People are really that good.
When I felt dumbed by the horror of what had happened to my mother and stunned into a puddle of inaction by the loss, the world conspired to hold me up. Extraordinary kindnesses—large and small—surrounded me like a warm embrace. Friends, and people I barely know, showed up at my door carrying platters of sweets; strangers wrote me notes filled with sympathy and compassion.
I am not yet capable—nor do I have the means—to tell each and every person how much what you did means to me. But if I could, I would bake Strawberry Frosted Cupcakes for you every day until you call Strawberry “Uncle!”, and we would laugh with the delight of knowing thousands of cupcakes don’t pay you back, but they do tell you I really mean “thank you” from my heart.
Your support has helped guide me back to the kitchen. I haven’t gone tumbling in with abandon, but I can finally cook again.
Oddly, I didn’t start in my own kitchen. I went back to teach at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education). I was afraid to go—into the kitchen and into public.
When I arrived at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) early last Thursday morning there were thankfully few people around. I didn’t have to smile or say hello: I went about the business of getting the equipment set up in the room. Oddly—so oddly!—I noticed my hands were shaking. That, in turn, made me worry about my ability to make it through the day without crying. That, in turn made me cry. And that annoyed the hell out of me. (Crying on the job…puhleeze!)
And then my students arrived, and I was sure they heard my voice falter in those first few minutes, but they didn’t let on. I think that is when I fell in love. Kind, interested, eager students made my re-entry into the world easier. We cooked together for nearly five hours: we smelled warm, sweet spices; carefully considered the color of a beautifully seared chicken breast; wrangled the skin off salmon, and yes—we laughed together.
One of the many dishes we cooked on the first of the two-day class was Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce and Capers. It is a fast, simple but elegant dish. It is a great dish to have in one’s weeknight repertoire; you can make it with fish in place of the chicken, substitute chopped olives for the capers, or add a sprinkling of feta cheese and dill if you like. I include it in my ICE class “How to Be a Great Home Cook” because it allows me to teach the basics of searing (anything) to golden-brown perfection. I have an entire post on how to do it (with lots of photos) here.
The first three steps of this recipe are the basis for many others: they are the directions for sautéing golden, lightly crusted chicken breasts to moist perfection. An instant read meat thermometer is the key to cooking chicken to just the right safe, yet tender degree of doneness.
This healthier version of the classic Italian restaurant dish of lemony chicken or veal makes an elegant weeknight meal—or a great dish to serve company.
The key to the sauce is to let the wine and lemon juice boil long enough to reduce it to a thickened liquid. You’ll know it’s ready to be enriched with the butter when a spoon dragged across the surface of the pan leaves a line that takes a couple of seconds to close back up.
4 (4-ounce) boneless chicken breast
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
½ cup lower sodium chicken broth
½ cup white wine
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon drained capers
2 tablespoons butter
- Lay a piece of plastic wrap roughly twice as long as your cutting board over your board, with half laying to one side. Place a chicken breast half, smooth side facing up, in the center of the board and fold the plastic wrap over it. Using the smooth side of the meat pounder, start in the middle of the chicken and pound in an outward direction until it is an even 1/4-inch thickness. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Combine the flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge the pounded chicken in the flour, coating it thoroughly and shaking off the excess.
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken, allowing room between the pieces. Cook 4-5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is deeply golden and cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from pan. (Keep warm by draping loosely, or by placing, covered in foil, in a 200F oven.)
- Add the broth and white wine to the skillet and bring to a boil. Scrape up the bits of brown on the bottom of the pan to incorporate them in the sauce. Boil about 4 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the lemon juice and capers and boil until the sauce reduces enough to lightly coat a spoon, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
- Swirl in the butter. Spoon the sauce over the chicken.
Makes 4 servings
Nutritional analysis per serving: 261 calories, 25 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 611 mg sodium
Welcome back my love.
Amy Nieporent says
Always one of my favorites!!
Delicious! One of my personal all time favorite comfort foods.
Sharing the preparation of the meal is as enjoyable as sharing the meal itself.
Good to hear you’re back in the kitchen..
…and the icing on the *strawberry* cupcake: recipe printed just fine!!
I got a new plug-in– yay! You are my real (printing) litmus test, Sabra. xoxo
Tom Reynolds says
Your reappearance makes me lip smackin’ HAPPY!! Lots O’ Love, Marge!
Aw, shucks, Tom. And thank you.
June Jacobs says
I taught my first class after Mom died on the Saturday after her memorial service. I was assisted in that class by my mentor and dear friend, and my sister attended. It was the best thing I could have done for myself, and I didn’t know that at the time. Only that the over-full class had been scheduled a long time ahead, and I was sure Mom would have come back and slapped me if I’d canceled.
Good for you, Marge! Sending you hugs.
June, how lovely of you to share that. It is truly warming to hear others have been through their versions of this. I know it is never the same from one person to the next, but to know that someone else went in with the trepidation I experienced…and felt that cooking again helped the transition…well, it is good to know I am not alone in that.
I feel the students I had in this class were extraordinary: good, kind people and apt, interested students…and I feel as though every one of them will be imprinted in my mind and heart for inspiring me to make my way back.
Thank you for your words, and for the hugs.
Bruce Tanner says
they say chicken soup is a cure for the soul. I guess this is the next best thing. Marge, thank you for always reaching out to us. Your site means a lot to me.
Bruce, thank you so much for saying that. It took me a long time to be able to write again after the cupcakes…I guess it is taking me a long time to do everything…
And it is friends, readers and students who I must thank– and to whom I am so incredibly grateful– for patience and support.
Welcome back Marge. We’ve missed you and your delicious posts.
Kimberly Winter Stern says
You know, Marge, you are the perfect embodiment of the notion that there are no rulebooks for grieving. None. Zero. Zip. We all swim through the morass of emotion, heartache and sadness, longing to share with loved ones who have passed, confused by the power of the waves of melancholy that sometimes threaten to drown us, but each of us is on our own turf of grief, reaching for different lifesavers. Thank you for being vulnerable, and for reminding us it’s the baby steps that are important along the way in healing. And for food to be your great comforter–in addition, of course, to family and friends–and an unbreakable link to your mother’s spirit is awe-inspiring, truly. You are motivating me toward putting on paper a piece about Richard that has written itself in my head many times during the past 3.5 years…I think it’s about ready to come out of the oven. Peace.
Kimberly– Write that piece when you are ready. If it is brewing inside you, perhaps allowing it to come out will give you some peace, or closure, or lead to some additional understanding of your grief. Maybe it will be cathartic and maybe it won’t, but if you have written it in your head so many times over the years, maybe it it just wants to settle outside somewhere. Sometimes there is no good reason to write other than you must.
Damn it’s good to have you back. And my hat’s off to your fortitude and determination to be back. When people we love die, I think looking to the people who are still here is the only viable way to recover. I’m very glad they’ve been there for you.