I am missing my sisters back home in Ireland, and thinking about all the lovely food we cooked together. It is many months since my leaving and now there is a hole in my life. I am already plotting on how to see them again as soon as possible.
I love every aspect of cooking a meal, from the planning, to the more menial tasks like washing dirt off the potatoes. I find I am the most comfortable when I work alone or rather, it is nice being by myself not feeling lonely at all. That is not to say I don’t like activity while I am getting on with things. Mostly it is quite the opposite, and the din of family and friends coming in and out, or parking themselves for the duration on a chair and chatting with me through the entire process is when I have had my most memorable conversations.
There is an easiness that comes with cooking and the energy in the kitchen permeates through the entire house, sets the tone. That is why I find it so hard to understand why people choose take-out/away food over something that you can make yourself? When food is brought home in a bag or plastic containers you have missed out on the lovely clatter in the kitchen and the smells that put you in a good mood, that draw everyone together.
Yes, of course there are days that I long for a little cardboard takeout box, complete with the narrow metal handle full of spicy Szechuan chicken, or the big corrugated square housing a pizza with everyone’s favorite toppings on its various quarters. What I’m saying is when I think about food, what comes to mind, is a roasted chicken being pulled from the oven, or the smell that comes from a pot of soup making my taste buds crazy for a taste… for a bite of something. The whole act of cooking creates an atmosphere that a take-out box just cannot compete with!
There is not a doubt in my mind that everyone can think of a person that instantly conjures up the image of a dish that you uniquely associate with them. Sometimes it is the dish you think of first, and then you realize that you are missing someone, and craving their food and their company. I am sitting here on this weekend morning and I swear I can smell June’s Famous Chicken Dinner.
It was dubbed Famous Chicken Dinner by my son a couple of years ago and it is how we request it when we visit. She cannot understand why we attach so much importance to it? When she roasts a whole chicken, this is how it turns out. It is one of her standards and has never been thought of as anything but ordinary, and certainly not something she would dream of making if she was having people over for dinner.
The thing is, she is unaware that when she makes something that is so familiar, so effortless to her, she has ended up perfecting something. She has unconsciously over the years worked out all the kinks in this dish, tweaking the amounts of butter, or salt and changing the herb mix until she got it the way she liked it the best. She did this, and then she left it, because it was perfect and needed no more fussing over. She will laugh if she reads this, but I know I am right. I know that if she made it for me right now, there would be no surprises. It would be exactly what I wanted, and if she changed something because she felt maybe having company meant doing things differently to make it special, she would regret it and wished she had left well enough alone.
I have never asked for the recipe, which is an odd thing for me. I know it is just a stuffed roasted chicken with carrot and parsnip mash, roasted potatoes and a herby sauce made from the pan drippings, but I think it would be impossible to replicate. It would be just like my trying to master my mother’s stuffing, something I attempt to do each Christmas, and each time fail. I fail to capture that essence that made it taste the way it did. I believe there are some dishes that contain a soul, and this one happens to have June’s. I don’t know if there is a recipe for that.