Monday, July 19, 2010

Aunt Judy's Chicken Pilau

Growing up in the south doesn't guarantee you'll grow up a Southerner, especially in Florida. I was born here, but reared on the gulfcoast, a blend of northeastern and midwestern culture. But my dad's family were reared in the Florida heartland, Southerners one and all. Aunt Judy was a beautiful southern lady whose cooking, it was said, could heal the sick. (Hyperbole is part of southern culture.) If you'd ever had Aunt Judy's lemon pound cake or her fried veggies, you might think you were healed, even as the cholesterol numbers rose.

But the dish I knew Aunt Judy best by was her chicken pilau. Peppery and soothing, the dish was a contradiction of flavors and effects. I loved it when dad imitated it, but pined for Aunt Judy's version, which I would beg for whenever we planned a visit to her home near Ocala.

Thankfully, she shared the recipe, at least how she remembered it, in a church cookbook before she passed from this life. So you can imagine how surprised I was when, seeking the correct spelling and pronunciation of "pilau," I googled it and found out it's not southern at all! In fact, the word is Persian in origin! It's been shifted and changed in several ways, as has the dish, which is essentially chicken and rice prepared in the stock, depending on the culture: African, Thai, Chinese, etc.

Here's a link to the meaning of "pilau."
Here's a sample of the way it can be prepared in different cultures.
Here's a great-sounding African version.

I have approximated Aunt Judy's version several times, including twice during my recent time-off from The JOY FM. Kids love it, with our without cheese. (I prefer without.) You can make a big pot of it and stretch it over several meals, but of course, because it's chicken, you don't want to hang on to it too long. Don't worry, it will likely disappear.

2 large fryers (3-4 lb)
3 cups rice, washed until water is clear
2 large cans Swanson chicken broth
1/2 to 1 cup cheddar cheese
black pepper

Cook chicken in broth until very tender (about 2 hrs). Remove from broth, de-bone, discard skin (some skin remaining is optional). Strain broth. Measure 6 cups of warm broth and add the rice to it. Cook rice and simmer a while. When rice is cooked, add chicken, lifting rice carefully to avoid mushiness. Add more broth if too dry. Grate 1/2 cup (1 cup if desired) cheddar cheese. Add to pilau with fork. Add black pepper to taste. 

Serve with sweet gherkins if desired. 

Note: some of this is improvised. Play with the ratios a bit until you get it tasting the way you want it to. I doubt Aunt Judy ever made it the same way twice. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What I Did on Summer Vacation

I want to make the last two weeks seem like a real summer break. At this point, the best way to do that is to make Monday, the first day back at work, seem like the first day back at school. I think middle school was the last time I actually had a written assignment to share my summer vacation with everyone. In that spirit then, here's my first-day-back essay:

"What I Did on Summer Vacation"
by Bill Martin

For my summer vacation, I went... (no, strike that. I didn't go anywhere.) I slept in. The reason I slept in is because I stayed up late. Really late. Like an hour-before-I-usually-get-up late. This began almost immediately, proving that a morning radio personality schedule is an utterly artificial thing to me. After more than two decades, my native body clock has not changed.

Another thing I did on my summer vacation was to make a chore list. I made this list at the beginning, so I'd have a maximum amount of time to work on the projects I identified as needing done. I referred to that chore list several times during the first week (before I lost it) so I could refresh my memory of all the things that needed to be done around the house. Now, I need a new chore list, with the first item reading, "Find chore list." I did, however, think about the chore list several times.

I changed several light bulbs.

The second week of vacation, I got much more productive. I continued to think about my chore list and wrote a poem about it. In fact, I wrote several poems, read several poems, submitted several assignments to an online poetry class, listened to lectures from a Yale University course on modernist poets, won a couple of poetry contests, wrote an essay on the implications of the loss of logocentric assumptions in Western culture, worked on prose style and cumulative syntax, downloaded two online courses on the book of Ezekiel, began a study of that book, outlined a class on How to Be Spiritual in the 21st Century, outlined another series of lectures and began an explication of George Herbert's "Redemption," read William Carlos Williams poems to my two youngest boys, wrote two weeks of daily devotions for the three youngest boys, listened to a series on Mere Christianity, and bought a new book on literature from the Goodwill bookstore.

I dropped off several loads of toys, clothes, and household furnishings to Goodwill. That was my excuse to get into the bookstore.

I mowed my lawn.

(Mostly.) I broke my weedeater.

I played in an old guy vs young guy softball game. The old guys won. I'm not saying which team I was on.

I wasn't sore the next day, unlike most of my teammates.

I cheered for Adam and his AllStar team as they finished third in the county cup. Adam started at third base in every game and finished up strong at the plate, hitting a home run over the center field fence in the last game they played. I got critiqued by my wife for the way I talk about baseball.

I threw batting practice for Grady.

I went to a show that Will's band played. I picked up my daughter, Madison, from her youth camp. I watched shows and movies with Adam, Grady and Payton. I cooked lots of yummy chicken pilau (a family recipe). I never found out what "pilau" means.

I drank tea.

I played Bananagrams. Lots of Bananagrams. Lots.

I finally beat Kimberly. At least that's how I remember it.

I didn't get into arguments with my wife. Except maybe about a word (or two) she (may have) used in Bananagrams that isn't actually in any English language dictionary.

That's pretty much my summer vacation. I'm sure I've left some important stuff out, but after all, it's the first day of school and I don't want to spill it all on the first assignment.

A Reconciliation (of sorts)

Dear Blog,

You and I have not been on speaking terms for a while now. When I saw you sign me out of my primary Google account every time I wanted to post here, I felt frustrated. I tried to reconcile the two of you, my primary account and yours, but that failed attempt only increased my feelings of frustration. I concluded that this relationship couldn't go on. I moved on in my heart to another blog. I'm hoping you'll forgive me and we can make this right.

You see, regardless of how much I have complained and tried to fix the un-fixable, you are still my blog. We have a lot of history. We've built some fine things together and made lots of friends. For these reasons I want to reaffirm that I am still committed to you. I have made peace in my mind with the difficulties this relationship presents. I am willing to allow you to sign me out of my primary Google account every time we talk. I have re-formatted your pages, updated your links, and I'm ready to go.

If you agree that this is best, I'll soon be making my first post: "What I Did on My Summer Vacation."

In hope of full reconciliation and a long-standing relationship.