Chopped onions, empty sock drawers, and my dad

It’s been years since my dad came to see us here in Chicago. Years.

We don’t really know why so much time passed. But this year he made up for lost time by staying for five weeks.

I was of course filled with the usual trepidation anyone might feel with an impending five-week-staying parent, way back before Thanksgiving. I struggled to get the house clean and tidy, in some semblance of order so he wouldn’t think I was the chaotic slob that I am, the disorganized mom who can barely keep clean socks in drawers. (Wait–who can’t keep clean socks in drawers.)

Can you trick someone for five weeks? Is it possible to maintain an impossible fiction in your own home for five weeks?

I don’t guess it is.

But he has managed not to comment, not to judge, seemingly not to mind at all. And we’ve actually had a great time.

I forgot what a good cook he is. I forgot how organized, and how quick to clean as he goes. I forgot he slices, dices, and juliennes fries. And I had forgotten some of the wonderful dishes I grew up with, that my mom, the best cook any of us knew, made regularly. But he reminded me.

Like yesterday–he persuaded me to make chicken curry. Or the week before–hamburger stroganoff. These were iconic dishes from my childhood whose colors and sizzling sounds and smells never leave me, no matter how many years since I had them.

Hamburger stroganoff was a dish I used to make before I got married. I had even given the recipe to new brides who had expressed some worry about not knowing how to cook, and had actually heard a new husband say, beaming with pride as he spoke of his new wife, what great stroganoff she made. (I beamed too.)

I stopped making it somewhere along the line because it calls for sour cream and I have a lactose-intolerant eater in the house. Hamburger stroganoff, my dad’s favorite dish when I was growing up, got consigned to the recipe scrap heap.

I had to trot it out in honor of his visit, though, and it went over so well at the table my kids wondered why I didn’t make this more often. Or ever. I think I can add it back into the rotation now.

We had some leftover chicken yesterday and I was going to do my mole with it. But my dad, he said, curry would be good, you know, your mother made such good curry.

I inwardly rolled my eyes, thinking, yes but I can’t use apples like she did (an apple-intolerant eater in the house). And I don’t even have her recipe. But I forged ahead, looking to the old Betty Crocker cookbook I have which I thought could produce a recipe similar to her 1960s chicken curry. Voila, I found one in about ten seconds.

My kids ate seconds, thirds, wondering aloud, why don’t we eat this more often, mommy?

All of his inspiring, chopping, and cleaning has been a huge help these five weeks. He’s taught me a lot and reminded me a lot as I’ve cooked almost every night since he’s been here, striving to make healthy homemade things which fit his own particular dietary requirements. He’s just about to leave now.

I learned one more thing from him tonight.

Today my daughter was sick and I took her to the doctor. The dog had a blood draw and shots at the vet. I had a line a million miles long to wait in to mail Christmas boxes. I chopped ice sheets from the floor and walls inside our mudroom so that no one can sue me for falling on the property. My thumb is in a splint and hurting every time I jam it against something, which is, oh, about every ten minutes.

By dinner time tonight I was just done. Done. I was too tired even to sit up. I am a little bitter that humans–for reasons I don’t understand–do not hibernate in the dead of winter. That beautiful steaming pot of chicken soup on the stove, the fresh biscuits hot from the oven, that warm winter dinner I envisioned–I just couldn’t pull it together to make it. Not even having a competent onion chopper right by my side made it seem feasible. I just wanted to crawl into bed and pray that I too wasn’t getting sick. I stood in the kitchen and pulled frozen peas out of the freezer and got a chill. I dragged my big pot to the front burner and remembered I had no chicken broth.

My dad said, honey, you don’t have to do this.

Honey, let’s order something.

Now, I know I can go ordering dinner whenever I want. We don’t, very often, but the world we live in allows for this option. While my dad is here though, gosh darn, I am not going to be one of those moms who orders dinner, especially since the only thing I can do as a mom is, well, usually make dinner.

But he knows. He knows the type of household I have, the type of mom I am, the type of dinners I cook. And he’s my dad. And I guess I don’t really have to maintain any more fictions with him. And so we ordered dinner tonight. Thai, from our favorite neighborhood place. This made everyone happy.

Almost everyone. I think my dad might have liked chicken soup and biscuits a little better. But he’s nice enough to come up with a good idea, buy us dinner, and keep his opinions to himself.

I’m going to miss him.

Hamburger Stroganoff
I have updated this a little by lowering the fat from the original recipe. I can make it at all now because I found a source of lactose-free sour cream–Green Valley Organic available from Whole Foods. It’s also nice to add finely sliced fresh mushrooms if you happen to have them. I’d saute them with the onions.

1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb. ground beef (I use ground turkey)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T flour
1 t salt
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup
3/4 c sour cream
1 T sherry

Saute the onion in  1 T butter or margarine. Add ground beef or turkey and cook through. Remove fat from pan. Sprinkle in flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic, and stir. After a few more minutes, add the soup, stir it up and cook for awhile. Add 3/4 c sour cream and 1 T sherry. If it is too stiff, certainly add about a half soup can of water and heat through. Serve over rice or noodles.

Chicken Curry a la 1960s
Last night I used raisins instead of the chopped apples my mom always used. One could use both, I suppose, if one felt like throwing caution to the wind. This recipe is adapted from the 1969 Betty Crocker cookbook.

1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
1 stock celery, chopped–I didn’t have any of this so I used….
1 small red potato, unpeeled and cut in wee cubes (not exactly exchangeable, I know, but that’s what I did)
1 apple, chopped (I left out)
1/4 c butter or margarine
1/4 c flour
1/2 t salt
1 to 2 t curry powder
1/2 t mustard seeds
1/2 t oregano
2 c chicken broth
2 c leftover chicken, chopped
a handful of golden raisins

Melt butter in a large skillet and stir in onion, pepper, celery, and apple or potato if using. Cook till onion is tender but you don’t want the apple and the potato getting all sloopy, so don’t saute all this too long. Blend in flour, salt, and spices, stirring till mixture is hot and bubbly. Remove from heat and gradually stir in broth. Heat to boiling and do not stop stirring. Add the raisins and continue boiling for a few minutes, maybe 5 or 10, stirring now and again. Add chicken last, heat through. Serve with rice. Garnish with peanuts and/or chutney.

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