, pasta, or veggies.

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Life Lesson #2: You know what happens when you assume…

When I was in the 7th and 8th grade, I was at the peak of awesomeness…or nerdiness.

I was a mathlete,  participating and competing in math counts (an after school event geared towards making math more appealing and exciting, and allowing students to broaden their math skills). During our after school events, we’d complete many math problems as quickly as possible in order to earn stickers to put on our charts. The first person who answered the question correctly received the coveted red, shiny apple sticker for their chart (gosh-if only reinforcement were so simple at this age!)!

At some point during one of these lessons, someone must have said something along the lines, “I assume you do the problem this way…” At which point, our feisty math counts instructor taught us what happens when you assume. She became quite serious and stated, “You know, when you assume things, you make an a** out of you and me.” For some reason, I found this hilarious and laughed so hard that I fell out of my chair.

I can’t quite explain why it was so funny to me at the time (probably because I was in 7th grade and couldn’t suppress my laughter when an adult would swear in front of me-so mature), but learning that lesson is something that’s stuck with me for many years.

We make assumptions all the time. It’s easy to do. Our assumptions (or stereotypes at times) are what also us to group pieces of information or people or things together. They allow us to make sense of the world. They help us organize. They help us categorize. So, they’re a good thing?

Maybe. But only when they’re right. That’s the thing about making assumptions. Yes, some may argue that they’re helpful in some circumstances, but what if you’re assumption is wrong? Beyond making yourself and another person look like a…donkey (see what I did there)…you could be doing more damage than good when you assume things.  Often times, we assume things because we don’t have enough information to make a better decision. Instead of taking the time necessary to figure things out, we may jump to conclusions and make an assumption.

Here’s an example of how we assume (from: http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/falsas11.pdf)

It is a hot August afternoon. The location is the living room in an old Victorian mansion. The 7-foot window is open and the curtains are blowing in the breeze generated by the thunderstorm that just passed. On the floor lie the bodies of Bill and Monica. They are surrounded by puddles of water and broken glass. Please close your eyes and picture the scene. Now change the picture. Neither Bill nor Monica has any clothing on. So, how did they die?

So, if you’re like me, you may have have that during a moment of passion, the storm outside had taken over and had somehow caused them to reach an untimely death. When, in fact:

Answer: They suffocated. The storm winds blew open the window, which knocked their fish bowl off the table, and it crashed onto the floor. False assumption: That Bill and Monica are human. They are actually goldfish.

Okay, so maybe it was a cheesy example, but you should get the point. We make assumptions. We look like a fool.

Two personal examples-When you see me, you see my light skin, brown hair, and blue eyes. You’d assume that I was of European descent. Though you’d be right in some sense, that wouldn’t be telling the whole story. I’m also Egyptian. You’d only have part of the story.

Another brief example. This past year has been really tough on me for a variety of reasons. I think one of things that contributed to all the craziness was related to people making assumptions. People only knew part of a story. People didn’t ask questions. People assumed they knew everything. People were treated me much differently. I would be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t tremendously difficult. However, it taught me a lot about how destructive it can be when people make assumptions.

So, here’s my advice:

I mean, let’s face it, we assumed the earth was flat how many years ago and look how that turned out!

Why Imperfection and Silliness Are Valuable or What I Learned from Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

I’ve noticed a trend in my reading life. There are all these books that I discount when I first hear about them, thinking that I have no interest in reading them and that I never will. Often, this rule of thumb remains true. But, every once in a while, I break this rule and decide suddenly to give into the reading trend and read the popular book(s) that I initially thought I wouldn’t like.

This happened with The Hunger Games, and anyone who has read my previous posts knows I am now a big fan of that series. So, when I saw that my local library had a new, shiny, brilliant e-media catalog, I wanted to try it out.

So, this week I read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. All 1,800 pages of it. In four days.

Why, you ask?

Because I could.

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Now, let me just say before you start yelling and laughing that this post is not about how amazing the Fifty Shades of Grey books are. It’s not. Because, the books are not “amazing.”

As a discerning reader, the books have a lot of issues. If I had to read about main character Anastasia Steele’s personified subconscious and inner goddess one more time I might have screamed. I also often found myself wanting to slap some god-forsaken sense into Christian Grey’s skull. But, I have to admit — the books were entertaining, and whole hell of a lot of other things too (If you’ve read them, you’ll know what I mean).

But they weren’t literary gold.

And that’s okay. They don’t have to be

But that’s just the point that I want to make.

We live in a world that is often obsessed with merits. We are a population of critics. Movies and TV shows bomb because they aren’t “critically acclaimed.” Books and their authors are lambasted for bad writing, predictable plots, and unrealistic depictions. We constantly criticize ourselves and judge others for not fitting into a pre-determined mold.

The Fifty Shades of Grey books and their author, E L James are no stranger to this idea. Fifty Shades has been a phenomenon. Started as a Twilight-centric fan fiction homage and then reworked and self published in print, the trilogy gained immense attention. That attention and popularity grew so great that the trilogy was picked up by Vintage Books and published professionally. According to Amazon UK, the trilogy’s first book has outsold the combined sales of the Harry Potter series on their website.

So what’s my point?

The Fifty Shades of Grey series, regardless of how you feel about it, is an important of example of how perfection and value are not the same thing.

Level of success does not always correspond with level of talent.

Value is everywhere. You just have to drown out the critics to find it.

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Do What You Want

Life is short. Do what you want to do. Don’t worry about what others think or whether you think they’ll judge you. Embrace this idea in your everyday life, but also embrace it in your passions, in your dreams, and in your goals.

Want to travel the world? Make it happen. Want to be the next E L James and write steamy, NC-17 novels? Go right ahead. Want to be a book critic that points out all of the trilogy’s flaws? Do that instead.

I am a strong proponent of the idea that everything is a learning experience. Every single thing you do teaches you something, even if the lesson is to never do it again. When it comes to books, for example, no one has ever become stupider by ingesting information. The more you know, the more nuanced your perspective.

What you do has value. Whether it is silly, intellectual, crazy, world-changing, fun, or intensely creative. Value exists in all things.

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Never Underestimate Your Ability, Never Discount That Others May Admire It

Everyone is talented. We may not see immediately recognize our own talents, but they are there. Think about it. Do you waste time drawing instead of taking notes? Do you love to cook, but could care less about proper business accounting procedures? Your talent resides in what you inherently love. It lies in how you waste your time.

Tap into that. It could be a goldmine (and I don’t just mean monetarily).

E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series may have many flaws, but it is still entertaining. Those flaws and issues do not render its value moot. Even some of the most critically panned things are still feats of creativity in their own way. While James may have not suceeded in creating the perfect novel, she did create something that kept people (including myself) turning pages. And this did not only involve the books’ extremely naughty natures.

Don’t think that you are talentless. Don’t worry that because what you do is not the “absolute best” that it is worthless. Perfection isn’t a guarantee of anything. Think I’m kidding? Ask the Admissions offices of Harvard and Yale how many applicants with perfect SAT or ACT scores are NOT accepted every year.

Don’t think that something you create, something you enjoy has no value. Others may see immense value where you perceive none.

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So What If It’s A Silly Idea, Who Cares?

When I downloaded Fifty Shades of Grey earlier in the week, I said to myself, “This is so stupid. I really can’t believe I’m reading this.” But then, another part of me said, “So what? Read the damn book. If you don’t like it, quit. If you do like it, finish it.” So I did. And I did enjoy the book. I enjoyed all three of them. And yes, they are kind of silly, and a little weird, and definitely have A LOT more sex and profanity than I have ever encountered in reading material. But, so what?

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey may have been silly, but it got me thinking. It made me think about the how flaws do not negate value. It made me think enough to write this post.

The bottom line is that you never know what will make you think. The silliest, craziest, most random things can change your perspective or give new life to your thoughts. Never underestimate the value of doing something for fun.

Look at the Dames Who Dish blog. It wouldn’t be here if us four girls hadn’t decided to do something that we originally perceived as silly, and a little bit crazy, and a whole lot of fun.

So…

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On Reading “The River of No Return” by Bee Ridgway

Some of my friends and family make fun of me for having a Twitter account. “What do you tweet about?,” they ask. Or they might say, “I tried Twitter, I thought it was stupid.”

If you really stop and think about it, Twitter is kind of odd. You follow all these people, most of whom you don’t know, and you correspond with each other and the entire world in short messages of 140 characters. But, Twitter does have its uses and its perks.

Generally, I use Twitter to satisfy my inner nerd and my inner fan girl. I follow the news sites, politicians, entertainers, as well as follow my friends who have accounts. I also, though, follow as many of the publishing companies as I can. It’s no secret that I love books and sometimes I feel that for as much as I read, I never have a good handle on when new and amazing books are coming out.

For the most part, following publishers on Twitter only serves to give me information on new books, etc. But, publishers also do free book giveaways through Twitter which is really cool for a bibliophile like me — especially if the giveaway is for an Advanced Reader Copy of a book that is not yet out.

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win an Advance Reader Copy of The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway from Dutton Books (an imprint of Penguin). Here’s my review of this lovely book:

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DISCLAIMER: I chose to write this review. I was in no way compensated by Dutton to do so. All rights for The River of No Return are reserved to its author and publisher.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

In her debut novel, Bee Ridgway — a professor of American literature at Bryn Mawr College — weaves an intricate and nuanced tale of time travel, power, knowledge, and romance. On the surface, The River of No Return is an invigorating and page-turning time travel thriller that places its main characters in a battle against time itself and with those who wish to control it. Underneath, however, is a historical, cultural, and social commentary that takes the science fiction based subject of time travel and turns it on its head, rooting the concept in the power of human emotion and memory. Ridgway’s debut is far more than an adventure story — it is a thought provoking read that incites you to question all what you know about the world around you and what you consider to be the place of the concept of time in our lives.

In 1812, Lord Nicholas Falcott, a member of the British peerage and a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, suddenly disappears from the battlefield at Salamanca as a French soldier prepares to kill him in combat. Against all apparent laws of time and space, he is transported to 2003 London where wakes up in a hospital and is informed that he is now a member of the Guild, a time and government transcending organization that controls time travel and its participants, and that “There is no return” to his previous life. Quickly, Lord Falcott becomes Nick Davenant and is instructed by the Guild in modern life. The Guild, however, is not simply a kindly guiding organization. It is powerful and wealthy, keeping close tabs on its members and gifting each with an annual multi-million dollar stipend. By 2013, Nick Davenant has adjusted to 21st century life, but deep down he has never left his 19th century origins behind. Haunted by homesickness and dreams of his battlefield experiences, Nick uses memories of a young woman he left behind to ease the panic that accompanies the fact that no amount of money can change his place out of time. Soon, however, Nick is summoned by the Guild and ordered to break its cardinal rule: travel back from when he came to help prevent the unraveling of time itself. Attempting to come to terms with the fact that what the Guild preaches as truth is not all that is seems, Nick travels to 1815 and comes face to face with his old life and the woman who has kept him grounded in another century for the last decade.

In 1815, as Nick tries to accomplish what the Guild has asked of him, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather and guards the secret he tasked her to protect on his deathbed: his ability to manipulate time. As her cousin Eamon arrives to take possession of the family home and her fate, Julia quickly recognizes that there is more than one secret pervading her life, and that those secrets are desired by many and have further reach than she can fully comprehend. While Eamon manically scours the house and Julia’s memory for something called the “Talisman,” she observes that her mysteriously returned from the dead and greatly changed neighbor Lord Falcott may be her only solution to the increasing danger in which she finds herself.

First separately and then together, Nick and Julia discover the extent to which the river of time effects them all and how far the Guild will go to control the future and everyone’s fates.

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The River of No Return is one of the best books I have read recently, and I unabashedly place it on my list of favorites. Ridgway writes beautifully and evocatively, injecting a complexity into her storytelling that rivals the best puzzle masters. While some compare her debut and its time traveling components to The Time Traveler’s Wife, I would compare it instead to Katherine Neville’s masterpiece The Eight. Filled with clues along the way and peppered with references to historical figures, places, and movements, Ridgway’s first novel is a stimulating and entertaining read.

From the time I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. It truly is a page turner and will leave you zealous to find out what happens next. In addition to its entertainment value, The River of No Return‘s most valuable facet may reside in its subtle observations of time itself. This is especially interesting to me as someone who has studied history in-depth. Throughout, Ridgway deftly conveys that, at its core, time and age is a construction. We are all victims of our time — something that has nothing to do with our abilities. We are products of both nature and nurture. When we are born and the circumstances of that time — its technology, customs, etc. — have much to do with what we become. Our capacity, however, is unaffected by time.

The River of No Return is available for purchase on April 23, 2013.

Marilyn Monroe: That’s (Not) What She Said

Thanks, Abe.

Who doesn’t love a good quote? Sometimes it takes the words of others, famous or not, to sum up our thoughts and feelings when our words escape us. Or, maybe you read something that immediately clicks with you and it becomes sort of a “mission statement” for your life. (After six years in higher education, the thought of a personal mission statement makes me gag a little bit. We love the heck out of our mission statements, apparently.) But, the Internet is a tricky place, and without citations, words are often attributed to certain celebrities or notable figures. The misquote can come from an honest mistake, and after seeing a quote attributed to someone a multitude of times, I can understand that. However, when it comes to things that Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, or Jackie Kennedy allegedly said, I become more than a little skeptical, and maybe just a touch cynical.

Thus Sprach Marilyn.

Thus Sprach Marilyn. (You’re welcome, Internet.)

In my research for this post, I came across several Tumblrs and hundreds of pictures on Google Image Search with images of these women, Monroe in particular, with fiesty-sounding quotes superimposed over them in handwriting-style fonts. (Go ahead, look for yourself.) Most of them are about how men ought to love women, flaws and all, or how society is ugly for making a woman feel anything less than pretty. I’m on board with those ideas, but I highly doubt to absolutely don’t believe that the late icon uttered those quotes. I’m not saying that Marilyn Monroe was not bright enough to come up with such, um… philosophical thoughts; I’m saying that others who have done much more research on her, things she’s actually said/written, and speech patterns of her time don’t think she came up with them. The most comprehensive website I’ve come across debunking these attributions is Immortal Marilyn, which, while it looks like a Xanga page from 2000, is quite informative. “Janie’s Take on Marilyn Monroe” discusses five of the more questionable quotes the Internet alleges came from Monroe. Here are a couple of my favorite excerpts:

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” — This one seems to be everybody’s favorite Marilyn quote… except no one can find where she actually ever said it. Does it sound like her? Somewhat, although I can not find other examples of Marilyn referring to herself as selfish, insecure, out of control, or anything similar. While she did acknowledge issues such as her lateness, failure to show up on set, or rumored difficult to work with, rather than being defiant she offered both plaintive and valid reasons for her flaws, in the hopes of garnering understanding. Until an interview transcript of Marilyn saying these words can be located, it should be kept in the ‘questionable’ category.”

“Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” — Another very popular quote, once it’s parsed it does not sound like Marilyn at all. “Imperfection is beauty”? Marilyn was well known as being an absolute perfectionist, asking for take after take on the movie set until she felt she got her scene just right. She refused to give moviegoers anything less than what she felt was her absolute best. She would apply her makeup only to wash it all off and do it over again, taking hours to prepare so that she presented herself to the public as nothing short of absolutely perfect. After a photo shoot she would pore over contact sheets, destroying any images that she didn’t approve of. In a 1960 interview, she did say: “My one desire is to do my best, the best that I can from the moment the camera starts until it stops. That moment I want to be perfect, as perfect as I can make it.” Hardly seems that someone so hard wired to perfectionism would say “Imperfection is beauty.” As to the second part, “Madness is genius,” this seems even more unlikely. Marilyn’s mother suffered from severe mental illness that traumatized the actress when she was a child. As an adult, Marilyn’s biggest fear was inherited madness like her mother’s. Considering her first hand account with what madness truly was, and her deep rooted fear of it, how likely is it that she would declare it ‘genius?’ Not very.

I tend to agree with those observations. To be frank, they sound more like snarky quips from a teenage girl, using Monroe as an excuse for her behavior. The whole idea of falsely attaching a name to a quote can be summed up in Poe’s Law, which basically states that ” a parody of something extreme can be mistaken for the real thing, and if a real thing sounds extreme enough, it can be mistaken for a parody.” A great example that most people would probably be familiar with is Stephen Colbert’s character on The Colbert Report, which some Political Science students at Ohio State decided would be an interesting subject to analyze. (Unfortunately, the full article is only available for purchase or if you’re logged on through a subscribing university or college’s journal access system, but the abstract will give you the general idea.) We can also learn from the case of the Notre Dame football player and the death of his online girlfriend, who may or may not have actually been a real person: never believe anything online. If those quotes resonate with you, that’s great, but its important to question the source; otherwise, it might as well have come from a snarky teenage girl.

If this keeps up, this is what I imagine we’ll have fifty years from now:

I can't. I just can't...

I can’t. I just can’t…
(Again, you’re welcome, Internet.)