It’s funny the things you remember and what brings them to mind. This morning I went out to fill the bird feeders and have my coffee. The air was filled with the sensual smell of cherry blossoms breaking open in the quiet morning air. As it enveloped me, I was taken back to my memories of home on Porter Lake in springtime and drinking coffee out on the deck with mom. She loved it out there. Reclining in her lounge chair, with the Boston Globe piled at her feet, she’d drink her coffee. I’d read the comics. Just to the side of the deck were two cherry trees that bloomed bright pink every spring, the smell of which I was reminded this morning. I’m sure I appreciated it more at this moment than I ever did back then. Although, to have it stored in my subconscious all that time must mean it had made an impression on some level. My mom was proud of those trees. My dad had planted them for her a few summers before he passed away. No doubt that was another draw to sitting out on the deck in the early morning dew amid the awakening of the forest creatures.
How the mind can go places, it wasn’t first set to go! I soon sat at my computer determined to make headway on a proposal linked to my compassion consultancy for businesses and organizations. Those darn cherry tree blossoms were distracting. That smell. What was it that was trying to make an impression? As I let my mind relax I realized it was the memory of my mother that was gently prodding me. So it was that my mother inspired not only my proposal but also this week’s column.
As I relaxed in the breath of the morning air, I thought of things about my mother that inspired me. Most often these memories are connected to food. “The first to bring a casserole” people would say after she passed; referring to her offering of a casserole when someone was on hard times or a loved one had passed. Interestingly, we rarely had casseroles at home.
My mother’s show of compassion in a take-and-bake casserole. She would take a variety of ingredients; mix them all together, then pour the concoction into a baking dish. After topping it all with bread crumbs, she’d pop the whole thing in the oven at 350°F. Sometimes she’d mix up a batch of light-as-air baking powder biscuits to go with it before delivering it warm at its destination. She had a knack for knowing when it was supper time.
A casserole is a humble dinner. A fitting combo for my humble mother. In those days we didn’t think in terms of “healthy,” “low-fat,” or “low-carb”. No sir! A casserole meant a robust, hearty dinner, usually involving egg noodles, Campbell’s cream-of-something soup, vegetables and meat or canned tuna fish, and gobs of cheese! Oh, my, yes, don’t forget the cheese. You can see why it was a dish full of compassion. What is more comforting than carbs and cheese!
One of her favorite creations was Chicken Divan.
She found the recipe in the newspaper and a masterpiece was born. I adjusted my version to substitute homemade sauce for Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup.
1 large head of broccoli, cut into small florets
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup Heavy cream
3 Tablespoons cooking sherry (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 package extra wide egg noodles, cooked and drained
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- In a large pot, steam broccoli until just tender. Place steamed broccoli in 9” X 13” baking dish.
- In a large frying pan, sauté chicken in olive oil over medium heat until no longer pink. Place over the broccoli.
- In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in heavy cream, chicken broth, and sherry until smooth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt, pepper and remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken and broccoli.
- Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Mix into the other ingredients. Top with remaining cheese.
- Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.