Sunday, September 28, 2008


It was a Sunday night, the day before the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and I had nothing to do.

Well, I had a lot to do, but I didn't want to do any of it.
One of the classes I teach is skipping this week because of Rosh Hashanah, so I have another week to read and edit the students' work. The other class I am teaching doesn't start until the second week of October.
The article I'm working on isn't due until next week.
I have a stack of bills to pay and medical claims to submit but who wants to do that on a rainy Sunday night?
We had honey but no apples, but I figured I could pick some up tomorrow.

The house was quiet. My inlaws had been here for the weekend and played Monolopy with my kids but had returned to Philadelphia.
My children's roller hockey and soccer games had been cancelled.
My older son was doing his homework. My younger son, who had performed with his band in two different bars two afternoons in a row, was chilling out in front of "Sponge Bob."
My husband was on the Treadmill.
Our dog was relaxing, as usual.
I could watch Tina Fey channeling Sarah Palin on YouTube, but I already knew I liked Tina Fey better than Sarah Palin.

I'll just write it out loud: I was bored.
I rolled the garbage cans and the bottles and newspapers down to the bottom of the driveway, even though these are my children's jobs and their allowances depend on them doing this Sunday night.
Then, I realized: We had nothing to eat for erev Rosh Hashanah. I could cook!

We were scheduled to go to services Monday night and Tuesday morning. I had told my husband I wanted to go out for dinner Monday night because we were having friends and family for lunch on Tuesday, and I didn't want to prepare and clean up two big meals in a row. He said fine.

I was planning to stick a brisket in the oven Tuesday morning and ask my housekeeper to take it out while we were at Temple. I wasn't worried about that. I have made brisket about 100 times, and any fool can make the recipe I use.

But I was feeling guilty about the going-to-a-restaurant business Monday night. And because it was a rainy Sunday night and I didn't feel like playing Monopoly with anyone, the kitchen called.

I decided to make Philippino chicken---it required soy sauce, cider vinegar and mashed garlic, all of which we happened to have a lot of. But I wanted to make food that would be just as good the following evening, and maybe even Tuesday for lunch, and I knew that it-will-still-be-good food required a thick, moisturizing sauce. Then I found a recipe for paprika chicken 'a la Hungary. The recipe promised it could be prepared two days ahead of time and would taste just as good two days later, as long as you waited until the last minute to add the sour cream. The recipe called for several tablespoons of paprika, which my grandmother used to use liberally. My grandfather was from either Austria, Hungary or Czechoslovakia. (He was born in 1906, and all the borders changed shortly after that, so we always thought he was from Austria, but when he died, we went through his things, and his passport said Hungary.) The recipe also called for chicken broth, a can of crushed tomatoes and a command to render chicken fat.

It's hard to turn down a recipe on a rainy Sunday night that calls for rendered chicken fat.

Let me just say right here that even though I have high cholesterol, I love chicken fat (or "shmaltz" in Yiddish.) Chicken fat reminds me of my late father, who was a difficult guy, but a great fan of my cooking, especially when I cooked the traditional Jewish dishes of his childhood. He was from Boro Park, Brooklyn, and he was pretty tough. He exhorted me not to become "decorative,' i.e. a woman who worked in publishing and then got married (which is exactly what I did). Though he was ambivalent about the time I took off to raise my kids, he was appreciative when I cooked for him and my family---particularly when I made the food he had eaten growing up: Roast chicken, matzoh balls, and brisket. He loved the smell of chicken fat. So do I.

Chicken fat also reminds me of my mother, who wears her Judaism lightly. She went to my brother's bar mitzvah in 1980 and to Temple in 2008 for my grandmother's yartzheit. In between, she married a wonderful Irish Catholic Man who loves brisket with horseradish. But Mom is an excellent cook and she used to make liberal use of chicken fat when she was still married to my father and making matzoh balls. My mother is quite thin and I don't remember her eating anything with fat when I was growing up but she is an accomodating sort and I know that part of the reason she cooked matzoh balls so often was to appease and please my father.

But I digress.

The Hungarian chicken recipe told me to skin the chicken, throw the chicken skins in a frying pan and render the fat in olive oil.

My dog watched me skin the chicken and slice the chicken into pieces. (I lived on a chicken farm in France one summer in high school, and there I learned that everything associated with cooking chicken is disgusting but easy.) Everyone else remained upstairs. I sliced my thumb while skinning the chicken, and for a minute, couldn't tell if it was the chicken's blood on the plate, or mine. (I decided it was the chicken's.) I sauted the chicken skins in olive oil. The recipe instructed me to discard the chicken skins after the fat had oozed out of them. I left them in, then added the onions and the paprika. I salted and peppered the chicken, lifted it into the pan, and added the tomatoes and chicken broth. I left the lid on for a while, then I took it off. After twenty five minutes of simmering, it was done.

I turned off the stove and snacked on some chicken skin. Then we went out for dinner. My younger son ordered pizza, and my husband split duck with my older son and ordered a glass of Scotch. I had a salad and a glass of sauvignon blanc.

When we came home, my husband downloaded Perry Como and Barbra Streisand singing Avinu Malkeinu. I love that music; despite the bad weather, the credit crisis and the lousy week on Wall Street, I was in a very good mood. If it's possible to get high off of chicken fat, I did. Happy New Year.


  1. Well, I like Sarah Palin much better than Tina Fey but i really enjoyed your article.

    You're right though, chicken is always disgusting. I grew up in a Greek kitchen and one of my earliest memories is my uncle who took chicken skin, put it over his hand, put some ketchup under it, then "accidentally" slipped wit the knife. We all thought he had just cut a big gash of skin off, he hadn't, it was the chicken skin and ketchup but for us "little ones" it was traumatic.

    I still hate chicken skin.

  2. Hello,
    I am working for a european tv station and i am looking for people to interview outside of NYC for a documentary about the crisis. Thanks for sending me an email if interested.