Chicken Tetrazini for Talia

The death of a child is something so deeply soul-wrenching I can’t pretend to know about it.My first experience with a child dying was when I was just a child myself.  I’m not sure I even cried.  My neighbor, a new friend a bit older than me, had a younger brother with cancer.  I played at her house a lot and visited with her brother now and then.  I know his death impacted me but I was young and I didn’t know him all that well.  What impacted me more was what their mother said about his funeral.  I will quote it even though I don’t have the exact words because her message was so important to me all my life I feel like I remember the words exactly.  “The casket will be closed because I don’t want you to remember him as sick.  I want you to remember him when he was healthy, riding his bike through the neighborhood with his baseball cap on backwards and a big smile on his face.”  Even as a young child, I remember thinking she was so wise.  In all the agony of her son dying, she was thinking about how we would remember her son in his short life and she wanted us to remember his happiness, not be saddened by his pain.  I'm not sure I could have been so wise.

Firstborn Daughter also had a friend who died of cancer. Her friend was 21 years old and had survived disease for five years when it finally overtook her.  She was funny, smart, beautiful and was attending Stanford University, taking intermittent breaks for chemotherapy treatments when she wasn’t in remission.  Like me, Firstborn Daughter was heartbroken at the news she was gone.  But as a parent, my biggest heartbreak was for her mom and dad.  I couldn't imagine the pain.

And then there was Talia. Talia died in an instant on December 23, 2007.  She was 13. When I thought about Talia’s mother and how she was feeling, I knew food would not appease her pain.  But I wanted to offer her comfort in the only way I knew.  I thought about foods that offered me comfort as a child and I made the food for Talia, putting all the love I had into the chicken tetrazini that I brought to Talia’s mother, the mother who just lost her only child.  I cried while making it, thinking of beautiful Talia and her life cut short, thinking of her mom and the loss so great her heart could never be whole again, not thinking about how I would feel in her situation because that grief was too big to imagine.

I didn’t expect to hear from her. I certainly didn’t expect her to care about the food.  But she did. Somehow, that little shred of comfort was important and she let me know.  She asked for more.  I was so honored, so grateful and so blessed to make it for her again.  I’m sure the grieving mother doesn’t remember much about those months following her daughters death, and I’m certain she doesn’t remember the chicken tetrazini.  But I do.  It was the only thing I had to give to a grieving heart that couldn’t be helped, or healed, or fixed.  Cooking for Talia helped me experience the loss and realize that food is one thing that everyone needs when grieving.  Sharing your love through food can touch someone whose heart is so broken you wonder if it will keep beating. And in some little way it might help them heal.


“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey." - Eli Brown


Chicken Tetrazini for Talia*

3 chicken breasts, bone-in 4 cups chicken broth 8 T butter 1 T olive oil 1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced 1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1-1/2 tsp dried thyme 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/3 cup flour 4 cups whole milk, room temperature 1 cup heavy cream, room temperature 1/8 tsp nutmeg 1-1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp pepper 12 oz linguine 3/4 cup frozen peas 1/4 cup chopped fresh italian parsley 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup Italian style breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the chicken and 4 cups of broth in a pot.  Add water until chicken is submerged.  Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat, cover and leave until completely cooled.  Remove chicken from liquid and shred into a large bowl.  Reserve 1 cup of broth.

Put 1 T of butter and 1 T oil into the pan.  Add mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat about 5-8 minutes until pan is dry and mushrooms are starting to brown.  Add onions and continue to stir over medium high heat another 5-8 minutes until onions are soft.  Add garlic and thyme and sauté 2 minutes.  Add wine and stir until liquid evaporates.  Pour into bowl with chicken and mix well.

Melt 3 T butter in pan over medium low heat and whisk in flour.  Cook for 2 minutes and whisk in milk, cream, remaining 1 cup broth, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Increase heat to high and bring to boil.  Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, whisking frequently.  This takes about 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add linguine and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes.  Drain.  Add the linguine, cream sauce, peas and parsley to the chicken mixture and toss until the sauce coats everything and it is well blended.

Spread 1 T butter into a 13"x9" baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish.  Mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over the pasta.  Dot with remaining 3 T butter and bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.


*This recipe is rewritten from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe.

Bryson's Chicken

It was a high school romance that, like many romances of youth, came and went in the blink of an eye.  Bryson's mom made a delicious and ridiculously-easy barbecued chicken and I managed to snag the recipe before the teens went their separate ways.  For that I give thanks to Bryson and his mom.  Summer days at the beach just wouldn't be the same without Bryson's Chicken.

The secret to Bryson's Chicken.

Oven baked Bryson's Chicken.

Talk not of wasted affection; affection never was wasted. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Bryson's Chicken

12 boneless chicken thighs 2 cups sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy brand is  available in the Asian section of the grocery store)

Separate the chicken into two separate large ziplock bags. Pour 1 cup chile sauce into each bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until ready to BBQ. Using tongs, remove chicken from bags and place directly on medium hot BBQ or grilling pan.  With a pastry brush, generously add more sauce to the top of the chicken.   The sauce will caramelize from the heat so watch carefully to avoid burning.  When the chicken is crispy and brown, move to cooler part of grill to cook through. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the chicken pieces and the heat of the grill but they should cook about 30-40 minutes on medium hot grill.

Note:  When I don't want to get an outside grill going,  I put a rack in a large pan and cook the chicken on the rack in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes. Then I broil for 10 minutes or until the chicken gets nice and brown on top.


Leah's Chicken Salad

One and Only Son broke his leg.The break itself would not have been a major setback for my young, athletic, college student.  But the displaced ligaments presented a long and arduous recovery.  One plate, three screws and two pins later, he is still on crutches.  Yep.  On crutches all three months of his summer at home.

X-Ray of Son's additions to his leg.

The good news is that he had lined up an internship with a growing company, Sonos , and he was very excited to learn about the business.  The great news is that it was a desk job.  The other news, not necessarily bad or good, is that my nearly-twenty-one-year-old boy needed to be driven to and from work and needed to bring a lunch to work every day since he had no way of getting out to get food.  Hubby stepped up for the driving.  I was on lunch duty.

My son is no PB&J kind of guy.  He was looking for high-protein, no gluten, low sugar meals that tasted fantastic.  "No problem," I said as I started rustling through my recipes trying to figure out what I could possibly send him off with that satisfied all his desires and eased the pain of having a swim-free, surf-free, drive-free summer.  Leftovers were the mainstay of his summer lunches.  But his favorite, by a longshot, were the days I made him chicken salad from the recipe I learned from my friend Leah.

 Image 1

I met Leah through the Mexico City Newcomers Club in 1990.  I had moved there with Hubby and Firstborn Daughter and she lived in a nearby neighborhood with her Hubby and her firstborn son.   (Although her accent gave away her American southern roots instantly.)  Leah is full of energy and full of fun and we became fast friends (and still are!).  I accompanied her to aerobics classes that she taught (rare to never), went on field trips to nearby factories and towns (sometimes), and we cooked and ate together (frequently).

When the Newcomers Club decided to do a cookbook to raise money for a Mexican orphanage, Leah and I jumped in to help.  The book was titled "Tote-able Sweets and Savories" and the introduction from our wonderful group of food enthusiasts stated, "It has been said that you can't be a great cook without a sense of humor and a glass of wine.  Unquestionably, a reliable recipe goes a long way too, and so we are proud to present to our members a collection of truly outstanding recipes."

Image 2

Leah's contribution to the cookbook was her family's favorite chicken salad.  I agree it is truly outstanding. One and Only Son concurs.

"Ask not what you can do for your country.  Ask what's for lunch." -Orson Welles


Leah’s Chicken Salad

1 cup mayonnaise 1/4 cup fresh lime juice 1 tsp salt 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg 4 cups cubed cooked chicken (or turkey) 1 4oz can mandarin orange segments, drained 3/4 cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks) 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted* 1 cup seedless green grapes, halved Lettuce leaves for serving

 In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, lime, salt and nutmeg.  Add mayonnaise mixture to chicken a little at a time until completely moist.  I usually use about 3/4 of the mixture.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Chill and serve in scoops on lettuce leaves.

*To toast slivered almonds, spread them in a thin layer in a pan over medium low heat.  Give them a minute to heat up and shake the pan to mix them up.  Keep watching carefully and shaking pan every 30 seconds or so until they are golden brown.  Remove from heat and keep shaking so they don’t burn.  Cool completely.