Change, Sustained By Friends

I pull into the car port on Thursday afternoon, turn off the motor, and fist pump: it is officially Spring Break. Classes don’t meet again for ten days…not until March 17th: St. Patrick’s Day.

A hazy jumble of things to do burbles around my bony mind cave. Some are less than glamorous, but anticipated, anyway: I ordered a new mop system and a tile scrubber, which arrived yesterday. Spring Break will mean scrubbing kitchen and bathrooms and polishing the dim old floors that make me sad.

An interesting opportunity has emerged from a welter of fascinating phenomena; I need to get my background in place. Spring Break will mean doing my research.

One break day, at least, should be an adventure: maybe James and I will take a day trip. Spring Break will mean some sort of short-term exploration.

And Spring Break will mean other stuff, I think: ideas and plans puff up and jostle each other. I grab my book bag and my lunch bag and trot happily into the house.

That night, I fix kind of a celebratory dinner, and we talk about what Friday will bring.

***********************

Early Friday offers a little sleeping-in time to Mark, who’ll be starting the day with a dental cleaning. We share the table as day broadens, he eats his breakfast and mutters at the paper, and I scribble down my morning pages. Then Mark happily sets off for our favorite dentist, who is fifty miles from home.

He pulls back in the driveway three hours later. Suddenly, cleaning over, his throat started to tickle. By the time he walks in the door, Mark has a full-blown cough. His chest hurts. His head aches.

We dose him up, and off to work he goes, but when he comes home, earlier than usual, it’s clear: the boyo is sick.

The next morning, early, we ride over to an emergi-care site; we are the first ones there, a minute before they open. Mark sees the doctor almost immediately. They test for flu (it’s not) and write prescriptions.

I take him home where he crawls into bed, and I run back out to get Seven-Up and the doctor’s recommended drugs.

******************************

Soup, I think. Sick boyo; must make soup.

And I remember a recipe Terry shared that I have been meaning to try, for Chicken Pot Pie Soup. That will be perfect for today. I begin finding ingredients.

As the chicken parboils, I cut leftover potatoes into cubes and defrost chicken broth in the microwave. I chop onions and carrots and celery, and I put them into the heavy red Dutch oven to sauté. I measure out frozen peas and corn, mix in some leftovers from last night’s dinner, stir, and assemble.

When the broth has been added and the soup is merrily bubbling, I mix up a batch of pastry dough, roll it out, cut it into circles. I put these on a lightly greased tray and slide them into the hot oven.

They turn golden brown, a little crusty-crumbly: perfect toppers for a thick and hearty bowl of chicken soup.

*******************************

Wendy texts as I chop and stir, and I respond between cooking chores, letting her know what I’m doing, asking about her day. She texts back, saying the soup sounds like a recipe she’d love. In return, she says, she’ll send me a link to a chicken Souvlaki that she made the night before. Really good, she says.

I promise to share Terry’s recipe, feeling a nice symmetry there, a link between a special friend in New York and one in Ohio, though they’ve never yet met.

And Jim comes through with a handful of mail.

“You got an interesting thing,” he says, and I put my spoon and my phone down to check it out.

I slit the big, flat envelope open, and pull out half a dozen recipes and a note from my friend Janet. These are all Bundt pan recipes…several scrumptious sounding sweets, and one breakfast bake that is made in a tube pan. Meat and eggs and cheese and potatoes and bread…molded and baked together and tumbling out, steaming, onto a serving platter.

“Hey,” says Jim, reading over my shoulder. “HEY. That looks good.”

“We’ll have to try this,” I agree. “But it serves fifteen, I think. Looks like we’ll have to have a brunch and invite some folks.”

Jim shrugs. “All right by me,” he says.

Later, I try to copy a Bundt cake recipe and the soup instructions to tuck into a thank you note for Janet. I realize my printer has gasped and died, so I send her an email with attachments instead.

And it strikes me, the way those recipes go off in all directions, how the fixing and the eating of food links us and makes our connections all the more sturdy.

*********************************

By the next day, I have the first symptoms of the creeping crud, and several people have emailed, after the governor’s recommendation to all the state’s colleges, to see if I’ll be moving my teaching from the classroom to the electronic universe.

“Not that I know,” I respond. “Not yet.”

For lunch, I heat up a pot of that good soup; when it bubbles, Mark and I scoop it into thick bowls, crack pastry over the top, and spoon in the thick, healing goodness of a recipe shared by a friend.

*************************************

The next days dribble by in hack-gacking, feverish, germ-infested haziness. I trade my wrestle-with books for murder mysteries, which I open so I can fall asleep.  We open cans or slap things between slices for meals. Jim tiptoes through the wreckage, taking his vitamins; remaining, somehow, uninfected.

And then there’s a night when Mark is able to sleep six hours in a row. He gets up in the morning and showers and goes into work,–not one hundred per cent, but much better.

The next day, I open one of the wrestle-with books, and it feels good to read a chapter.

The crud has crept; we are on the mend.

**********************************

And I keep thinking of the power of recipes shared. I text friends and ask if many of their favorite recipes are ones that friends or family gave them.

Absolutely, Terry says, and she cites her mandarin orange Jello-O salad, make-ahead mashed potatoes, and Hungarian pastries off the top of her head.  (The next day, Terry sends a treasure trove of wonderful recipes given to her by special people. Delighted, I download all into my Cooking and Baking file.)

Most, says Larisa, of her shared recipes are holiday based: noodles and deviled eggs, and her husband’s family spaghetti sauce.

Yes—MANY, says Susan. And she writes about blueberry buckle, the recipe for which Susan’s close friend Cynthia got from her husband’s mother. Now it’s Cynthia’s, Susan’s, and Susan’s daughter Laura’s go-to “take” recipe—what they take to new neighbors, to families celebrating new babies, when someone is sick. “At Cynthia’s mother-in-law’s funeral,” Susan writes, “they passed out the recipe.”

Susan also mentions a fresh tomato sauce recipe one of our colleagues gave her; she makes batches to freeze every summer. And a friend, before she moved away, always made a lemon crepe dessert for Susan on her birthday; she left Susan the recipe when distance intervened.

I think of sorting my recipe box and just savoring the handwriting of friends and family. Some of them are gone, but their recipes sustain me.

I think of framing those handwritten wonders.

I think I should email two more friends and ask about their shared recipes.

And then I take a nap.

***********************************

On Thursday, I wake up and shower and put make-up on. It is a day to return to the world, I think.

In the quiet, after Mark has left for work and before Jim rousts his butt from bed, I go down to the chest freezer, and root around until I find a small roasting chicken. I wrestle that cold little carcass, buried beneath more recent purchases, out, and I take it upstairs and submerge it in a tepid bath.

And then I go to check my email, and I find that the shoe has dropped. My classes are canceled for the early part of next week to give me time to put them fully online.  Until the greatest danger of infection is over, classes will not meet face to face.

I send group emails to my students, encouraging and reassuring.

I check my personal email and then I start a shopping list, just to fill in the gaps left during an illness week.

***************************************

Jim is delighted, after lunch, to go on an expedition with me. We take the paper recycling to the bins, and then we hit the supermarket. We like to park faraway and walk, so it doesn’t strike us, at first, how busy the store is. Angry people push carts burgeoning with all kinds of supplies. One whippet thin woman keeps popping out of the aisle one beyond, no matter where we shop; she glares at me as if I’m stalking her…. or as if I took the last roll of toilet paper from the empty shelf.

And it strikes me, viscerally, how much our shopping routine has changed. Our toilet paper arrives in a huge Amazon cardboard crate, enough for several months. My upstairs shelves are still comfortably stocked: no TP panic for us.

We don’t buy sliced bread, luckily, because those shelves are empty; we do buy bread flour, and there’s an ample supply.

We ignore the empty middle shelves in the freezer aisle (veggies were 10 for $10.00; now they are all gone.) Instead, I hunker down and dig industrial sized bags out from the very bottom—green beans, peas, corn. One big package of each will last at least a month before we have to dispose of plastic.

There is nothing we need that we don’t find. My whippet friend pounds down the shiny floor, looks at my full shopping cart, and once again, gives me a high voltage glare.

At the checkout, the bagger takes my brought-from-home bags with little grace. Between packing each one, she frantically Purells her hands. She turns away abruptly when we try to thank her.

I started a break expecting one thing. Quite another thing has happened.

And people are afraid.

***********************************

At home, Jim cheerfully makes three trips to bring in the groceries, and then he helps me put it all away. When the last bag is folded, he heads off to some well-deserved video game time, and, last bit of energy expended, I take  a murder mystery to the reading chair.

An hour later, I start mixing snickerdoodles, and Jim charges upstairs to help. He has decided that, with large chunks of enforced at home time, he might as well learn how to cook and bake. He lightly greases cookie sheets, and we roll little balls of cookie dough in cinnamon sugar, space them two inches apart, slide them into the oven’s waiting maw. Jim takes his time; his cookies are tiny, perfectly shaped.

When the cookies are done, he disappears again, and I try a new recipe. I rescue the little chicken from its water bath; it is soft and pliable. I dry it off with a soft old T-shirt rag, tuck the wings back, salt and pepper the little bird inside and out. I turn the oven up to 450, and I slide the old black cast iron griddle onto the bottom shelf and close the door.

When the oven peeps its readiness, I take the tender little chicken and I place it in the hot skillet. The chicken hisses and spits, and I slide the pan to the back of the oven. While it roasts for 15 minutes, I wash and chop a bag of yellow, red, and purple fingerling potatoes, toss them with olive oil and coarse salt, and spread them on a baking sheet.

The timer sounds. I turn the heat down to 425, slide the potatoes onto the very top shelf, check on the happily sizzling chicken, and close the oven door.

I am to leave it firmly closed for thirty minutes, at which time, the chicken should be roasted to perfection, and the potatoes tender on the inside, crisp on the outside.

It’s a new recipe, called “Perfect Roast Chicken Dinner in One Hour,” from The Pollan Family Cookbook.  I have wanted to try this method for a long, long time.

***********************************

When Mark comes home, the chicken still has twenty minutes of sealed oven time to go.  He steals a little rest period in his comfy chair. Jim gathers plates and silverware and napkins; I make two small salads. We pour ice water just as the timer lets me know the chicken should be done. Mark, master carver, joins us as I pull the chicken out and test it with the thermometer, not entirely convinced that it will be fully roasted in the short amount of time allotted.

But everywhere I test, the little bird measures done. Mark carries the pan to the counter and sharpens his knife.

I pull the potatoes out and stir them. They are crisp and sizzling.

Mark asks me about the method, and I show him the recipe in the book. I am just about to say, “It’s not a recipe from a friend, but…” when I start to laugh.

Because it IS. Susan gave me this cookbook several years ago.

*****************************************

We laugh, wryly, about whatever ‘back to normal’ means in a world facing a pandemic. We look ahead at school closings and deviations in Jim’s job hunt, at uncertainty and change.

Maybe there is a new normal coming. Maybe the pendulum will swing partway back to where it was.

And maybe there are outcomes out there we just can’t foresee.

There are too many possibilities and not enough facts, and I feel slightly off-balance. But the little bird is perfectly done, the potatoes delicious, the salad just the right crisp, cool complement. We savor, and as we do, I feel tight coils relaxing.

******************************************

It’s a different world than the one I expected just one week ago. We are going to have to learn, I am sure, to roll with punches we haven’t quite imagined. But there will be ways of comfort, and one of them, I know, is the nurture and the succor offered by the food we make and share…in the recipes we cherish, the ones shared by friends.

******************************************

Here, with her permission and her thoughts intact, is Terry’s wonderful Chicken Pot Pie Soup recipe:

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Soup:

2 TBSP butter

2 c. cubed potatoes (the original recipe call for 1 c. but we love potatoes!)

2 celery ribs, chopped (1 cup)

2 medium carrots, chopped (1 cup)

½ c. flour

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp. pepper

3 cans (14-1/2 oz each) chicken broth (I use Swanson broth so 43.5 in total)

2 c. cooked cubed chicken breast

1 c. frozen peas

1 c. frozen corn

Melt butter in a Dutch oven. Add potatoes, onion, celery, and carrots. Cook and stir 5 to 7 minutes until the onion is tender. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes. Gradually add chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are done. Stir in remaining ingredients (peas, corn, and chicken breast). Heat through on low heat 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with pastry toppers.

Pastry Toppers:

2 c. flour

1-1/4 tsp salt

2/3 cup shortening

5 to 6 TBSP milk (I used all 6 TBSP)

In a large bowl, mix flour and salt; cut in shortening until crumbly. Gradually add milk until dough comes together. Shape the dough into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight if desired. Roll dough to 1/8” thickness. Cut into 2-1/2 to 3” shapes (I used a flower and a pumpkin). Place 1” apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 8 to 11 minutes. (I needed 11 minutes in my oven to get a little brown on the toppers). Cool completely on cooling rack.

Thoughts

I bet this would be just as good with beef broth and Campbell’s stew meat for a beef pot pie soup!

6 thoughts on “Change, Sustained By Friends

  1. Patty Roker

    Funny how we turn to serious food preparation in this time of pandemic. I just found a seasoning (Gumbo File powder) I have been looking for for the past 10 years and now I am going to search for all those recipes I couldn’t make before! There is something so comforting about pots bubbling and wonderful smells coming from the oven! This weekend we will be making the ultimate Bahamian comfort foods, vegan style: Peas n’ rice, steamed, mashed pumpkin and ruby cabbage slaw. I may even make some potato salad to go with that, as is customary. Cooking is such a small thing, but the comfort a good nutritious meal brings is immeasurable. I think I might even make some cookies! You have inspired me.

  2. I seem to turn to cooking when crisis or anxiety hits. That pot pie recipe looks absolutely delish! I love the warm, intimate, chatty feel of this post. Have a lovely week. Glad you are feeling better. xx

  3. Walter

    Amazon Subscribe & Save keeps the inventory of “essentials” in good supply at home. Twice a year, “things” just show up in big boxes and I am good until the next delivery. Who knew how valuable that would really turn out to be.

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