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Thinking about creating a Tin Horse-themed meal, I realized that all of the eating scenes in the book are emotionally fraught. This is not, I guess, a big surprise in a novel about a Jewish immigrant family. Here’s the menu — and where in the book the dishes come from:
The chicken and green beans are eaten at a Shabbat dinner on March 10, 1933. I know the date with certainty because I set my fictional dinner to coincide with the real-life Long Beach earthquake. As dinner is being prepared, cataclysms take place in Elaine Greenstein’s family. Then, at 5:54 p.m., the earth ruptures. Fortunately, the epicenter is 20 miles away, no one is badly hurt, and the grateful survivors have “the liveliest Shabbat dinner in Greenstein family history.”
Mama would have picked out her chicken live at the kosher poultry shop in Boyle Heights, the vibrant working class Jewish area of L.A. in the 1920s and 30s. You’ll be glad to know that’s not necessary. Just rub a whole chicken with a mixture of 1 T. olive oil, 1/2 t. cumin, and 1/4 t. cinnamon, pop a thyme branch in the cavity, and roast at 425° for an hour, basting once or twice. This recipe is from my cousin Meg Bortin’s website, “The Everyday French Chef.” For the green beans, this version includes lemon and almonds. Yum.
At another tense dinner, the guest of honor is Cousin Mollie, who’s come to Los Angeles to organize the dressmakers. Mollie has targeted factories owned by Jewish businessmen, Papa sides with the owners, and everyone gets drawn in — even Mama, though she first tries to defuse the conflict by offering more kugel. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting a kugel recipe, since everyone has a favorite. But do make kugel part of your Tin Horse meal.
On to dessert!
The inspiration for The Tin Horse was a minor character in the Raymond Chandler detective novel The Big Sleep. And Chandler’s sleuth, Philip Marlowe, gets a role in my book. He offers to look for Elaine’s runaway twin sister, and he wins Mama’s approval by asking for a second slice of apple cake. This Nigella Lawson version, using almond flour, isn’t what Mama would have made, but it was a hit when I baked it for my mom’s 90th birthday, which fell during Passover, and it’s so simple and tasty, it’s become my go-to cake recipe. Plus, it’s gluten-free.
The Tin Horse is very much a California story as well as a Jewish story, so of course I recommend California wines. I chose these lovely wines from Cambria in honor of the new book I’m working on, in which a character lives there.
Bite’avon! Enjoy the meal!
To read more from Janice, see her Visiting Scribe posts here.