Heirloom Recipes

The Chicken I Make When I Won't Go Home

“I miss the old you,” my mom texts. The words seem to echo from their gray text bubble. I stare, exhaling deeply, before squeezing my phone so hard that its sides feel like they might warp. Tears press against my shut eyes, but I will them away. Angry. I feel angry. No, I am hurt. 

This “old” me has been the source of countless arguments, tense exchanges, and thinly veiled pleasantries between my mom and me the past few weeks. I changed, she says, I've become a new person during my senior year of college. I don’t want to come home anymore, she says, unlike when I was a freshman. She reminds me how I used to beg her and my dad to make the two-hour drive from Buffalo to Syracuse, New York to take me back for the weekend. Now, I value my friends over my family, she says. It was better when I didn’t have any friends at all, she implies. She says I don’t care.

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It’s not that I don’t. I care so much that every text message makes my heart hurt. I replay, “you’ve changed,” “forget it,” and “whatever, I’m over it” again-and-again in my head like a bad time-loop video. I care because my mom is my best friend. She always has been. She’s my confidant, support structure, and cheerleader. She’s my volunteer stablehand at horseback riding shows. She hasn’t missed a single marathon (and that’s a lot of hours standing on the sideline). She’s the one that holds me, rubbing my back and telling me it’ll be okay, after I’ve had my heart broken.

I need to reconnect with my mom—to feel something that isn’t sadness or disappointment. I need to make Chicken Marbella

Left: Spanish green olives, a main ingredient in chicken Marbella. Right: Riddley's mom's secret addition to the dish.

Of all my mom’s signature dishes—she also does a stellar mac and cheese with something like six cheeses—Chicken Marbella has always been her go-to special occasion meal.

As a kid, I went wild over the sauce: slightly tannic from the wine, sweet from the brown sugar, and rich from the chicken’s juices. I felt like an adult, eating something made with alcohol. Of course, the sugar helped. Spoon the sauce over anything, and I would’ve eaten—no, inhaled—it. Which is probably why my mom thought to add kale to the dish, putting her own spin on the Silver Palate Cookbook classic. The kale stewed beneath the chicken, rendering it tender and with a subtle, earthy flavor that complemented the sweet prunes, briney olives, and salty capers.  

Now, at 21, I’ll eat the kale with that same fervor as my 10-year-old self. For my own kitchen, I’ll buy a whole bird, breaking it down and marinating it with an ample amount of olive oil, puréed garlic, and dried oregano. It’ll sit overnight—proving 24 hours does, indeed, feel like a long time. I’ll think about my mom, about how I’ve been an unfair daughter. I’ll feel shame over the number of purposefully missed phone calls, ignored text messages, and months away from home. 

I will put a layer of kale into a baking dish, then the chicken and the rest of the marinade components, and, lastly, a heap of brown sugar and a bit of white wine. Into the oven this will go, for about an hour. Maybe, in that time, I’ll call my mom.

“I miss the old you,” she might say. The me that wasn’t independent. The me that was shy and subservient. There was a lot of good to that girl, but a lot of not-so-good, too. I’ll cry; she’ll hold back tears. She’ll say she misses me and I’ll say I miss her. We will apologize to one another and she’ll plan on coming to visit that week. We’ll go out to dinner—no, I’ll offer to make Chicken Marbella. “I love you,” my mom will say. Because that’s how unconditional love works. You forgive one anothers' faults. You acknowledge that, yes, you have changed, but that’s okay. My mom and my relationship isn’t over, just morphing, expanding, and adapting. “I love you, too, mom,” I say, then the oven’s timer will ring.

Chicken Marbella with Kale 

Serves 4 to 6

2 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered
1/2 head garlic, peeled and finely pureed
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup Spanish green olives (Manzanilla work well)
1/3 cup capers, with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1/2 bunch kale, stemmed and leaves roughly chopped
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
Crusty bread, for serving

See the recipe (and save and print it) here.

What's the dish that always brings you back home? Tell us in the comments below!

Photo of kale by Mark Weinberg; all others by James Ransom

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softenbrownsugar November 3, 2015
Oh Riddley. Perhaps someone should send your Mom this article with all the responses. Sometimes it's much easier to read about things like this than hear about them. My Mom is 89 now and not happy. When I used to go home to visit her in Seattle, and if I wanted to even visit a friend as well, I would be totally guilted into staying home. Even now she lives in an independent facility near my sister in California, and she just wants our whole family to live together again. It's so difficult. Many times I'll bring up a dish we used to have, and she will ask me to make it when I go visit her because she forgets what it tastes like, but she remembers she liked it.
I love the honesty of your article.
richelle November 2, 2015
richelle November 2, 2015
Very well felt & written article, Riddley. I just received an email from my Son (21 years of age), Myles at Parsons the New School for Design in NYC...I am travelling, and he expressed how he misses me, he is thinking about his Father who died, and is feeling alone. This makes me sad & I wish I can just reach out & touch him right now from Paris. I wish I could hold him, and kiss him & just NEVER let him go...BUT I must keep these thoughts as they are to myself so not to add to his feelings. Instead I respond to him with UPLIFTING thoughts, quotes, pictures & my PRAYERS. The bond I feel with my Son is INCREDIBLY strong, and I truly UNDERSTAND how your Mother feels, I can relate, and with that I did see a Faith based Therapist who helped me TREMENDOUSLY during my "separation anxiety!", setting me on a path of RENEWAL & STRENGTH that helped me to take baby steps away from my Myles, who remains FOREVER in my MIND, HEART & PRAYERS no matter where I am in the world! I wish you Riddley the absolute BEST, and your LOVELY Mother as well!!! P.S. The chicken recipe & photo is FABULOUS, I look forward to creating it! www.FacesFashionFood.com
Georgia S. November 2, 2015
Our job as mothers is to raise strong, independent adults. Next time your mother tries guilt tripping you into coming home for a visit, I suggest that you promise to come home just as soon as she has a couple sessions with a family therapist about letting go.

(It looks like the topic and your good writing have gotten more response than the recipe!)
Sue M. November 1, 2015
I've read a lot about empty nesting and your piece captures the pain for both parties so beautifully. You honour each other with your honesty, vulnerability and recipes. Great writing!
richelle November 2, 2015
Lucienne B. November 1, 2015
My favorite go to, comfort dish? Chicken buns! Great way to use up leftover turkey or chicken.

2 cups cubed, cooked poultry
2 8 oz packages of Neufchâtel cheese
1 medium chopped onion
Salt and pepper
4 rolls of crescent roll dough
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Lucienne B. November 1, 2015
Combine the chicken, Neufchâtel cheese, onions, and salt and pepper to taste. It's easiest to just use your hands.

Roll out the crescent roll dough, separate into rectangles. There will be 4 rectangles per roll of dough. Pinch together the diagonal seams.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Divide the chicken & cheese mixture between the 16 rectangles. Pinch all the seams closed. Roll each in the seasoned bread crumbs.

Place buns seam sides down on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes. Buns should be browned.

Warm up a can of cream of chicken soup diluted with milk to use as gravy.

richelle November 2, 2015
Anne T. November 1, 2015
Brought back so many memories of the "old me, new me" wars with my mother.
Thanks for letting me know that other girls turning into women went through the same push/pull dynamic. When I didn't go home, I'd make Marcella's grilled chicken with lemon and coarsely cracked black pepper, savory, spicy, delicious.
Loni W. October 27, 2015
This sounds like a delicious dish. I have never quartered a chicken, but would like to give it a try. Can you recommend a visual tutorial. :-)
Anastacia M. October 27, 2015
As I sit here in Syracuse reading this I can relate. I remember being in your shoes. I can imagine it's hard as parent to watch your children grow up and learn to live their adult lives. To watch them rely less and less on you but it has to happen. She should be proud that she helped you become a wonderfully independent young lady.
Greenstuff October 26, 2015
Your poor mom violated the prime rule of motherhood! We moms miss your every stage. We miss you as babies, as toddlers, as young children, as teenagers, as young adults. It’s our hardest test not to tell you. But even if we slip up, know that we really, really love you just the way you are right now. And like the line at the end of the movie Boyhood, “it’s always right now.”

Good idea to head for the kitchen.
Penni J. November 1, 2015
From one mom to another...well said.
richelle November 2, 2015
Jane K. October 26, 2015
Riddley, I can't wait to make this tonight!
Angela October 26, 2015
I went thru the same phase at 21 and trust me - things will change as you get older - you will still have an amazing relationship with your mom! Sharon's comment is right - it's not fair for your mother to tell you these kinds of things. Go be 21 - have fun, discover the world, yourself - you still have a relationship with your mom - it just changes and morphs over time. Don't feel guilty! =)
Sharon October 26, 2015
I sympathize with the author's mom, but really, it's unfair of a mother to tell her daughter that she misses the "old you" - my personal belief is that a child is not meant to be your best friend (though this seems to be the MO of the current generation of parents with college-age kids...I'm 35 so a bit in between). Children are SUPPOSED to change, and they are not meant to be a steady influence in yourself to rely on emotionally or mentally - that was your job as they morph into adults, and hopefully, if you've done your job well, then they will come to play that role once they've figured out who they are. To begrudge them that inevitable distance is a selfish act.

Parenting struggles aside though, looks like a delicious dish with a great combination of child-like sentimentality and adult-like sophistication. :)
The J. October 26, 2015
Two broken down chickens should serve at least 8 people, right? I wish there were photos of this recipe!
Riddley G. October 26, 2015
I'd say it most definitely could! This entirely depends on how much chicken you'd like to eat!