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Today’s resolution: Southern comfort — chicken & dumplings

17 Sep

Sometimes I almost cry thinking of all the delicious food we had growing up. We had garden-fresh tomatoes, pole beans, pintos, crowder and purple hull peas, okra, squash, turnips, kale, sweet potatoes, red-skinned potatoes, white potatoes, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, watermelon and more.

Grandpa raised cattle so we always had the quality of meat people pay premium prices for today. Grandmother bought fresh eggs and chicken from a farmer down the road. They picked poke sallet, muscadines and persimmons growing wild.

True comfort food

For Sunday dinner, we had one or two kinds of meat, vegetables and other side dishes. One of my favorite “side dishes” was chicken and dumplings  (a meal in itself). I rarely make dumplings anymore, for a variety of reasons, but yesterday’s cool temperatures inspired me.

Since I can’t share the actual chicken and dumplings with you, I thought I’d share how to make them. I took photos as I went along to illustrate the process. The photos aren’t great, but I hope they get the message across. (By the way, I have all kinds of respect for folks who make their living styling and photographing food. It’s an art.)

The two most important things about this dish are the broth and the dumplings. You can use any kind of broth. I’ve made dumplings to add to homemade potato soup, for example. While I’ve never done it, I know you could cook them in vegetable broth.

This is the version I made last night. The chicken broth is, ahem, souped up with three kinds of canned soup. The combination creates a rich-tasting, savory broth for the tender dumplings.

Chicken broth

Ingredients:  2 large skinless, bone-in chicken breasts (or whatever chicken parts you prefer), at least 2 quarts of water, approx. 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour, 1 egg, 1/3 cup Crisco, 1 can each of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken, Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Celery soups, salt and pepper to taste.

Use only the best canned soup

Add water to large pot or dutch oven, add chicken and boil until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove chicken and let cool. Keep heat under pot of broth on medium.

While the chicken is cooling, dip out 1 cup of the hot chicken broth and pour into a large mixing bowl. This is the liquid for your dumplings.

Loretta Lynn is right: Crisco makes the lightest dumplings.

Add 1/3 cup of Crisco. While it’s melting in the hot liquid, open and add the cans of soup to the broth left in the pot. Stir until smooth; lower heat and let simmer while you make the dumplings.

Don't overwork the dough.

Stir 1 egg into the broth and shortening in the mixing bowl. Then, using a fork, stir in 2 1/4 cups of flour until the mixture is soft and sticky. Don’t overmix or overwork the dough because your dumplings will be tough.

Back to the pot of broth — increase the heat so that it starts boiling.

Spread out wax paper and sprinkle liberally with flour, then dump the dough onto the paper and add more flour as pictured.

Ready to roll

Roll out until 1/4- to 1/8-inch thin.

Flour your rolling pin, then roll the dough until it’s between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thin. If you make your dumplings any thicker, they’ll be tough. Not good.

Cut into squares.

Cut rolled dough into squares, then drop the squares one by one into the boiling broth. Stir gently with a wooden spoon. Your dumplings should not stick together.

They should look like this while cooking. See how they float to the top?

Cut or tear the chicken into small chunks. Add the meat to the dumplings. Lower heat and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

A word about salt: The soup and the self-rising flour both contain salt so you need to taste your broth as you season to make sure it doesn’t become too salty.

After the dumplings have simmered for 30 minutes, remove the pan from the heat; cover the pan and let sit for another 30 minutes. This is what makes the dumplings tender.

Dish dumplings into bowls and enjoy.

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Today’s resolution: Swimming in memories

17 Jul

Cool water, clear all the way to the bottom, that was Lake Ouachita, one of our favorite places to swim when Sam was growing up.

During our first trips, Sam waded into the water hesitantly, stopping when the water lapped above her ankles. She wore a little life jacket for safety and peace of mind, hers and ours.

Together, we gradually ventured into waters where her feet didn’t touch bottom. One day, we made it all the way to the wood-plank raft floating about midway from the shore to the buoys that marked the swimming area. The water there was over our heads.

After paddling in such deep water, we were pretty darn proud when we reached the raft and pulled ourselves up to flop on our backs and catch our breath. I don’t know that I ever told her it was an accomplishment for me as well as her.

When she was about 4, she got this little boat. She felt confident enough by then to float in it without the life jacket (her father and I were always within reach).

Captain Sam (circa 1981)

As an adult, Sam has far surpassed me in swimming ability. I’m still a nervous, weak swimmer scared of putting my head underwater. She, however, volunteered for a job that required her to be surrounded by water. Deep, deep water. The deepest. She traded her little boat in for much bigger ones.

Sam joined the Navy and served for eight years. Naturally, sailors must be able to swim.

During boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center on Lake Michigan, Sam had to leap from a 10-foot tower into bone-chillingly cold water — during the middle of winter — fully clothed, then stay afloat long enough to be rescued.

She had to swim 50 yards in those icy waters, make flotation devices with her shirt and trousers, and float face down for 5 minutes before flipping over on her back.

I’m sure Navy boot camp made our swims at Lake Ouachita look like no big deal. But at the time, they were. Maybe overcoming some of her fear of the water back then made jumping off that tower at boot camp a little easier. I like to think so.

Sometimes Sam let me float the boat. (circa 1981)

Today’s resolution: Rock a baby

9 Jul

Fulfillment of this resolution made possible by little Sylvia (daughter of friends Liz & Brent). Notice that Sylvia isn’t crying. That’s because I didn’t sing to her. Lucky baby.

Rock-a-bye baby Sylvia

Me with rocker Sylvia Frances Stroud, born June 14

Today’s resolution: Loving support

17 Jun

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.  — Kahlil Gibran

Pond at Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Ill. (2011 photo/RO)

 

Today’s resolution: Memories of Riverfest

28 May

Riverfest, for me, is best remembered. The festival today has gotten so large that attending is an excruciating, high-anxiety experience.

But there was a time when I loved to go.

During Riverfest’s earliest days, it was held at Murray Park near the lock and dam. It was easy to drive in, park roadside, spend a few hours enjoying the activities, then get out. There were face-painting and activity booths for the kids, a few local musical acts (Greasy Greens, anyone?), food booths (funnel cakes!), jugglers, gymnasts, belly dancers, clowns, local celebrities, politicians working the “crowd.”

My ex-husband and I would take my stepdaughter, Samantha, to this pleasant little festival. She always had a great time in the kid’s area. For us, the fun was watching her. Here’s a photo of Sam, age 3 or 4, after a visit to the face-painting booth.

Sam at Riverfest. Can't you tell she's had big fun?

I believe this was the same year that the Riverfest folks offered, as part of the festivities, rides in Amtrak train cars, from the Riverdale area to the park. Of course, we had to ride the train.

That day, we had typical Riverfest weather — it rained the first night like it has more often than not in recent years. On Saturday, the riverside was steamy and thick with mosquitoes. The temperature rose to the 90s, but the overcast sky saved us from total meltdown.

On the train ride back at the end of the day, every seat was filled. The windows were open, the air in the car heavy and hot. All the passengers were stick-to-the-seat sweaty and half asleep.

Sam stood in the aisle, clutching the back of her father’s seat and swaying as the car moved at about 15 mph on the track. About halfway through the ride, she cut loose.

Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long
Oh, de doo-da day

Goin’ to run all night
Goin’ to run all day
Bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the gray

I swear, she had the lyrics down and was singing her heart out. Her sweet piping voice rose above the rumble of the train on the tracks.

When she finished, no on moved or spoke. All at once, everybody began clapping and calling  for an encore so Sam sang another round before we reached the end of the line.

The next year, I recall, Riverfest moved downtown to the grounds of the Old State House and other places along Third Street. Of course, we were there with Sam.

Those were the best days.

Sitting on the steps of Robinson Auditorium during the first year Riverfest was held downtown. Notice the lack of crowding. Good times.

What to know when traveling with your pet

24 May
By MICHELLE HIGGINS, NEW YORK TIMES

SUMMER vacation is no longer just for two-legged travelers. Room service menus for Fido, massages for over-stressed terriers and tabbies, cushy beds for canines: many hotels have been ratcheting up the pet amenities. Best Western has even hired Cesar Millan of National Geographic Channel’s “Dog Whisperer” to be the chain’s pet travel expert.

The problem is getting your pet to the destination. In recent years, transporting pets on commercial flights has grown more complicated — and more expensive. All major carriers have significantly raised the fees they charge for bringing pets onboard, matching, or in some cases, surpassing, the $100 surcharge each way they typically charge for children flying alone. Fees vary depending on whether the pet flies under your seat, or as checked baggage or cargo, which involve extra handling. American, Delta, United and Continental charge $125 each way for pets in the cabin. United charges the most for pets traveling as checked baggage: $250 each way or $500 round trip. READ FULL ARTICLE