Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It Takes A Village

So this happened Monday.

My cousin Julie and I had been out decorating family graves.  We stopped by Wendy's for a salad and
parked in their parking lot.  As we got out, I noticed a baby, in a van, back door open, windows opened,
unattended.  The baby looked to be about six-months old.  The weather was perfect, cool.  So,  no
babies left in a too-hot car.


I thought I needed to check.  There wasn't an adult in sight.  What there was . . .  was an eight-year-old little boy, hiding in the back seat.  (Third row)  He was frightened, so I told him that I was going to
stand there, that I wasn't coming closer, and that I was going to watch out for him and make sure both
kids were safe.  His response:  Yes!

My fears for them?  Kidnapping, a runaway, an accident, something  happening to the baby.  The parents?  They were inside Wendy's, having lunch with the third child, a little girl.  I'm still shaking my head over that one.  They bought food for the other two.

Wendy's?  A baby?

So, just how much is wrong with this scenario?
Andrew Vox, an attorney and a mystery writer, said, "There are two kinds of bad parents.  Parents who are malicious and intentional.  Those belong in jail."  And the others? "Parents who do not know better.  They belong in parenting classes." As they came out of Wendy's, they appear to be the latter.  But who knows for sure?  Certainly, they were young and  didn't have much money.

I did't say anything to them, and there's my issue.  I'm thinking I really missed an opportunity, but
I was also afraid of a conflict with people I didn't know.  I'm 64, white-haired.  My brother and his family suggested  that I should have called the cops.  I didn't.  But I still have that a nagging sensation. . .

What should I have done?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chicken Dinner Review

You have to know my friend Rita.  She’s less than five feet tall, in her
70s, tiny as a baby bird  She can still stand on her head in her yoga poses.  
I used to get up early at writing conferences, and see her upside down against
a wall.  She’d been there for awhile. She’s adventurous as a cook and fearless in the kitchen.  

Last weekend we were talking chicken.  I was thinking wine and cream.  Rita was taking after her chicken with a cleaver and a pan heated to 500 degrees, for 45 minutes.

Here’s are pieces of a note from her:  “Oh, my god, you remember the chicken!  If you had gone by around 4:00 you would have seen all my windows and doors open: front, side, back.”  She was pretending the door was open while she was simply watering the outside potted plants on either side of the stoop.   

“Melissa Clark, The New York Times Dining!!! writer would have been evicted from her apartment building had she cooked an uncovered chicken in her oven for 45 minutes at 500 degrees. The smoke has cleared now and there’s no smell, but there’s no way I can clean the self-cleaning oven in the usual way unless we move out of the house overnight. From top to bottom it’s gooey, sticky, and as brown as Melissa Clark promised the chicken would be.  I’ll fill an old (antique) pepper shaker with baking soda and sprinkle and throw it all over the oven, then spray with water and hope to god that in the morning I can then use old towels, swab it up like I’m cleaning a battleship deck.

The chicken, splayed out as a described, accomplished not by a simple flick of the wrist to separate the thigh joint but by using a wrestler’s grip, was delicious, but I didn’t notice so much since I was worried about my favorite OXO teakettle that in my battle with the chicken I let run dry on a hot burner.

Stop me the next time I get carried away by a New York Times recipe. Jan said it all when she suggested that I invite complexity! I even quoted her a couple of times to Joe, who had three helpings of the chicken.”

Worth it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chicken Dinner on Sunday Afternoons

My folks were hosts, most often, for family dinners on Sunday afternoons.  My mom was a superb cook, who, like most American woman, focused on simple foods, but did them so well,  people remembered those meals for decades.  Even after forty years of trying, I still can’t replicate her steaks, charred a tiny bit and crispy on the outside, just salty enough, and rare in the middle.  Wondrous.

We lived in a farming community, which meant my dad worked twelve hours days with two hours of chores (those didn’t count as work) at the end of the day.  Sunday was a church and rest day.  That meant he didn’t work except for those chores.  It was also the day to get caught up with family and friends, and to invite a little bit of culture into our lives.  People would actually talk to each other, while the cousins chased each other around the lawn.  Sometimes that was benign; sometimes it was not.

My favorite guests were a physician and his family who had been on a summer mission trip to Nigeria, which sounded like the perfect summer vacation to me.  Their slides were stunning:  the thatched huts,  the plantings of squash and sweet potatoes, people lived their lives outside, the colorful-imaginative clothes and the ramrod straight posture, people who were so different from my family in so many ways.  I never thought that traditionally uneducated people were less intelligent or less humane, they just knew different things than I knew.  I loved it.

So, it’s no wonder that I love communal meals.  I’ve prepared plenty, but few of mine have had that languorous sensibility of the luxury of a long, summer afternoon.  I had people over for dinner one evening after a long day of skiing. Over spaghetti and chat, my little Chihuahua/weiner dog, Wink, was carefully hauling out one piece underwear after the next.  I couldn’t see what was happening, but the guys could, and they would lapse into one serious round of giggles after another as each pair of panties hit in the middle of the living room. So you can sorta see how home entertaining went for me.

But I still really love chicken on a Sunday afternoon.  Sundays require a little more pizzazz and this recipe is the most succulent, the most decadent of any I’ve seen. As we evaluated each Sunday meal as  children: “It’s just good.”  My mom would have loved it.

Chicken in Sweet, White Wine and a Lot of Cream

1 chicken, 3-5 lbs, cut into serving pieces (leave the back, wings, and neck in the freezer for stock)
¼ cup flour, salt and pepper to taste

Put the chicken in the flour to coat.

On low – medium low, melt ½ cube of butter, add 1 tablespoon of veggie oil into a sturdy, cast iron skillet with high sides.  Gently brown the chicken, turning until all sides are golden brown.  If this takes a few minutes, that’s all right.  High heat will burn the butter and ruin the chicken.  This isn’t a race today.  Remove the chicken, and pour off the fat.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat up another couple of tablespoon of butter, and add ½ chopped sweet onion (Oregon grows the best ones) and two boxes of mushrooms,  rinsed and halved.  You just need to be on low/medium low and you want to just sweat the veggies.  No browning.  Add the chicken back in  and cover with 2 generous cups of Riesling (sort of sweet) wine.  Dry wine here is not what you want.  Nor do you want an over-poweringly sweet wine.  Slowly bring the wine to a slow rolling boil and then put the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes. Cover with the lid or foil.

When the chicken is done, put the dish on top of the stove again.  Put the chicken in a serving dish.  Skim the fat from the sauce and let it come to a boil.   The sauce will reduce by half almost instantly. Add 1 cup of heavy cream and about a teaspoon of tarragon.  Basil works too, so does a hint of nutmeg or a little bit of paprika. Although I just choose one of them.   You can adjust the fat content in lots of ways (half ‘n half/low fat cream.)  But it won’t be as luxurious. Cover the chicken with the sauce, the vegg, and ¼ cup of chopped parsley. 

You can serve this with buttered noodles, an avocado/grapefruit salad (the acidic nature of the grapefruit is welcome against the richness of the dish), some slightly cooked vegetables, maybe spring carrots from the garden.  Dessert is nice too.

The main thing you need though is lots of people to talk to and all afternoon to do it.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


When I was in high school, on a school morning, I was bounced
from the bathroom for a few minutes.  I move out to the laundry
room, which had a mirror and a sink.  Close enough.  I am ardently
working on my hair, even then a useless task. 

My brother, an avid duck hunter, was out hunting early that morning, had some
luck, brought the downed duck home and tossed it on top of the washing
machine.  We think it is dead.  We are wrong.

I am fussing with my bangs, when out of the corner of my eye, I see movement.
“Hey!”  I yell at my family,  loud enough to carry through the house.  “This
duck is alive.”  My family thought I was seeing a twitch or two,  a muscular

What I am seeing is a duck who is sitting up and looking at me.

The thing got up and walked around the top of the washer. With every increase
in movement and intention, I increase the decibels and octaves.  Screeching is the 
word for it.

My family decides there was more than a muscle contraction going on  and
hits the laundry room just in time for the duck to take flight. I open the backdoor 
as it circles the laundry room and glides slowly around the laundry room and out the back door. 

My brother still has to forgive me for that one.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mile Posts and the World's Best Cookies

So, this is reporting-in time.  We are very close to achieving
our first 1,000 hits. (986)  We’ve had people from Russia,  Germany,
Latvia, Columbia, South Korea, Canada, Australia,  New Zealand,
the Ukraine, The Netherlands, Belgium, and India. 

Most of our readers are from the US, an obvious thing, I’m thinking,
but our foreign hits were a complete and pleasant surprise to me. 
Maybe we are one big, family, certainly genetics would suggest such a thing. 
If we could just deal with  the dysfunctional parts. . .

I have loved every post and every comment and every reader.  
Those stories tell us there is such good news, such love in the small, quiet moments,
and my sensibility of family has gotten bigger, there are delicious things to make for the people we love, and hope is bad times is not over-rated.

If I could, I’d do tea and cookies for everybody, listen for your stories and
share a laugh or two.  Here’s my favorite cookie recipe, via Martha, at the moment.
It has a modification or two.  Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a
cookie sheet with parchment.

11/2 flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Give those a quick whisk. Reserve.

In another bowl,
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter.  
 ¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown  sugar
1 egg
1-2 tablespoons vanilla, the best you can buy

Whip those together, until the whole thing is
fluffy.  Then add the flour mixture and beat that.

Then add:
1 ½ cup oatmeal
1 cup dried cherries (use the tartest ones you
can find.  The contrast between the tart cherries
and the sweetness of the dough is magical.)
1 cup chopped pecans ( optional)
1 cup toffee pieces

You might need your hands to incorporate everything.

I made large walnut sized pieces with my hands,
and then flattened them until they are no more
than ¼  inch thick..  Put six on a cookie

Bake them four minutes.  Rotate the cookie sheet.
Bake another four minutes.  You can let them
bake another 2-3 minutes, depending on the
level of doneness you wish.  Or you can
take them out after they’ve baked 8 minutes.
Let them cool for at least 10 minutes before
you remove them from the sheet.

The toffee melt into the cookies dough and
create an extraordinary, crispy, thin cookie.
They are so good.