Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chicken Gypsy - Final Memoir Draft

Chicken Gypsy - McKenna Kring

“Dadikins,”  I admonish.  I lick my thumb to wipe away a stray mark of my father’s super secret flour mix from his brow.  I’m roughly a Sophomore in Highschool, and I still refer to my father as Daddy.  It’s what fits.  It’s the first time we’ve seen each other in 4 months, and he’s teaching me how to make the standard chicken dish that pinpricks that moment of “I’m home”.  Between the simmering of poultry parts in red wine sauce and the salsa-ing to old records, we’ve already had a conversation on my change in bra-size, advice on clothes to better suit my self-proclaimed thunder-thighs, and how I want Kelly Hu’s boots from The Scorpion King while he just wants her legs. These three body parts were few of many never-sore subjects between us, even with the constant flow of them on our plates. 
On this particular night, I’m learning Chicken Normandy.  For the squeamish, breast, thighs, and legs will do, but we want organs for this special occasion.  For the first time, we’re in my father’s third apartment in Sleepy Hollow, New York, and we have five days before I have to return to my permanent residence in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  We need to be able to digest as much lost information together as possible over chicken gizzards and hearts. After he shows me how to use the rest of the red wine to transfer the contents of cast iron into clay cookery, the top goes on the gourmet-topf and the oven door is closed.  A timer is set, and I fumble a different record onto the turntable so we can sing, play trumpet and piano, and dance while almost breaking furniture he fashioned out of pieces found in garbage bins.  The timer goes off, and the dish is gently laid on a bed of mashed potatoes.  Plates are carried upstairs and set on t.v. trays from my childhood of married parents.  Now it’s episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer until we descend into more personal conversations around 2 am over ice cubes wrapped in paper towel for dessert.
Four more days, a silent car ride to the airport punctuated by the occasional sigh, an unaccompanied minor pass to travel on the plane, and a bumpy landing in DTW.   The break is over, and I’m back in Michigan.  Mom calls me down from homework to set the table.  It’s 7:30.  I still have at least three more hours ahead of me, but family dinner time is a requirement.  I go down and set the three placemats on the one bar that loiters over the “Man Cave” which makes downstairs, setting two on the back bar for the serving dishes.  I turn on the television to the HD Channel version of 4.  My fingers punch 2 3 2, and my stepfather’s fingers make a similar pounding on the light switch above the bar.  The switch I always forget.  I carry the remote and place it to the left of Joe’s placemat, as far away from everyone else as possible.  That’s where he likes the control.  I go back up to help Mom carry food down, because she hasn’t had her two hip replacements yet.  It’s close to the end of the school year, so Michigan corn and tomatoes are making the first of many appearances on our plates accompanied with hunks of meat: a full steak for Joe, and one split in half between my mother and I.  I hit the top step, and Mom’s using tongs to transfer the corn that I shucked earlier from the boiling pot to a presentation plate.  There’s one cob for me, two for her, and five for Joe.  There’s also a pint of ice cream in the freezer for his dessert, and an iced mug of beer next to his placemat.  I learned the right angle a while ago to get the least amount of foam in the glass.  Mom has a scotch and a water.  I have milk.  We all come down, spoon up, and eat, America’s Got Talent shooting a red, white, and blue theme song of stars to cover our static noise.
Dad intimately knows three dishes: Chicken Normandy, Chicken Marsala, and Chicken Tikki.  In his carefully budgeted house, it’s almost always chicken.  At my Mom and Joe’s house, the meat is always red and medium-rare.  Definitely not chicken, and if so, only dark meat.  Before I ever went to visit my father in New York, in whatever city he happened to be in at the time, my mother back in Michigan would ask me, "What would you like for your last dinner before you go?" and I'd always reply "anything but chicken!" before we burst into a fit of giggles.
In my most recent visit in December of 2011, I learned Chicken Marsala in his ex-girlfriend’s house.  My Dad had just moved to Nyack from Suffern, and I had yet to see his place, because we were staying at hers.  Here I was in someone else’s house, someone new, but then there was chicken (as always), and I knew it was all right.  Chicken means home.  Flour, salt, pepper, oregano, mushrooms, butter, olive oil, and Marsala and Sherry, were lined up and introduced to me as a concoction that would test if a relationship was worthy or not.  I was then handed a meat pounder, and told to have a go.  At the time, I was a new college student, and we both knew that meant that our 4 month intervals were going to become longer.  Much longer.  That chicken became very flat very quickly.
Here’s the potion: first you heat the pan.  The way to tell if the pan is hot enough is if the "water dances".  If when you flick water accusingly at the pot and it beads and runs around, then it's ready.  You caress the flattened chicken in the mix of flour, oregano, and seasonings, mixed together in a bowl (Dad’s super secret flour mix is preferable), and get your hands as involved as you would making a sand castle.  Then you carefully plop them into the pan that already has butter and olive oil in it.  Then you let them become golden like marshmallows, adding the mushrooms (optional) in on the flip, then rinse it all into a larger pot, or keep it in the same pot, using Marsala and Sherry (both can be either the alcoholic or cooking type, depending on who's going grocery shopping).  Then, also like Chicken Normandy, put a top on it, and let time, magic, and the oven do its work.  Then put over a starch, grab a green, and enjoy.
A month later I return to college, and sit on an unsanitary tiled floor whacking a piece of chicken on paper towel with the back of a frying pan.  My friend-to-be-Mike’s table is too rickety and he doesn’t have a meat pounder or a cutting board. "More pounding!" and "FLIP IT FLIP IT NOW" accentuate the evening and end up on a plate of rice Mike purchased to remember his time in Japan.  Needless to say he passed the friendship test, and even through graduation he’s another pinprick of home. 
In both the dishes I learned, there’s patience, collecting all stray morsels, and a willingness to put a cover over and let time do its work.  The flavors need to bubble and boil before being laid down on something gentle, the same way Daddy did while singing and rocking me out of nightmares, or when our 2 AM talks found me in his arms.  It’s been ten months since I’ve been there. Ten months of hurried phone calls, emailed exchanges, and too high plane fares.  He’s told me of his new garden, and how he loves to use his fresh herbs.  This is why he found his new favorite dish, Chicken Tiki.  “I can’t wait to teach it to you.” “Dadikins,” I admonish, neither of us being able to explain the ache between our own complicated culture of father daughter, and me struggling with the fact I can’t learn it from him in person any time soon.  Some days it feels like I’m surrounded by anything but chicken.

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