Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Make Food, Make Memories

My oldest child's fifteenth birthday has come and gone, and for her special day she requested the meal she always requests: Soy Sauce Chicken. In cookbooks you may come across this as "Red-Cooked Chicken," but let's be honest--it's more brown than red, and the brown is the brown of soy sauce. I'd include a picture here, except that Soy Sauce Chicken is not particularly photogenic. I remember bringing it to a potluck once, and another of the guests commenting, "I'm guessing it tastes better than it looks."

The reason I bring up my daughter's homely favorite is that I'm a big believer not only in family meals, but also in family recipes. Specialties that only mom or dad or grandma or Aunt So-and-So make properly, and that we have only eaten in the context of family. There's a reason that, every time I visit my mom, I beg and wheedle for her pot stickers, chow mein, and scallion pancakes. There's a reason that, whenever we visit my in-laws, Rita produces her macaroni salad and Jell-O salad and even Navajo tacos.

Not Rita's Navajo Tacos, but the same idea []
Along these lines of family foods and memories, I just read a wonderful memoir that will be debuting on August 14:

Having very much enjoyed Flinn's The Kitchen-Counter Cooking School, I was anxious to get my hands on this one, and it did not disappoint. Flinn's big, adventurous family didn't have it easy, but what they lacked in money they more than made up in love, joy, and food. I never thought I'd come across a family grandpa who did worse than my husband's--a fellow who abandoned a wife and six children during the Depression--but Flinn's grandpa actually one-ups good old Ray! The author recounts stories from multiple generations and both sides of the family, each chapter ending with a family recipe. Humorous,wistful, and moving, I highly recommend this book and am hoping Philip from Readers to Eaters will carry it in future. (N.B., Philip will be there this Thursday Market, with his wonderful display of food-oriented books! Ask him for his current favorites.)

One curious thing that has happened in our country, and that happened in Flinn's own family, was that, as money and convenience foods became more readily available, the putting-by of food and home-cooking-to-save-money practices fell by the wayside. Flinn's family canned and preserved like Armageddon lay ahead--mostly because the summer bounty of their Michigan farm was free or almost free, and it was expected to feed the family as long as humanly possible the rest of the year. And now to think that these economical stand-bys now equal the most expensive of foods! All because canning and preserving are becoming lost arts, we are now willing to fork over $8-10 for a jar of jam or pickles! (I include myself in that number, since I neither can nor preserve but love when someone else does.)

The good thing about family food traditions is that it's never too late to start one. Family favorites are no more, after all, than food everyone in the family enjoys having on a regular basis. Taco Tuesdays count. So do Pizza-and-a-Movie Nights. But how much more special and irreplaceable are those memories when the foods are cooked by loving hands from the best and freshest ingredients?

My daughter's beloved Soy Sauce Chicken is still my mother's recipe, but I've added my own variations, replacing the mass-market chicken with pastured Market chicken, the vegetables with Market vegetables, and the eggs with Market eggs. Because why not be comforting, delicious, and wholesome? (As always, Market ingredients marked with an asterisk.)

Soy Sauce Chicken
4 scallions,* chopped
1 cup sherry
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 whole chicken,* cut into pieces 
1 bunch radishes,* stems removed
3 carrots,* cut in chunks
6-8 eggs,* boiled and peeled 

Combine sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Add chicken and vegetables, return to boil. Then cover, reduce heat to Low, and simmer 45 minutes. Turn chicken occasionally to color. After 45 minutes, add eggs, pushing them down into the sauce to color. Simmer another 45 minutes.

Serve over rice or noodles. 

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