Monday, September 12, 2011

Comfort Food

Koi in the pond at a Japanese Garden

Chicken with Mole

On Thursday I decided to buy a jar of Mole (pronounced: MO-Lay) sauce because I know it’s one of my significant other’s favorites and when we were at his mom’s house, I had tried it for the first time. I don’t recall my grandmother making it, but I would be surprised if she didn’t. She would often make something with eggs for me served with a side of beans and rice. That explains why I love eggs so much!

I asked his mom questions about her Mole sauce and she did start with a prepared jar of Mole and then added more chilies and Mexican chocolate. I grew up with Mexican chocolate—round disks of chocolate and cinnamon goodness. This was two months ago and I don’t know that I had any intention of using the sauce because at the time, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. You know how sometimes it takes more than one time for something to make an impression.

When I was trying to think of an economical chicken dish, I thought of her Chicken drumsticks with Mole that she prepared that day. Drumsticks are one of my favorite parts of the chicken. I prefer fried chicken, but that’s not the healthiest, so I thought how can I make these drumsticks more interesting without a lot of acid. I told my significant other about my idea and told him that it wouldn’t be the same as his mom’s, and that for starters I would just stick to the jar to see what the flavor profile was like and maybe next time, I could add more ingredients.

I got two packages of drumsticks, so we would have leftovers and I only got one jar of Mole. I boiled the drumsticks in salted water with skins on. I boiled them a good hour to be on the safe side. Meanwhile, I read the instructions on the jar of Mole. I had to heat the paste up with four parts of a liquid, either water or soup stock, to one part of the paste. I used the whole jar and gradually added three parts of water, and decided that for the fourth part, I would add the chicken stock from the drumsticks for a little extra flavor. Even though I didn’t make the Mole from scratch, with all the stirring I did, I sure felt like I did. I put more love into stirring that Mole sauce than I think I’ve put into anything I’ve made. I was sweating and stirring. The stirring had to be constant because as you can imagine, a cocoa paste is pretty thick and it keeps wanting to roll itself up. I tasted it along the way and it didn’t quite excite me at first. I could detect the heat of the chilies and of course the unsweetened cocoa dominance made it feel slightly bland on my tongue. I counted on the taste elevating when I added the last part of chicken stock, and then brought the chicken together with the Mole sauce.

At last the chicken was done cooking and after letting it sit a while to cool off, I took some pieces out, pulled the skin off and discarded it and added the drumsticks to the prepared Mole sauce. Dinner was served with rice and tortillas. My significant other was pleased with how it turned out. I told him that though it was a jar, I put a lot of love into stirring that sauce, making sure it didn’t burn and kept it smooth. He smiled.

The following day, we both took leftovers. That’s when it hit me. I couldn’t believe how I had missed out on Mole for all my life. I never ordered it on menus because chocolate—in my mind and taste buds—did not belong in a dinner dish. When I took my leftovers out of the microwave, the chicken was tender and juicy, coming off the bone in nice pieces; the Mole sauce had re-softened and I felt the excitement in my mouth that I hoped I would find when I set out to prepare this meal. I was having one of those food moments where you can’t stop the mmmmm’s and ohhhh’s.

Chilaquiles and a Perfectly Lazy Sunday

My childhood home was one house away from my grandparent’s home and I would find myself walking up the sidewalk several times a day for a visit and always for something good to eat. One of my comfort foods is Chilaquiles and there are many variations. What makes it what it is are the tortillas ripped into pieces and cooked up in lard or the cooking oil on hand and then scrambled with eggs. My grandmother knew just how I liked them. Plain, simple, and soft. She would let the tortilla pieces cook until they were tender and then she would add two scrambled eggs, let it set and then flip it over. That was my comfort food and it still is. She used to make Chilaquiles for my brother too. He liked his tortillas crispy and he also liked her to add tomatoe sauce at the end. When my uncle has prepared this dish for me, he makes the tortillas more crispy because that’s how he likes it and he adds Monterey Jack cheese at the end.

My comfort food showed up yesterday along with my Lazy Sunday. I knew that I wanted to stay in. I felt like we’ve had such a non-stop schedule on weekends, that I really needed a break. I told my significant other that I really just wanted to stay at home and relax. I knew that he would need to get out because not everyone can just sit in all day, so I encouraged him to do so—to go out and get some air. We eased into the day. I had already been up and reading and when he did finally go out, I continued reading. When I started to get hungry, I remembered we had some bacon left, so I decided I would have Chilaquiles with bacon. I cut the bacon into squares, added chopped onion and let it cook up a bit, then I added the ripped tortillas, a little butter and olive oil, and when everything smelled and looked how I wanted it, I added three scrambled eggs. I sat at the table and ate my food lovingly, always thinking of my grandmother when I eat this dish. I washed it down with some water and I was back to reading. I spent the whole day inside and it felt amazing. I did take a break and put my laundry away. Then back to reading. Sometimes I take a nap, but when I laid my head down, I was back up quick. It started getting hot. I turned the ceiling fan on in the bedroom. The bright light shined through— and after a gray morning and a light rain! With the cool air from the fan, the bright sunlight for reading, and the whites from the duvet cover and the walls reflecting the natural light, I felt like I was in absolute peace of mind.

Some of my Reading

I’ve recently started reading, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Funny thing is I owned this book when it came out. Never read it. Wasn’t ready. This time around I’ve enjoyed it very much. I think it’s funny how he swears a lot. The first half of the book focuses on his life, how he became a writer and the second half of the book focuses on the craft of writing in a conversational way.

On a recent visit to the library, I was looking for one book, but found another. Death with Interruptions by the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago. I have not read any of this writer’s works. It sounds different and intriguing. I hope it hooks me until the end.

I read a little bit more of Franz Kafka’s The Trial and I think to myself: Is it possible to get 2/3 of the way through a book, leave it for a couple of years and pick up where I left off? I’ve done this with other books, but is it realistically possible? Can I hold enough of the story in limbo for so long and just begin where I left off? Or do I need to start over?

I did the same with Milan Kundera’s Immortality. It is not the easiest novel to read and a tricky one to come back to after much time has gone by. My favorite part will always be the opening when we are introduced to Agnes. I can only say that the portrait and scene he created—and he did it in one and a quarter pages—will always be a part of me. It’s universal and one who reads it and sees themselves there will know what I mean.

I’ve also read a few short stories:

“The Father” by Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson (1838-1910).
I had read this one some time ago and found it in a free Kindle collection. I was glad to be re-connected with it.

“The Great Stone Face” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

“The Ice Palace” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have never read any of Fitzgerald’s short stories. When I was done with this one, I needed to go right back to the beginning. I am planning on reading it through again. I loved The Great Gatsby when I read it in school.

I’m ready for Flannery O’Connor. The book of commemorative essays that I shared in another post has made me want to read her even more. I started, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and knowing what the story is about, I’m curious to see how it develops. I left off at the part where the car approaches and the grandmother realizes this isn’t the place. As I mentioned before, I’m surprised I’ve never come across any of her work in an English class and I didn’t venture in her direction on my own. And though I had checked her book of short stories out, I hadn’t cracked it past the table of contents. But her title was enough to inspire my blog, “A Good Pan is Hard to Find.” Something about her presence is calling me. I’m ready for you, Flannery O’Connor!

And so, it was a week and a Sunday filled with comfort food. A much needed long stretch of time to re-fuel my soul.

Happy Reading and Writing & Happy Monday!

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