Yesterday I promised that we would talk today about Sunday chicken and so we shall. Being married to an absolutely wonderful Afro-Caribbean man, one of the first things I learned in our life together was the importance of Sunday chicken with rice & peas and gravy. After I moved over to London to be with him, we lived for a time with his family until we found our own flat. That was a good thing, because it allowed me to watch my mother-in-law each Sunday make this special dinner. So by the time that we moved into our own place, I had the basics down.
But what happens with the leftover chicken? That didn’t use to be much of a problem when the older children were still living here. What leftovers would be more accurate. But since they have moved out, there are increasingly more leftovers. In fact, we have come to rely upon these leftovers so much that I buy extra chicken on the Sundays where they will be joining us.
This Sunday though it was just me, hubby, and my 17 year old son and three year old daughter. I had bought a smallish chicken (£3.50) on Saturday from the Tonys, our butchers. Since no one was joining us, I thought that roasted chicken might be a nice change from the usual fried…and healthier too. After everyone ate, there was a full breast and a few various odds and ends including the crispy brown skin. What have I been able to accomplish with this measly offering you might wonder?
To begin with I made hubby lunch for yesterday by packing about half of the chicken breast along with leftover rice and gravy into one of his microwavable containers. With the other half of a breast, I finely chopped it and refrigerated it for later. I had thought to make a couple of chicken and cheese Quezada for mine and my daughter’s lunch. I had forgotten though that my son was still out of school on term break. There was no way that two Quezada were going to feed the three of us.
What I want to talk about today then is the lost art form of creative cooking. What is creative cooking you may wonder? Have you ever thought…there is nothing to eat? Did you run out to the corner shop or worse yet fast food? How much did you spend? Creative cooking is an old-fashioned and completely modern solution to that problem.
What I did yesterday was throw open the fridge door and see what else was inside. I had a medium size container of pasta with cream and cheese sauce that had been a side dish on Saturday night. Alright I thought, add the chicken. Of course that would have been a bit bland as well as incomplete nutritionally…no vegs. So I then opened the cabinet door to discover a can of sweet corn. Now we have something. In the end, I added a touch more cheese and crème freche (sour cream for Americans) and some mixed spices. I microwaved the pasta for three minutes, then added the corn, chicken, and other ingredients and stirred it up. I popped it back in the microwave for two more minutes…and served.
So let’s see how that worked out:
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Cost: 37 pence for the can of corn since everything else would have ended up in the bin anyway.
Taste: Honestly not a gourmet meal, but a perfectly serviceable lunch for three people.
Nutrition: Has all of the major food groups in a single bowl, but if you are watching your weight then go easy on the cheese and sour cream or substitute something else like perhaps olive oil or salad dressing.
But the point is not about the recipe itself, it is about the mindset of creative cooking. Actually I said it was an old-fashioned idea, so let me tell you how I came to think this way. Growing up I had an odd childhood. I was raised by my great-grandmother, who was sixty when I was born; because my single mother worked. The area where I grew up had once been what was called a ‘mill village’ meaning that the textile plant had built homes for its workers around the factory and then sold them to the employees. This meant that most of the houses in the area were owned by people my nanny’s age. In fact, when many of you were playing with children your own age in nursery or playgroup, my best friends were older women, most in the sixties or even seventies; Aunt Mildred, Miss Guynell and Mrs McCall were my playmates…and my first teachers.
I first learned about this whole idea one night when Miss Ethel and my nanny were reminiscing about the Great Depression. I sat fascinated on the kitchen floor playing with my doll as they talked about the winter when they had scrambled eggs and onions for dinner almost every night. You see things were very hard then and they were actually among the lucky ones. They owned a couple of chickens that they kept in coups out back and had a small garden plot. Of course during the winter not much will grow even in the relatively mild climate of South Carolina. But they did manage to have a bumper crop of onions, along with a modest amount of potatoes. So almost every evening they would fry the onions and scramble the eggs. Add a slice of bread or a homemade biscuit and that was dinner for them and their families.
Perhaps it sounds harsh and most of us would cringe at the same meal each night, but if you had sat on that kitchen floor and heard those women talk you might have a very different feeling. You see to them it was about surviving and taking care of those you loved through the hardest of time; and forty years later you could still hear the pride in their voices at what they had accomplished. It is that spirit that makes me sit each morning typing away at the laptop when I could be doing other things. That spirit is what we need in this hour and at this time. Sometimes I feel as if I am the Olympic torch barrier for them…those strong men and women that were our grandparents and great-grandparents. Their voices are calling to us…we made it through and so will you.
So next time you think there is nothing to eat, my challenge to you is to get a bit creative; scour our fridge and cabinets. Create something that will make them and you proud.