The Chicken and Dumplings of Divorce Legacies

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.

Chicken and Dumplins with saurkraut UTO

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.





I’m Audrey, the voice behind Barking Mad, a freelance writer and photographer, and owner of Barking Mad Media, LLC. In another life, my “voice” (they call it “air talent” nowadays) could be heard on Clear Channel and Entercom ( KISW, KJR, KHMX, WCOL, WNCI, and several other large-market commercial radio stations) radio stations around the country. I'm married to my lifelong British pen-pal, and have 4 beautiful children. I hope you’ll join me as I embark on a poignant personal journey to lose 225lbs and in the process, gain my life back. I also write about surviving the loss of my 2-year-old son, Joshua, coping with the subsequent depression, and morbid obesity.

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  1. LIfe is all those things…and chicken and dumplings remind me of my mom. She made epic ones.

  2. I actually don’t know if I have ever tried Chicken and Dumplings!

  3. I have never in my life paired dumplings with sauerkraut. Never. LOL Mine usually go with carrots, chicken, mashed potatoes.

  4. I have not had chicken and dumplings in an age! Now I want some. Something to add into the meal plans.

    • Jennifer,

      Do you make your chicken and dumplings any particular way? They’re so good when it’s cold out.

  5. I love chicken and dumplings and like sauerkraut, but have never ever eaten (or thought to) them together. :) I will have to try it, though.

    • Donna,

      Yayyyyy! Someone who likes sauerkraut! *lol* If you do try it, let me know if you end up like it paired with the chicken and dumplings.

  6. Okay, you had me at the chicken and dumplings but lost me at saurkraut. I can’t even spell it, it grosses me out so much. PS this is my first time at your site, I LOVE it so much! Love the color scheme, it’s similar to my bedroom. RELAXING :)

    • Jennifer,

      sauerkraut is definitely not for everyone and for some, it’s an acquired taste. I don’t think I cared for it a lot as a kid – I preferred that purple sweet and sour cabbage over it. And now? Now I can’t stand that purple stuff. I gag just thinking about it! It’s funny how that works out.

      Thanks so much for the compliments on the blog. It took me TWO YEARS to find someone who could take what I wanted – something that reminded me of “home” which is Maine (we’re temporarily in upstate NY) and bring a little of that comfort to me. It’s still a work in progress as I’m only just recently migrated from Typepad to WordPress, but I really like how things turned out.

  7. I love Chicken and Dumplings but have never tried them with sauerkraut – I will have to give it a try next time. I usually just eat it on it own, or with some steamed veggies. I think its a wonderful thing that you can look back on a hard time in your life and still find something good and positive about it :)

    • Jessie,

      If you give it a try with the kraut, please please come back and tell me if you liked it or not.

      As far as looking back and finding the positive? I hate to admit that it’s taken me a long time to grow up and be mature and realize there were very positive aspects I hung onto that comfort me, to this day.

  8. I never had chicken and dumplings but have had dumplings in other dishes. Also my husband is a big sauerkraut fan as he is PA dutch (German). Sounds good would diffidently give this a try. I totally agree on the marriage thing. I had a horrible/disaster first marriage and it’s funny how sometimes something will remind me of that past.

    • Digna,

      I’d like to try dumplings in other dishes – and that’s saying a lot for me, because I have the culinary palette of a two year old! *lol*

      You’re right about how random things might trigger memories from past marriages . . . sometimes good, sometimes bad. However with my Chicken and Dumplings, once the smell of the simmering broth hits me, and then the kraut, I’m right back there – sitting at my MIL’s kitchen table, laughing at something she said.

  9. I don’t know, I don’t think I could do the sauerkraut. I haven’t made chicken and dumplings in a long time, gosh maybe years. It wasn’t something my mom made so it’s not a recipe I ‘picked up’ from being her kid. I need to try a recipe though!

    • Madi,

      Look around, or ask around for a favorite recipe, and just play with it and see what works best for you. By all means, avoid the sauerkraut if you want to (or give a try! You never know, you might like it with the dumplings) and make it your own. Such nice comfort food during the really cold winter months!

  10. Isn’t it interesting how we create and adopt traditions? I loved reading about your chicken and dumplings tradition – I’ve never heard of it with sauerkraut, but I would try it. The photo is making me drool because it looks so good – I love the idea of a more “Biscuit-y” dumpling!

    • Beeb,

      I don’t even think I realized until very recently that some of the traditions I have, originated from my first marriage, and I’m OK with that. I’ve made them my own and woven them into the fabric of my life as it is now.

      I think I like the more biscuity dumpling because traditional dumplings tend to just feel like glumps of dough in my mouth. *lol* I don’t know how else to word that.

      And yeah, try the sauerkraut once, you might not like it, but then you very well might! 😉

  11. I love chicken & dumplings, although I have never served them with sauerkraut. Interesting flavor combination.

    • Anne,

      It is pretty interesting, but after I got to thinking about it and remembering past trips to Europe, I guess it’s actually not that unusual to pair kraut with things like dumplings. My in-laws are not German and hail from an area of the south where they’re referred to as “Oakies” so that makes the fact that Nancy pairs things like that, even more interesting to me.

      I have a friend who uses Nancy’s recipe as well, but she serves it with that purple sweet and sour cabbage, and THAT, to ME is no bueno! Yuck!

  12. My mom makes the most amazing chicken & dumplings – I try but it’s not exactly hers.

    I am glad you still make a recipe that is your exMILs – you shouldn’t have to give up EVERYTHING when you divorce.

    • Sara,

      Granted, these are the quick way to make dumplings (I’ve tried to make the dumplings where you roll out the dough and then fold it over just so, and well . . . it ended badly. They were like gross goo-balls.) they end up so fluffy and yummy!

      And yeah, most people I know who had nasty divorces would never admit to liking something their former MIL made, let along continue to make it 18 years later. Kinda sad.

  13. Ok, this doesn’t sound the least bit good…but I may have to give it a try for you talk it up so well!

    • Tara,

      I KNOW! Everyone says that. And when Nancy first made it for me, I was like, “Really? REALLY?” And it ended up being really good. Of course, I could always just have really weird taste buds, but it does actually balance out.

  14. I love Chicken & Dumplings but I’ve never tried it with sauerkraut.

    • Jenny,

      I know a lot of people don’t like sauerkraut, so it’s understandable how they wouldn’t think to pair them together, but it’s actually pretty good.

      Of course, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like chicken and dumplings!