Monthly Archives: December 2014

The chicken and I

frango-inteiro-congelado-temperadoI write this with apologies to my vegetarian/vegan friends…I’m mostly a veggie eater myself, but I really, really wanted a roast chicken for Christmas dinner.

My history with chicken has not been good. Except for roasting a whole chicken, my chicken dishes have generally been less than appetizing. No matter what I did, the chicken would always come out rubbery. I think it may be because I tended to overcook the chicken—I’m very squeamish about undercooked animal food.

Anyway, a particular food company here in Brazil has been offering what they call “Easy” chickens, roasts, etc. They come frozen, in a plastic bag, all seasoned and ready to go. You just stick the thing in the oven, still frozen, and leave it there for two hours. Sounded good to me. But there was one little problem.

The reason I haven’t roasted a chicken in ages is because in the apartment where I currently live here in Rio, my kitchen is about the size of a small walk-in closet, so the only stove that fits is a two-burner one. This obviously means that the oven is, well, eensie-weensie. Could I fit a chicken in it? I decided to take a chance.CIMG9927

I bought the chicken. It came in a fancy bag with a handle and detailed instructions. It warned: “Don’t let the inner plastic bag touch any part of the oven or its elements.” Uh oh. OK, I put the oven rack down as far as it would go and crossed my fingers. Then there was the problem of a pan to cook it in. I had one pan, sort of dollhouse sized, which I prayed would be big enough. It wasn’t. The instructions said “breast up,” but when I tried putting it in the pan that way, its little feet stuck up in the air and it wouldn’t fit in the oven. So I turned it over, breast down, and after considerable adjusting, shifting, pushing, and shoving, it finally fit in the pan, sort of. Then I tried wrestling it into the oven. It was a tight squeeze. Too tight. The plastic bag was pressed tight against the top of the oven. *Sigh*

What to do? By this time I was getting impatient, so I ripped off most of the precious plastic bag that was supposed to help create all the yummy juices. Juices be damned! said I—I have to get this sucker into the oven!!

Once the bag was off, I was able to squeeze the bird in. It still was pressed hard against the top of the oven, but I figured it would be OK because it was bagless. Nevertheless, I was a bit nervous when I finally closed the teeny oven door and went into the other room to wait two hours.

After a while, I was comforted by delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, even though I still wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

Exactly two hours up, I ran to the kitchen to see how birdy had fared in its miniscule prison.

I pulled it out, set it on the sink counter and thanked God—what a thing of beauty! Well, not really, it looked kind of smooshed and a bit mangled, but it smelled wonderful. I turned it over, grabbed a knife, and cut of a piece of breast. I bet it’s tough, I thought. Well, it wasn’t—it was tender and perfect! Not only that, but the bottom of the pan was full of delicious juices, even without the help of the magic bag.

Suffice it to say I had a perfect Christmas dinner! I hope yours was just as good.

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Christmas memories

1212I was thinking about how Christmas was when I was growing up. I come from a secular family, although my mother identified somewhat with the Episcopal church. We’d sometimes go to their midnight Christmas service, which I thought was very peaceful and beautiful. But Christmas for my sister Bertie and me was all about wondering what presents Ma had bought us (my Pop was in and out of the picture, mostly out), and where she had hidden them. And whether we should try to find them and peek, or would that spoil everything!

Ma loved Christmas—everything about it. The shopping, the wrapping of presents, the cooking. I can remember her clearing everyone out of our downstairs dining room on the day before Christmas so she could spread our dining room table with presents, wrapping paper, gift tags, ribbon, and tape. By this time, Bertie and I were practically quivering with anticipation.

It was our tradition to open one gift on Christmas eve, which Ma would often choose, especially if she had bought the same thing for me and Bertie. One year it was little Brownie cameras, and what a thrill that was!

When we were little and still believed in Santa Claus, we used to leave a plate of cookies and milk and sometimes a little gift for him on the sideboard in the living room. The next morning it would all be gone except the plate and glass, of course! I remember in school, when I was at the age where some kids were doubting the existence of Santa Claus (including me). There was a boy in my class who hushed everyone up by saying, “I know Santa is real, because I went up on our roof and saw the reindeer hoof prints in the snow!” We all held on to our belief after that, at least for that year.

Bertie and Amy in the snow

Bertie and Amy in the snow

Speaking of snow, Bertie and I wished every year that it would snow in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, back in those days (late 40s and 50s), it didn’t usually start snowing until January. After that it was non-stop snow, with two and three-foot drifts until the spring thaw.

When Pop was around for Christmas, we’d trudge out into the woods with him and cut down a fresh cedar tree. Once we got it into the house, it filled the room with that wonderful fragrance—if I close my eyes I can still smell it. Bertie and I would help Ma decorate the tree with ornaments we had saved over the years. Ma liked blue lights, so that’s what we usually had. Then we’d argue about whether we’d trim the tree with icicles or not. I’d fight for them, because I loved how they reflected off the lights, but Ma said they made too much mess, so we didn’t usually have them.

We grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, so since New York City wasn’t that far away, we’d often make a trip to see the Rockefeller tree and the decorations in the stores on Fifth Avenue. That was one of the most festive parts of the season.

But Christmas morning was best. Bertie and I would wake up and run into the living room in our pajamas, not bothering to get dressed or have breakfast. Then we’d all sit around and open our presents, with paper flying everywhere. There’s nothing quite as magical as a Christmas gift wrapped in pretty paper—you wonder what’s inside, you try to guess, and then you rip it open to see your surprise. Bertie and I always loved our presents, and we liked buying them for Ma, Pop, and each other, too. Sometimes we’d make hand-made gifts, which were always appreciated, even if they weren’t all that exciting…like an unevenly stitched potholder or a lopsided clay ashtray.

We didn’t think about the religious significance of Christmas, even though we sang carols about the birth of Jesus. But I like to think that the spirit of love that Jesus taught and lived visited our home anyway.

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