Nothing has the potential to make one aware of the changes that take place during the passage of time more than celebrating yet another birthday, as I did this month.
I’m not complaining (given the alternative), and I must say that my personal holiday was delightful this year. It was polite enough not to fall on Passover or Easter, so I was able to enjoy it with good friends, good times, great meals and a delicious chocolate-banana birthday cake. Nevertheless, it celebrated a number large enough to make me cringe when I say it out loud.
However, I’m perfectly capable of not saying it out loud. I can ignore something as arbitrary as a mere number. After all, my magic mirror tells me daily that I haven’t aged a bit (thank you presbyopia, God’s gift to the elderly).
I would have breezed past it, except I made the mistake last week of tackling the guest bedroom closet, the one where old clothes go to enjoy their retirement.
There is nothing like observing the changes in fashion to remind you of the aging process.
Hanging in the back of the closet, I came across a formerly much-loved jacket that belonged to my long-ago East Coast life, when I worked in a cubicle and wore suits, silk blouses, pantyhose and Easy Spirit pumps to work. A handsome black and red hound’s-tooth check that resembles woven ribbons, it had been a favorite from the moment I bought it, and had earned me countless compliments.
It was already outdated when I moved west nearly 20 years ago, but I hadn’t been able to part with it at the time. I harbored hopes that it would come back into style and I could put it back into rotation.
The fabric was as pretty as ever, so on a whim, when I pulled it out of the closet, I slipped the jacket on, wondering if it now qualifies as vintage and could be considered retro chic (kind of like its owner).
Or rather, I attempted to slip it on.
In that mysterious process that clothes undergo when you ignore them for too long, it had shrunk two sizes. On the other hand, as if to make up for that, the shoulders had expanded. (Can someone please explain to me why we dressed like linebackers in the 1980s?)
In addition, in the intervening years, what had once been classy and slim had somehow become boxy and shapeless. And years of hanging neglected must have also caused it to stretch, as it was quite absurdly long, extending to the middle of my thighs. I suddenly flashed back to the miniskirt I used to wear with it, which would have barely peeked out below the jacket’s hem. I know I had killer legs then (if I do say so myself), but really, what was I thinking?
I had the same reaction to the collection of belts I found hanging next to it. I could barely remember a time when styles called for big, wide belts to tightly cinch the waist. Clearly it was before the onset of the obesity epidemic. I didn’t bother to try any of them on. I could tell they had all shrunk by many inches as well.
I was tempted to dismiss this evidence of the march of time, because fashions change quickly, and denial has always been my go-to reaction. But then it happened again — with food.
I bought a nice, fat chicken to roast last week for a special dinner. I put it in the oven and the house soon filled with its delightful aroma. But once it was done, and I put a succulent thigh on my plate and took a bite, I discovered something amazing.
I don’t like roast chicken anymore. Not at all.
It tasted like the equivalent of that jacket —something that I used to love and had clung to for decades that no longer held any appeal. It felt retro, but not in a good way.
This time, I couldn’t chalk it up to the foibles of fashion. Roast chicken is a classic, and judging by the popularity of rotisserie birds at the supermarket, it hasn’t gone away.
It isn’t chicken that has changed over the years, it’s me.
You’d think I would have learned something from the many years of misplaced love I devoted to the jacket. But you’d be wrong.
I’ve merely stowed the recipe in the back of my head, in the hope that my palate will change again and I can add it back into my repertoire.
I may be getting older, but that doesn’t mean I have to get any wiser.
I had a lot of chicken left over that I couldn’t face eating, so I scouted out recipes on the web and hunted in my refrigerator for ways to disguise it. I found cheese and a head of Romanesco, added some cooked rice and turned it into a casserole.
Please take this recipe as a mere baseline suggestion, and add your own twists to it. It is a bit bland and could benefit from some zipping up. Feel free to substitute broccoli or cauliflower (or a mixture of the two) in place of the Romanesco. Next time (if there is one), I’d also add sautéed onions, herbs like basil or oregano, and possibly peas and/or red pepper.
However, please do not use canned mushroom or cheese soup in place of the cheese sauce. One of the advantages of aging is recognizing how far we’ve come from those 1950s-era convenience foods.
2-3 cups cooked rice*
1 small head Romanesco or cauliflower, or 2-3 large broccoli heads, cut into bite-size florets and steamed*
1-2 cups cooked chicken, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 Tbsp. butter, plus additional to grease the dish
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. Sriracha (or to taste)
1-1/2 cups grated cheese, divided (preferably include sharp cheddar in the mix)
Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 2-3 quart casserole dish and set aside.
Mix together the cooked rice, cauliflower and chicken and set aside.
(*If you don’t have pre-cooked rice and cauliflower on hand, bring 2 cups water or stock to a boil. Add a half teaspoon of salt and 1 cup dry rice. Bring back to a boil, then cover the pot tightly and turn down to a very low simmer. After about 8 minutes, open the pot and quickly add in the cauliflower, then cover it again and return it to a simmer. The rice and vegetables should both be done in about 10 minutes more.)
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it just softens (don’t brown it or let it burn). Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Heat the milk for about 1 minute in the microwave to warm it, then add it to the butter mixture, stirring until it is fully incorporated. Stir in the stock and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Stir in 1 cup of the grated cheese. Once it is melted, add in the mustard, Sriracha and salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the cheese mixture with the rice, cauliflower and chicken. Transfer to the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese on top, and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cheese on top is melted and starting to brown.
Let sit for about 5 minutes after removing it from the oven, then serve.