I grew up in a very large family. On my mom’s side, there were thirteen cousins; on my dad’s, there were 9 of us, and we all lived within about 20 minutes of each other. My sister and I grew up in a two-family house, with my grandparents upstairs, an aunt and uncle and three cousins right across the street, and on the very next street over lived another aunt and uncle, two cousins, and my Nana. It was just about idyllic. As a kid, I got a lot of comfort out of the idea that I was surrounded by so many loving family members. Aside from my sister, my cousins were my first playmates. We spent summers together either at a pool club that we all belonged to (back in the days when pool clubs were not exclusive country clubs), or later, one of my aunts’ beach houses, where we were constant guests. Holidays were huge productions, with visits to multiple houses, which was so easy for my parents, because everyone was literally so close. Sunday dinners were every weekend at my Grandmother’s house, and were attended by most of the family.
Now, of course, all of these cousins, like me, are grown, and have families of their own. Some travel to in-laws for holidays, some, like my own sister, live far away, and it is not possible to get together as often as we would like. There was a time when I mourned this fact. This type of large family celebration was all I had ever known; anything else would be less, in my mind. Now, holidays are often my own immediate family, my mother and my mother in law, rather than the large, boisterous celebrations of past. I have come to appreciate the intimacy of these dinners, and furthermore, I have come to appreciate the freedom they give us. Now, when we are really lucky, we may have family friends for a Sunday dinner.
Growing up, my parents were very fortunate to have made some friends who were as close as family. The Abbrusezes, the Hoods, and our dear friends George and Ellen were all friends with whom we visited very often. We went on vacation with these families, and after my father died, these were all people who continued to make us part of the fabric of their own families. These were the people who demonstrated what real friendship was; being there when you were needed, sharing your life, your time, and your emotions with eachother. These were the people who showed me that it is possible to create your own extended family. George and Ellen were stand ins for my mother (who was on a previously scheduled trip to Italy) at my college orientation, came to all of our graduations, birthdays, of course our wedding, and all the major events of our own children’s lives as well. George’s sense of humor was irreverent and infectious, and a visit with the couple was more the most fun we could have. Growing up, they meant more to me than I could ever explain. We travelled to Ireland for the first time as teenagers with George and Ellen, and though we lost George several years ago to cancer, we returned to Ireland just two years ago on my daughters’ first trip there, with Ellen. She remains one of my mother’s dearest friends, occasional travel companion, and an honored guest at our house for Sunday dinner, when we are really lucky!
4 chicken thighs, skin removed (if you like the skin, keep it on!)
1 whole chicken breast, split, cut in half and skin removed (ditto)
½ cup flour, for dredging
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cans garbanzo beans
1 dime-sized piece of crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 ½ tsp paprika, divided
½ tsp salt
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp. black pepper
4 whole cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
1 lemon, washed well, and sliced thinly
Clean the chicken and pat dry. Dredge the chicken in the flour, and sprinkle with 1 tsp. paprika and the salt. In a large dutch oven, place the olive oil, and brown chicken on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan, and sauté the onions lightly. Add the celery and carrots, and sauté another minute or two. Place the chicken on top of the bed of vegetables. Add tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic, garbanzo beans and olives evenly on top of the chicken. Mix all the remaining spices into the chicken broth, and pour over chicken and vegetables. Place sliced lemons on top of the entire mixture, and cook at 325 degrees for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, or until the chicken is falling off the bone. Serve with cooked couscous. Invite your family or friends over, and enjoy!