Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Fragile (with comfort food: Arroz con Pollo)

Early in quarantine (maybe April, maybe May ... time had already started to flex and stretch) I was talking with a friend of mine about motivation to get out of bed when it felt like groundhog day over and over. She owns a relatively new shop in town, one that sells American handcrafted goods and art, largely women and folks of color. Her shop had shuttered its doors temporarily, due to state executive orders, and she didn't have an online shop; there wasn't time, and she only has a few of everything ... there are all kinds of unique things there (she now DOES have an online presence and it's neat to browse).

I suggested that because I was up and getting ready for work and had my coffee then, anyway, she should text me a photo of her coffee every morning at 8am. No conversation, no zoom presence required, no judgment for missed days or late texts, no getting dressed. Just coffee, which we should share together, in solidarity and silence.

The first day, I texted her my photo just after 8. She came back with hers closer to 8:30, and apologies. I reassured her that this was a no judgment zone. The second day, she texted me hers at 8am sharp. And so it went, her text, my text, day by day. A series of coffee cups. Sometimes these were interspersed by snippets of conversation, but more often, just the coffee, and a reaction. A heart. A hug.

After a month or so, I finally commented on the mugs. As someone who sells gifts and art, and whose mom also had a store that sold gifts and art when she was a child, my friend has a beautiful collection of handmade pottery mugs. I'm a sucker for pottery, in case that wasn't obvious from my years of posting food photos. In fact, I'd been coveting a beautiful large tumbler from her shop windows -- the kind with a drip blue and white glaze pattern over a brown base -- and told myself it was too expensive, that it was too much to spend on myself. Weirdly, I didn't ever really drink from either of my two small handmade mugs. I rarely ate from my handmade bowls, except when company came, and even then, we mostly used them for serving bowls. So my photos of coffee were a series of pictures of a plastic United Way tumbler.

My friend told me that she always drinks from her pottery mugs, because handmade pottery is meant to be used, and because it's a way of celebrating the ordinary, by elevating the ordinary to something special.

I loved this idea. But I still couldn't bring myself to buy the tumbler from her shop window.

One morning, in August, my friend invited me to her back yard for socially distant coffee at 8am. The shop had been open, and things were as back to normal as they can be, at least for now, and she thought it would be fun to catch up before she headed in to work. She was waiting for me, our chairs set up before I'd arrived, and at mine, a gift bag, from her shop. 

It was the tumbler.

A thanks, she said, for getting her up during those first hard days.

I nearly wept.

And so I've been using it ever since, every morning, making my coffee in this beautiful tumbler, appreciating the colors, the shape, the feel, the warmth, the sweet of the honey I add, making the ordinary feel special.

Until on Saturday, my daughter was drinking the dregs of my coffee and milk foam, and knocked the tumbler over on the counter. Which, of course, cracked it.

I was weirdly inconsolable. This tumbler had become something more than a piece of pottery. It was a celebration of the ordinary beautiful things. It was a connection to my friend. It was something normal when everything else felt so shitty, when we had all lost so much. When I was mourning yet another loss, this time, an amazing blogger friend who had died of cancer. And now it was cracked; usable, but not for long.

I thought a lot about the tumbler in the days that followed. About how fragile so much is right now. Our health. Our relationships. Our democracy. Though I guess everything was always this fragile, right? So it's a matter of making the decision to use these fragile things anyway, to use the vessels we have to hold the things that might slip away, to accept the possibility that they might slip away or change. Maybe to appreciate the ordinary beautiful things a little more if we can. It's not a new lesson to many of us who have lost what we love, over and over again. Somehow it doesn't get easier to learn.

(I always have a recipe, so here's a comfort food from my childhood, for moments when you need a full belly and things are slipping away and you need to be grounded. I ate it from a piece of pottery made by another friend, who uses clay he finds locally, with all of the stones and pebbles still visible. You can make a vegetarian version of this by skipping the first part of the process and using vegetable broth instead of the home-made broth, but I do recommend adding Sazón to whatever you're using as your broth base. I don't use Goya any more, if I can avoid it.)

Arroz con Pollo

Original at http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/chicken-and-rice-arroz-con-pollo

Chicken and Stock
2 whole chicken breast, bone in and skin removed
1 scallion
½ white onion
2 garlic cloves
½ tablespoon ground cumin
½ tablespoon Sazón with azafran
1 bay leaf
Salt and Pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped green pepper
1 cup long- grain white rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 chicken bouillon tablet
2 ½ cups chicken stock
½ tablespoon Sazón with azafran

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup frozen diced carrots
½ cup frozen diced green beans

Place the chicken breast, 5 cups water and the remaining ingredients for the stock in a medium pot. 

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the chicken rest in the pot for about 15 minutes covered. Let it cool, shred and set aside. Strain stock and measure 2 ½ cups and set aside.

In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, green peppers, garlic and red bell pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice, tomato paste, chicken bouillon and sazon goya. Stir until the rice is well coated about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the peas, carrots and green beans and cook for and additional 7 minutes, add the shredded chicken and cilantro, mix well with a fork, cover and cook for 5 minutes more.

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