When the weather turns cold, I always start to miss my mom–or her cooking, to be exact. Hit with a pang of homesickness, I called my parents in Vermont, as I often do in these desperate moments. “Hi sweetie!” my mom squealed when she answered the phone, “I’m just making dinner. What’s up?” I imagined my mother, standing at the wooden butcher-block, terracotta tiles under her bare, worn, country feet. Paring knife in hand, she was probably mincing garlic, listening to A Prairie Home Companion. I asked her what she was making for dinner and she told me:
On a chilly day, there’s almost nothing better than a down-home roast chicken. My mom usually gets hers from a farm stand up the road from our house, or from our neighbor, who butchers his own. She coats the skin in salt, pepper, and what would seem like way too much garlic powder, stuffs it full of parsnips, carrots, fennel, and a whole clove of garlic, then sticks it in the oven at 325 degrees for about two hours, turning it up to 450 for the last ten minutes.
“Low and slow,” she always says, “and then blast it at the end to crisp it up.” I’ve tried to replicate her technique, but it’s never as succulent. Personally, I’ve had more luck with 50 minutes at 425 degrees. The higher heat, though, has the potential to dry out the fowl, so sometimes I slice a lemon in half and stick it inside with the root vegetables. You’ll know it’s ready if the juices run clear when you slice between the drumstick and the breast.
Gemista (Greek Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes)
We went on a family vacation to Greece this past summer, after which my mom bought a Greek cookbook and began experimenting–trying to emulate the feasts we shared by the Aegean Sea.
“My first time making something new I usually consult a recipe,” she’s told me, “But afterwards I adjust it and add my own touches and tweaks.” In doing so, she takes food memories from the outside and translates them to suit our cherrywood dinner table. This also ensures that she never gets bored. Mama Chodorkoff taught me to be fearless when it comes to cooking new things because, really, what’s the worst that could happen?
For this dish she harvested the peppers, tomatoes, shallots, onions, and parsley from our garden. She scooped out the peppers and chopped the rest of the vegetables and herbs, mixing them with the raw tomato pulp, some rice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The rice mixture is stuffed into the hollowed veggies, which she placed in a pyrex baking dish with a skim of water, and then into the oven along with the chicken for an hour and a half.
Hearty Green Garden Salad
After the first frost of the year, hearty greens like kale and swiss chard are always tastier, less bitter, so my mom usually waits to harvest them until then. She massages the kale with olive oil and lemon, chops some garden-fresh carrots, peppers, and cabbage, then adds a healthy topping of Lazy Lady cheese made by Laini, a local cheesemaker and friend whose cheeses are available in NYC, at Saxelby Cheesemongers and many of the vendors to which they distribute.
My mom serves this salad with her signature dressing: equal parts olive oil, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce. Hippie children may also know that salads become exponentially more delicious with a sprinkling of Nutritional Yeast, a staple in many vegan diets because of its protein content and cheesy, nutty taste. Try it on buttered popcorn, too.