Tonight I stewed a chicken, so that I could prepare a pot of Nanny's chicken and dumplings for a gathering tomorrow evening. A simple dish, this. It's essentially chicken and flour, which means that the chicken must be worthy of starring in a fragrant pot of broth and dough. I went with my friend Becky up to Skagit River Ranch to see about one, since she needed to pick up something anyway. Truth be told, I could have bought the chicken in a store. But it was a holiday weekend, it was a sunny day, it was a chance to spend time with a friend with a change of scenery...in short, a lark. And larks are in short supply. We started our lark thusly, perfectly:
Becky: "Hi, I need coffee."
Jenifer: "Well, you know, we're going to be passing Frost Doughnuts on the way up."
Becky: "Let's go."
Once at the Ranch, we made short work of our purchases (I got some eggs, too, and a recipe, and availed myself of the restroom--which is a story in and of itself), and then we went out to explore the land. We were accompanied by the sweetest dog on the face of the earth,
and we met some goats and a bull and chased some chickens around in the mud. It was nose-drippingly cold and beautiful and alternately misty and sunny. I thought for a moment I could live there and I remembered that as much as I love the city, I come from the country. Sometimes a visit to the touchstone is necessary.
We left the Ranch and puttered around in the Skagit Valley: a lunch at Slough Food in Edison, a GPS-less meandering in search of the Rexville Grocery (I was the optimist: "well, I-5 is to our east--worst that can happen is that we end up at the Puget Sound to our west. Oh, look: there's the Puget Sound!").
We saw trumpeter swans and bald eagles, we sang 60s songs at the tops of our lungs, we stopped and got MORE doughnuts (oops, I probably wasn't supposed to reveal that) and all in all, it was a most Lark-Worthy Day.
But about that chicken:
As I was taking it out of the broth, it fell apart in my hands and I found myself holding the chicken back. The smell of that unctuous goodness, the steam on my face, and the back bone in my hand reminded me that Nanny never, ever ate any piece of chicken other than the back. When she fried it on Sundays, she handed around the best parts to everyone else and insisted that the back is all she wanted. And the truth is, she was not sacrificing. She was fed as surely by our appreciation of the meal as by any little bit of meat, and it's taken me a lifetime to figure that out.
I saw it Thanksgiving night as Marc fussed over us all with the most incredible spread:
I saw it Friday as Becky led me to Slough Food, where she thought we might find a delightful lunch:
I see it every time I'm invited to someone's home or taken to a new restaurant or shown a favorite book.
And I say out loud, right now, how privileged I am to share my life with people whose stance is grounded in generosity.
Thank you, friends, for giving me the shirt off your back, I mean, the chicken off your, um... just thank you.
Chicken backs, by the way, when fried well, have the most delightful crispy bits...