When we were children, our parents were invincible – they were demigods among mere mortals. Daddy knew exactly how to kiss my owie to make the pain go away, and Mommy’s rice porridge always cured any cold. After a long day at school, I would sit at the kitchen table while Mommy worked in the kitchen and listened to me vent – I would rattle on and on about how Rachel didn’t share her markers, or how Kevin kept yanking my ponytail. Sometimes, I would cry after not getting a gold-star sticker on my spelling worksheet or wail after loosing a soccer match – but mommy and daddy soothed it away, and told me to try harder next time. Once, I brought my soccer ball inside the house and accidentally tossed it into a glass vase that shattered into a million fragments – but even after being scolded, mommy told me to not do it next time. But now that I’m an adult, I behold my parents and wonder… mommy, daddy – do you have a next time?
All our lives, our parents have been giving us second chances. Heck, third, fourth, and even fifth chances. They worked so hard to make sure that we’d have a fair chance of proving and improving ourselves. And when we fell and needed encouragement, they were there to wipe the tears and bandage the skinned knees, and tell us to try again. But never did it occur to me, that no such safety net existed for them. I was oblivious to their bad days, because they had worked so hard to make mine good. What did I know of credit card bills or the stresses of a mortgage? What were office politics and power games and unemployment? It’s not until now that I notice the fears written on their wrinkles, and the worries furrowed on their brow. On their cheeks, the age spots are stained with tears, and their voices quiver with misgivings. Who is there to give them another chance?
Apricot Chicken Tagine
Source: adapted from Epicurious
This tagine recipe is inspired by my baby sister’s visit to Marrakesh this summer. My deviant is simple to make, but still hearty and delicious. The marinated chicken meat is first braised for color and to seal in moisture, then slowly simmered in a fragrant stew. A quick broil helps to brown and crisp the skin. It’s perfect over a mound of couscous, and leftovers make a great lunch the next day.
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
4 chicken thighs or whole legs with skin, patted dry [boneless cooks faster, but use what you have]
1 tbs butter + 3 tbs olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 springs fresh cilantro
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 c cauliflower, chopped to bite-sized pieces
1/2 c chicken stock
1 1/2 c water
2 tbs mild honey
2 cinnamon sticks
a handful of dried Turkish apricots
In a large bowl, combine ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, garlic, pepper, salt, and olive oil. Add chicken and rub well with spices, making sure to coat both the skin and flesh underneath. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate for >30 minutes in the fridge.
In a large skillet that will hold all chicken, heat butter and olive oil until hot but not smoking. On medium heat, brown chicken pieces, skin side down for 5-10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and transfer chicken pieces to plate. Add any remaining spices and juices and marinade into empty skillet. Add onion and garlic, and cook until soft. Add cilantro, parsley and chopped cauliflower to skillet. Return chicken to skillet, skin side up, and add about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, but not enough to cover meat. We want the skin clearly above liquid level so it has a chance to brown and crisp at the end. Allow the stew to simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the internal temp of the chicken is ~160*F (to finish cooking in oven). This method of cooking ensures a juicy, tender, and very flavorful meat. Similarly, the caramelized cauliflower should be soft, flaky, and also very flavorful. Carefully monitor the liquid level, and add half-cups of stock or water as needed to keep the pan from burning.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring honey, water, cinnamon sticks and apricots to a boil and allow to simmer until apricots are tender and the liquid is a glaze. Add more water as necessary to prevent burning. After 15 minutes of simmering, mash the apricots with the back of a fork or spoon, then add apricot mixture (discard cinnamon sticks) to tagine, stirring to incorporate the apricots and glaze into stew. Taste-test the tagine and adjust with salt as needed.
Preheat broiler to 450*F. Place entire skillet into oven and broil the tagine until the chicken skin is crisp and brown, about 6-8 minutes (keep an eye out to prevent burning!). Serve chicken tagine (and lots of the liquid) with couscous and enjoy your very own homemade Moroccan feast.
As I grow older, I become less oblivious to these things that I once took for granted and never questioned. My parents aren’t demigods – just regular folk trying to make a living for themselves. And I struggle with the urge to do more for them. As I’m considering career options and sorting out what I want to do after I graduate in December, these details have really been anchoring my choices, and I am conflicted with how to proceed. Do I want adventure and opportunity, or should I settle for security and stability? The implications of our choices are grave, and surprisingly affect everyone around us. As a kid, when we made a bad decision, we could easily make amends and try again. Now, as an adult, I’m not sure we have that luxury.
Thinking, waiting, longing.