When I was growing up I used to spend weekends at my grandparents’ apartment in Coney Island. They had a round table that fit four people, although the fourth seat was in the corner so only a very dexterous kid could climb in. My grandma would feed us in shifts. First the kids: my two siblings and me (my youngest brother wasn’t born yet), then the adults: Grandpa and my parents. She never set a place for herself. Her time was spent serving, preparing the salads, tasting the soup, seasoning the pots, preheating the oven, setting the brand new microwave, making sure Grandpa took his pills. She would pick at the food, a little from here and there as she worked, tasting a spoonful of the marinade, pulling a piece of roasted chicken.
I’m sure that she had other meals in the repertoire, but along with various soups and salads, kugels and knishes, the two main dishes I remember eating every time I came to Grandma’s house were roasted chicken with apricots and carrots and Grandma’s Famous Meatballs, as we called them, the smell of which assaulted us as soon as we opened the door to her lobby, making our tastebuds spew and our stomachs grumble.
The biggest battle (aside from dealing with us) that we ever saw between our grandparents was the battle over leaving the skin on the chicken.
“For crying out loud, would you just leave the skin on the chicken?” Grandpa would plead as Grandma peeled away the risk of heart disease. Grandpa’s father and his father’s father and his brother had all died of heart attacks.
Grandma was stubborn. “I’m not letting you go anywhere. You’ll eat it how I give it to you.”
We would all cry out, “Grandma, stop being so mean to Grandpa.” She would tell us, “I’m saving his life.”
She was. And she was teaching us, in the truest sense, what love is.
The biggest battle we ever had as kids with Grandma was fending off heaping helpings of seconds and thirds. A healthy kid is a heavy kid and Grandma measured her love in food. She always wondered why we were all so thin. We weren’t.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about “home” lately. What makes a home a home, who makes a home a home and how can a home develop, grow and change. I was thinking about these battles, which defined our family’s dining experiences. Home is more than just food, but I do know that all of my memories associated with home include food. In the grocery store yesterday, I just gravitated toward all the ingredients of what I call home: Grandma’s apricot roasted chicken and carrots, my mother-in-law’s yucca, my mom’s couscous. Before I knew it, I had all the ingredients to build a home. I added my touch with herbs and seasonings. It tasted like, not to be hyperbolic here, the best meal ever…even if I know I’ve made more complex, unique and diverse foods.
- 2 lbs chicken (about 4 drumsticks and 4 thighs) skin on.
- 1 yucca chopped rougly
- 1 cup dried apricots
- 1 orange sliced thinly with skin on
- 1 cup water
- 1 lb bag of baby carrots
- 1 cup Israeli couscous
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 handful cilantro (leaving extra for garnish)
- 4 springs of thyme (leaving extra for garnish)
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 475F. Combine all ingredients in a very large mixing bowl to create a marinade. If you’re going to leave the marinade overnight, don’t include the couscous. If you’re going to cook right away, feel free to wet the couscous as well. It’s okay to add the carrots and yucca later if you don’t want to include them in the marinade.
Transfer all of the ingredients to a large oven safe pan. Try to set all of the ingredients up in a single layer, spread evenly throughout the pan.
Place in 475F oven for 45 minutes. Afterward, remove from oven and garnish with more cilantro and thyme. Serve hot.