This was one of those “highly anticipated” novels of 2018, coming out on January 2. A debut novel, it was #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list its first week on the market. In the fall of 2016, an 8-house bidding war was going on over the rights to this book. In the end, William Morrow won out, as did A.J. Finn, with a $2 million, 2 book deal. In addition, 37 international publishers are interested, and the film rights were secured by Fox 2000 Pictures before the book was even published. William Morrow may have had an unfair edge on the other houses, as Finn is the nom de plume for Daniel Mallory, who was a Vice President and Executive Editor at Morrow until five days before the book’s publication.
The reader is introduced to Anna Fox, a middle-aged woman living alone in a big house on the upper east side of Manhattan. This woman has a drinking problem, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As we learn more about Anna it becomes glaringly obvious that something catastrophic has caused Anna’s agoraphobia, but we can only guess as to what that is. This truly was a page-turner and I finished the book in one sitting. (Yes, I am aware of how blessed I am to be be able to do this.) There were many references to old, black and white noir films, like The 39 Steps, Double Indemnity, Gaslight, The Vanishing, to name a few. Anna spends her days, and nights watching them, and her neighbors, and therein lies the plot. I have to say, I did not see the ending coming at all, and in that regard, it was very satisfying. And somewhat scary. I look forward to seeing what A.J./Daniel writes next, now that he has left his day job. After his book tour, he claims that he will find a larger apartment in Manhattan, and buy a French Bulldog.
THE BEAUTY: I thought this was going to be more difficult that it was, seeing as how there was a lot of darkness in the book. On the roof of Anna’s home, her husband, Ed, had a roof garden built for her. So, I googled roof gardens in Lenox Hill, New York, and found this lovely piece of property for sale by the Corcoran Group, a steal at $936,000.
The condo is a one bedroom, but I think I could sublimate my dream Manhattan penthouse for this modest little gem. I ❤️ New York.
THE FOOD: Anna isn’t much of an eater. She’s so dedicated to her red wine that she doesn’t have the time, or the inclination, to cook. But she did reminisce about a chicken tagine at a restaurant called The Red Cat. There’s a Red Cat in Chelsea near the Highline, but they didn’t have tagine on the menu. Nor did they at The Red Cat Kitchen on Martha’s Vineyard. I had made a chicken tagine once, yeas ago, but didn’t keep the recipe. So I combined a couple to come up with this.
Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olive
¼ tsp saffron threads
2 T warm water
2 large yellow onions, chopped
½ C coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus
more for garnish
½ C coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley,
plus more for garnish
4 T fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
6 T olive oil
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1½ cups cracked green olives
2 preserved lemons, thinly sliced
½ C chicken broth
In a small bowl, soak the saffron in the warm water for 10 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the onions, the 1/2 cup cilantro, 1/2 cup parsley and 2 Tbs. of the lemon juice. Add the cumin, ginger, turmeric, the saffron and its soaking liquid and the salt. Process to a pulpy puree. Transfer to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the garlic and 3 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the chicken thighs, seal the bag and massage to coat the chicken with the mixture. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
Put the olives in a large, heavy fry pan and add water to cover. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, then simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the olives and set aside. Thoroughly dry the pan.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the lemon slices and sear until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil to the pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess and reserving the marinade. Working in batches, sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to another plate.
Pour the broth into the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom. Stir in the reserved marinade and add the chicken and any juices. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the chicken is opaque throughout, about 40 minutes.
Add the olives, the reserved lemon slices and the remaining 2 Tbs. lemon juice to the pan with the chicken. Cover and simmer until the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Garnish the stew with chopped cilantro and parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Quick Preserved Lemons
Yield 1/2 cup (serving size: 1 teaspoon)
Preserving lemons typically takes 4 to 6 weeks to acquire the right consistency and flavor. However, this quick method bypasses the lengthy preservation time and is a great substitute for the real thing. Use the rind to accent a variety of dishes, from seafood to vegetable stir-fries.
1 C water
2 T kosher salt
2 lemons, washed and quartered
Combine water and salt in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Add lemons; cook 30 minutes or until liquid is reduced to ½ cup and lemon rind is tender. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.
Mash the pulp in a sauce or a stew, or use it to baste chicken or lamb. These can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. To distribute the flavor, chop before adding to a dish.