It’s funny sometimes, the things that leave a lasting impression on our lives, and the things we carry with us from monumental life events like marriages, births, deaths, and divorces. I didn’t even realize until very recently that there are a couple of things I’ve carried with me from my divorce from “M”, a divorce that occurred more than 18 years ago, that to this day, I won’t change or let go of. It’s not the typical baggage you might think of when one hears about lasting impressions from a marriage that didn’t survive. Of course, I think my marriage to M was destined for divorce before we even took our vows; we were estranged before we were ever married if that makes sense. However, that m’dears, is a topic for another time.
The kinds of things I’ve carried with me from my first marriage are more along the lines of traditions that I adopted from my former mother-in-law that to this day, I still carry out, each and every holiday season, or in this case; my chicken and dumplings (which are really her chicken and dumplings). I know there are some people out there, who, when they divorce, shed every last vestige of their former lives with their estranged spouses. They’d no more prepare a meal the exact same way their former mother-in-law did than they would stick a fork in their eye. For those that have known me since the stone ages and knew what all happened when M and I divorced way back in 1995, I’m sure they’re shocked that there are some things I treasure from that marriage, despite how vitriolic and just plain nasty the subsequent divorce was, and the intervening years between then and now. My relationship with my former in-laws is puzzling to most, myself included. However, I’m grateful for the years I was part of their family and the things I learned that will always be a part of who I am.
I had never eaten Chicken and Dumplings in any form until I met M. Over the years I’ve had several different variations on what is now one of my favorite comfort foods, but nothing compares to the simple yet rich, hearty, and delicious way my former mother-in-law made them, and that includes eating them with sauerkraut. I can’t make them and enjoy them if I don’t have sauerkraut. While this is something, due to the level of fat, calories, and sodium in it, I only eat once a year, it always makes me feel warm inside, and it always brings back memories of time spent around M’s mom’s kitchen table, laughing, talking, and enjoying the good times. Despite my marriage being troubled from day one, I took a certain comfort in that kitchen and in the food that *Nancy made.
I made chicken and dumplings last night, and like I do every single time, I made sauerkraut too. It seems almost sacrilegious (silly, I know) to eat them, without the tangy bite of the kraut.
I am soooo obviously not a food photographer!
Finished with a little dollop of butter on top of the dumpling, it’s perfect.
The dumplings are more biscuit in nature, but when covered in a rich, creamy sauce and chunks of savory roast chicken, they are amazing. When you combine the heartiness of the dumplings with the tart zing of the kraut, it balances everything out. It’s not too much of one or the other. While I can, and do enjoy sauerkraut with numerous other foods (mostly meats), I can’t imagine trying to pair the chicken and dumplings with anything else. I’ve made the mistake of not fixing the kraut when I’ve made the dumplings in the past and it was such a bland meal . . . a let down. It wasn’t what I wanted at all. So now? Now I won’t make them, even if it’s once a year, unless I can have sauerkraut with them. Of course, the rest of my family fails to appreciate my insistence on pairing the two together and always clamors for something they consider more palatable like maybe garlic sauteed green beans and carrots. Nope. Not in my house! They don’t have to eat the sauerkraut, but I do! It’s just not the same if the two aren’t prepared and eaten together.
There are other things that I’ve held onto from my first marriage when it comes to food. I guess, considering all of my issues and my disordered and dysfunctional relationship with food, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise. My mother in law always made a few certain salads and side dishes, as well as these amazing orange cookies, during the holidays. In the 18 years since I left that family, I have not had a holiday without two of the salads, nor has a Christmas ever gone by where I didn’t make those yummy orange cookies. There were a few very scary years where I was desperately trying to keep my head above water financially and pickings were pretty slim around the holidays. There might not have been a turkey, or any ham. There wasn’t dressing or cranberry sauce, but if it was the only thing I ate, I always had those two salads and the cookies.
It’s no secret that I grew up in an incredibly maladjusted family, and were it not for the grace of my Aunt Meta and a few other loving relatives and friends, God only knows what path I would have ended up taking, so it probably comes as no shock that I clung to certain things from my divorce – things of a comforting nature like food, as steadfastly as I have. While that life is a million miles behind me, I treasure the things I’ve brought with me and held onto from my turbulent marriage to M. With the sweet and salty, tart and rich things I’ve carried from that marriage, to the odds and ends garnered from a childhood where I spent a great deal of time with an elderly aunt, I’ve been able to cobble together my own traditions that mean the world to me, and I hope, at some point to my children. I’ve come to realize during this holiday season that not every lasting legacy from a divorce has to be a bad thing.
Life is a lot like Nancy’s chicken and dumplings with sauerkraut . . . Rich, hearty, salty, sour, zesty, filling, excessive, and wonderful. It’s all a balance of sorts. What works for you might seem odd or unusual to someone else. You find things that work and you keep them, others you let go of because they don’t fit. When it’s all said and done you look back and realize that sometimes there are things that rise up out of the ashes of an old life that help rebuild a new life. You can’t (and often time you shouldn’t) always sanitize your life of things from the past. They make you who you are. Slowly, with baby steps, I’m beginning to like the person who I’ve become, chicken and dumplings, sauerkraut and all!
Seriously though, try it. You might like it.
*Nancy is not her real name . . . privacy and all that.