Thursday, May 14, 2015
Life around here has assumed a slow, sweet pace for the past three months. I spent most days of my maternity leave trying to trick the baby into napping (in the swing with some ambient electronic music on works best), dashing my way through quick showers and prepping dinner with one hand while I bounce the baby in my left. Most days we found time to take a ride, run a few errands and hopefully, take a long walk to soak up the well-deserved sunshine that’s finally found its way to Massachusetts. It’s a whole new way of life that means quicker cooking and slower living and that’s just fine by me.
Before you have a baby many, many people who already have kids like to try and prepare you for “once the baby comes…” or, alternately, the End of Your Life as You Know It. I think they are mostly well meaning and mostly correct. I mean, life is different now. Yesterday I pumped breastmilk in the back of a parking lot in my mom’s Camry. My idea of a luxurious evening is a 10 p.m. bedtime and enough time to paint my nails. I regularly pluck boogers and spit up off Russel’s face bare handed and am not the least bit grossed out by it. I am obsessed with his face and his clammy hands and tiny sweaty feet in the best possible way. On my first day back at work one of my besties checked in and asked if I was happy to be out of the house. I answered her honestly “I don’t really want to be yet. I wish I was still at home huffing his breath.” In so many ways your life is never the same, but what should be included in their warnings is this: you won’t care. Not in the least. I feel no wanderlust for my childless life. No feelings of missing out on nights at the bar. I spent enough of those to last a lifetime between 19 and 33 anyways. I know I’m not missing anything.
Countless other folks warned me that “once the baby comes you’ll never cook again”. Which I believe might be the case for someone slightly less food obsessed than me. But you know Porky Dickens is gonna find a way to feed the beast. I’m happy to report that the rhythm of our days has allowed for –at the very least- the cooking of a proper dinner every night. We’re home after all and on a budget and it’s nice at the end of the day to do anything other than taking care of the baby after a full day of doing just that. When my husband gets home I hand him off like a hot potato and get to prepping. Sometimes if he has actually napped, I’ve even prepped a bit in advance. In the time it takes me to make dinner, Paul can usually change, play and soothe the baby to sleep, so the timing is pretty terrific. Even if he’s not asleep he’s usually full and mellow and will watch us eat dinner from his little bucket chair while mashing his meaty little hands in his mouth. By design, our meals these days have to be simple and preferably hands off like an easy baked chicken or steaming some veggies and tossing something on the grill. The other day, I made some poached chicken breasts to have on hand in the fridge in order to break my habit of going out for a high calorie lunch. I think poaching is one of those techniques that is both basic and elegant if done right. Mostly hands off and with an end result that’s like an edible blank canvas: simple, flavorful chicken breasts cooked through and ready for slicing on top of salads, into sandwiches, or chopped up into my favorite curried chicken salad.
SIMPLE POACHED CHICKEN BREASTS
3-4 chicken breasts
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 shallot, halved and peeled
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbs. whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Place all ingredients in a large shallow pan (I use a braising pan) and cover by at least an inch with water. Eventually part of the tops of the chicken breasts might peek out above the water line and that’s okay. Heat burner to medium/ high heat until the water is simmering but NOT boiling (there are little bubbles, like carbonation bubbles, but not big ones that break the surface, but there is a lot of steam and the water is visibly hot). Adjust the temperature as needed, everyone’s stove tops may run differently. Poach until chicken registers 165 degrees (about 10-12 minutes, maybe more depending on the thickness of your breasts (uh huh ha).
CURRY CHICKEN SALAD
2-3 poached chicken breasts, chopped;
or, 2 cups shredded chicken
2-3 scallions, cleaned and chopped
½ cup toasted walnuts coarsely chopped
½ cup golden raisins (optional)
½ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ - 2 tbs. curry powder (I like Madras and it’s easily found in most grocery stores)
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium-sized bowl, combine all ingredients and mix together well. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and a few more sprinkles curry powder. I like a lot of spices in this, but you can make it much more mild. The bright yellow curry color actually increases with time in the fridge, so if it’s a bit pale at first, don’t judge based on that. Be careful with the salt, I tend to make this super salty because I always forget that the mayo has salt in it as well. Add salt last and adjust to your palate. Serve on warm whole grain toast with baby spinach, or on a bed of mixed greens, for a more virtuous presentation.