EVERYTHING IS CHANGED
The emotional wounds from Friday’s massacre in Newtown are still raw, the passions still vivid and red hot. Everything is changed and we will never be the same. Those of us who are parents may have been especially touched and now we hug our children just a little tighter before they leave for school in the morning, pull them a little closer each night as they return, exhausted from their active day. We study their every movement, listen to their slow, steady breathing, revel in their laughter and stare into the depths of their eyes, astonished at the life we have created. My sons are adults now, 22 and 24, yet they still are and always will be my babies and I still worry about them, am still astonished by their presence and still attempt to protect and coddle them, no matter how they protest.
The holidays have brought our older son home more often; he arrived on our doorstep almost every night of Hanukkah as the sun set to light the candles, exchange gifts and eat dinner as a family. I sit and watch my two sons, young men, eat pizza or cheese fondue with a man’s appetite and wonder how it is they grew up, tall, handsome, funny, smart. When did this happen? Our life as a family has often been a bumpy road, our sons’ teen years dotted with adolescent woes; we’ve struggled through tragedy and arguments, clothes stuffed in plastic garbage bags and tossed out onto the doorstep, and whatever else parenting brings into our lives. Yet when we actually think about it, when we pause and stare hard at our two sons, we really are thankful. We feel lucky that they have turned out so damn well.
In the wake of Friday’s horrendous tragedy, I do feel lucky – and, I will admit, relieved – each time they walk through the front door. Younger son goes out at night and I still lie awake or in a fitful sleep, waiting to hear the click of the front door, the sound of his step on the floor, the barking of the dog. Then and only then can I finally fall into peaceful slumber.
Many years ago, I was in a horrific car accident. If it wasn’t for the very quick reaction time of the driver of the car that plowed into me I would not have survived. Our sons were about 6 and 8 years old at the time. At the end of this harrowing, terrifying day spent on the side of the road and at the hospital for a battery of x-rays, my husband came and picked me up. Driving home side by side, each one of us lost in our own thoughts, the silence heavy between us, he finally turned to me and cried “Do you realize that you almost left me alone?! Left me to raise our two boys without you?!” We, he and I, have each lost a parent and I have lost a sibling, a dear brother and I know that no matter how much time passes, the wound remains deep and bleeding, the loss heavy, a gaping black hole of sadness. I simply cannot imagine losing a child. So, yes, the loss of those twenty children, mere babies, has cut many of us to the core. And we turn around and face our own children and feel very, very lucky.
And my older son came over to cook. For as much as husband and I both love to cook and as often as we do, our sons never really caught the cooking bug.* Maybe it is, as some would argue, because they never had to cook; the food was always on the table for them to enjoy. Or maybe, yes I will admit, that I scared the begeebees out of them whenever they tried. As my husband will freely tell you, I am not one to share the kitchen with. He sends me packing, refusing to even pull out ingredients and start chopping before I am well away and out of the kitchen. Ah, so I am a perfectionist; what do you want? I will also admit that I might have bit my poor son’s head off a few times this very night in question and I will search high and low for something to blame it on but I won’t bore you with that. Anyway, he came over to cook and not just any dish. No. For weeks he had been berating me, upbraiding me, ranting and complaining because he had offered me a Greek cookbook last Hanukkah, one entire year ago, and I had yet to make one single recipe from it. So he selected a recipe, a Greek-style Preserved Lemon Chicken with Olives, and offered to come over and help.
And so we did. Cook. Greek-Style Preserved Lemon Chicken with Olives packs a true flavor punch: tender chicken infused with the bright, sparkling flavor of lemon, lightly-caramelized onions offering a savory succulence and a handful of olives giving the dish a salty edge. And nothing could be easier! Brown the chicken, toss in the rest of the ingredients, allow to simmer and Bingo! A stunning dish. Simple enough to make with your children, no matter their age. And now one my own son can prepare in his own apartment for his friends.
And before he dropped by, I decided to make Spiral Feta-filled Rolls from the same book as a surprise. I will share this recipe with you on my next post.
So hug your children, spend as much extra time with them as a family and be happy. Maybe I'll cook with my son a little more often now.
* I will be fair. Clem, the older son, makes the absolute best damn Tiramisu on the planet. He also makes a mean Lemon Tart as well.
GREEK-STYLE PRESERVED LEMON CHICKEN WITH OLIVES
Adapted from Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou – published in French by Phaidon
Serves 4 people
1 preserved lemon
1 fresh lemon
About 6 Tbs (40 g) flour seasoned with salt and pepper
1 chicken cut in pieces or 2 leg/thigh sections and 2 breasts
A few tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
½ cup pitted green olives, soaked in cold water for about an hour
Finely grated zest of one lemon, optional
½ cup (125 ml) water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cut the preserved lemon in half and then each half in 2 or 4 wedges.
Place the seasoned flour in a plate or soup bowl. Pat the chicken pieces clean and dry.
Place a few tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy pot with a lid and heat over medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and a few drops of water spritzed onto the oil sizzle, dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour and brown in the oil; you may have to do this in two or three batches as you do not want to crowd the chicken in the pot. Turn the pieces to brown well on each side; this could take 6 – 8 minutes per piece. Add more oil to the pot if needed.
As the chicken pieces are browned carefully lift them out of the pot and place on a plate.
When all of the chicken pieces are well browned and out of the pot, add the chopped onion and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring often, until tender and transparent, scraping up the dark bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the onion bits are beginning to brown around the edges. Add the wedges of preserved lemon, the zest if using and the water; drain the olives and add to the pot. Salt and pepper and bring just to the boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and allow to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add a little more water during the cooking if needed.
When the chicken is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice.
Serve immediately over mashed potatoes, couscous, mixed grains or pilaf.