Chicken and Dumplings
I’m on the road again, waking up and marveling at the different light and sounds and smells of a room in a city not my own. [ and please note that I haven’t yet figured out how to post photos on someone else’s computer, but I will soon!]
First stop of my book tour is Edmonton, my home town. My mom and my sister Jeannie pick me up at the airport, and not some fancy-pants publicist. Still, they’re as pro-Comfort-Food-for-Breakups as any promoter could be. “I read the book three times,” says Jeannie, with whom I’ve had little or no contact with for years. “I even highlighted parts I liked.”
As soon as we arrive at my mother’s condo, I’m handed a baby: one-year-old Peyton, my niece’ Krissy’s daughter. She’s as smooth and fresh and delicious as a nectarine in August. She sports a tiny red bow holding up a meagre tuft of hair. With her big eyes and bemused expression she looks like one of Dr Seuss’s Whos from Whoville.
My mother serves up dinner, though it’s only 5:30 p.m. It’s the same thing she makes every time I come to visit, and it’s always the very first thing she feeds me: perogies with chicken stew, Baba’s sacred recipe. The Guitar Player tried to reproduce it once, and it was a pretty good attempt. But the real thing is a no-holds-barred festival of fat and starch. The textures are luscious: soft dumpling dough, moist, slightly chewy chicken, silky sauce.
We pass the baby back and forth as we eat; she floats serenely one woman’s crook of arm to another. (“She’s a daycare baby,” says Krissy, by way of explanation). Peyton is rather disinterested in dinner until my mother takes her into her lap and feeds her tiny morsels of gravy-soaked perogy, one at a time. She looks up into her great-grandmother’s eyes with trust and regal, benign appreciation.
Four generations of women, food, and eating, at one table. Outside, a great big Alberta sky.
Baba’s Chicken Stew
I finally got my mother to write down the ingredients for this simple but delicious stew, in her beautiful old-fashioned handwriting. It is, of course, traditionally eaten with perogies, but I do suppose you could try it with, say, egg noodles instead – if it’s absolutely impossible for you to find or make perogies. Btw, there’s a recipe for perogies (aka varennyky) in my book, and you can also purchase them at any fine Ukrainian, Polish or Russian deli near you. (Note to those living in Toronto: Sosnicki’s organic perogies, sold only at Dufferin Grove Farmers Market, Thursdays 3-7pm, are the finest I’ve ever tasted – besides my mom’s of course!)
4-6 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 tblspn. vegetable oil or butter
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
11/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
In medium saucepan, fry chicken thighs in oil until well-browned, about 5-10 minutes. Add flour, mixing in well, until lightly browned. Add chicken stock and minced garlic, mixing well. Let this mixture come to a slow boil until thickened, stirring all the while. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour until chicken is soft.
Let me know how this recipe turns out! – and what you ate it with…
Hey sweetie! Lovely post. I just bought two of your books from the store where you did your reading. One for me and one for my sister for her birthday. We will also get the generations together this weekend to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day. Where can I get the best perogies in Edmonton?
My Nanna used to make chicken and dumplings on an old wood stove with a polished iron surface, summers at Cultus Lake, BC.
After long, hot days of galumphing through the adjacent horse trails, or tearing around the empty school playground, it was one of my favourite meals. The dumplings were 2″ of slippery on the outside and light, fluffy and dry on the inside. I tried making her recipe once but the stew wasn’t quite hot enough and I ended up with a pot of chicken flavoured glue. However, your entry inspires me to try resurrecting the taste and texture.