|Chicken a la New Jersey (with balsamic vinegar and chicken broth)|
The wife's name was Debbie. I'm not sure she actually liked me all that much in the beginning but she had us over for dinner, scheduled play dates for our toddlers, invited me to Hadassah functions and tried to reassure me that suburban life was really not so bad. Since she was working and living in New Jersey, but had once worked and lived in New York, I wanted to believe her, but I didn't, not really. I was still running into New York for grad school and therapy. The house we bought came with toile wallpaper, wall-to-wall mint green carpeting and brass chandeliers. Our street was dark and winding. I used to sit in my driveway and think, "What the hell have I done?" When I told one of my professors that we had moved to New Jersey, she said, "I'm sorry."
I kept waiting for friendships to hatch. They didn't. One of our neighbors brought over a plant, invited us for brunch and sold me some maternity clothes. Another neighbor brought over another plant and invited me to a UJA event. That was it. There were no more invitations except to random kids' birthday parties.
So imagine my glee when a month after moving in, Debbie invited me to her 35th birthday party. And it wasn't just a party, it was a cooking class birthday party! The class was held in a cooking studio in another town, and the food was excellent. The one other thing I remember about that party was that my husband's old girlfriend from college was there too. (How nice.)
Fourteen years later, Debbie is one of the people I love most in the world. We've had Seders and breakfasts together, gone to each other's kids' bar mitzvahs, walked our dogs, and talked about books. Every summer, we pile our husbands into our cars and go biking in Vermont. Debbie pedals faster than I do but sometimes, she takes pity on me, slows down and agrees to describe the plot of the book she is reading. (Last summer, she told me all about Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin, and she described it so well, I felt no need to read the book or see the movie.) When she lost her Dad, she said, "Come sit shiva with me." When I lost my Dad, she came and sat with me.
A few weeks ago, another friend and I took Debbie out for her birthday at Sweet Basil's Cafe. Debbie said that I was like her sister, and our other friend was like her mother. (I took that as a compliment.) Her older son is going to college next year and her younger son has a steady girlfriend. They're not babies anymore and neither are we.
The recipe below is from Debbie's long ago birthday party. I made this dish last night. It works for large dinner parties, small family dinners and also just for you, alone in your kitchen, picking out the pieces that are sitting on the bottom, licking your fingers and loving it. The recipe is one of my favorites because it has just six ingredients and you probably don't have to shop for any of them. Not even fresh herbs---all you need is that old jar of oregano that's been sitting in your pantry. But the best thing about this dish is it's awesome, it only takes half an hour and it's even better the next day. I've never met one person who doesn't love it. The main ingredients are cheap--- balsamic vinegar, canned chicken broth, one onion and chicken parts. We bought a 4.29 pound, $2.89/pound package of chicken from Kings. That $12.40 package of chicken made at least two dinners. If I was a really good friend, I'd bring the leftovers to Debbie.
This dish is sort of like living in New Jersey---ordinary ingredients add up to something special and get better over time. Thanks for saving me, Deb.
Chicken à la New Jersey
1 small chicken, 3-4 pounds, cut up into 1/8's (Use frozen chicken, and cut into pieces when it's just beginning to defrost---it's easier to cut this way.)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 medium onion, cut into slices
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
salt and pepper
Cut up chicken into small pieces. Sprinkle salt and pepper on chicken parts. Heat up oil in large saute pan (I use two pans.) Don't crowd chicken. Brown chicken on both sides for several minutes. When chicken is browned, remove from pan and add onions. Cook onions until they are tender but not browned. Remove onions to another plate, and pour oil out of pans. Leave the small pan in the sink. You only need the large pan now. Put pan back on stove and deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat slightly and add chicken broth. Add back the onions and oregano and then the chicken. Turn chicken over several times until is nicely coated. Reduce heat to simmer, cover pan and let simmer for ten minutes or so.