"Compromise" is so often used in a bad sense that it is difficult to remember that properly it merely describes the process of reaching an agreement." Theodore Roosevelt
Sunday is cooking class day and a few days beforehand we decide what we are going to cook. Last week I was out of ideas so asked for some from the family. "Rice-based" said my son, My daughter-in-law replied "Zoe said she's out if it's a rice dish. She suggested Greek". So already we have a slight difference of opinion - rice, no rice. So I offered to find something Greek that could be served with rice, or else a rice salad. Then came the next dictum - "Abby says she doesn't mind rice, but doesn't want chewy meat". Ok - thought I, chicken again, or perhaps, just perhaps, pork, as long as it is braised or slow-cooked. I don't think the rest would go for vegetarian or fish - definitely not fish. My other son would throw a hissy fit I think.
This is a while ago now, but I think I then thought of orzo - that rice shaped pasta. I knew the Greeks cooked with it. So I started looking online for chicken and orzo and very quickly came up with the perfect solution - well I thought so anyway. It was a recipe from Nigella that she calls Chicken in a pot with lemon and orzo. So very simple. You just brown off your chicken, put it in a pot with garlic, lemon, leeks and carrots, pour over water and cook in the oven. Add the orzo later, and herbs, and things. Never mind - look up the recipe online for the detail. She even says in the long notes before the essay in her book Cook Eat Repeat that you can use rice instead of orzo. I felt so smug, because I thought it was the perfect compromise and catered to all the participants tastes. I foresaw the only problems being the price of leeks - but I guess one could always substitute onions - and finding orzo/risoni. However, a quick check confirmed that you could indeed get it in your local supermarkets, where moreover it was on a special.
So I sent the recipe out and then the problems began. "I don't have a pot with a lid". "Never mind you can use foil" said I. Then it appears that not only does he have no lid he also doesn't have a deep pot - which is required. He has a very small kitchen, is a single dad with the boys there as well just under half of the week, so is generally just cooking for himself. But you have to almost cover the chicken with water, so you do need a deepish pot. Only today did I think that he must have a deep pan to cook pasta in. But anyway never mind, I thought, because also in her notes Nigella describes how to make it for one (which could be adapted) with chicken pieces rather than a whole chicken. No deep pot required for that. Phew.
By now I was feeling rather proud of my ability to improvise my way out of difficulties. But then came the final blow. Because it needed to cook for 1 1/4 hours, and because there are small children involved, my daughter-in-law agreed we would have to start at 3.30. Then came this message - "We were thinking 5pm start as have something on at 4?". Not possible even if we worked with chicken pieces. They wouldn't be eating before 7.00 which is a bit late for the 6 year old. So back to the drawing board. No compromise to be made with this one.
What to do. Yes there were other chicken and orzo possibilities, with chicken pieces, but I had rather fallen in love with the original Nigella. I mean it came with a ton of comments from people who had tried it like the following:
"like chicken noodle soup but as a stew, and I think that describes it perfectly.
This was absolutely fantastic!!! Don't change it, just make it. My pan was a little small or my chicken was a little large. It doesn't matter. It works!! Taste is phenomenal."
"Wow! Just wow!"
"This couldn't have been better. The chicken was so tender, and the orzo and vegetables sang with lemon, chili, and herbs. The fact that you just let it do its thing in the oven makes it even better. A true one pot wonder!"
Besides, by now I had agreed with them all that we would do it the following week by hook or by crook and if necessary with a whole heap of compromises, but not on time. The chicken had to fall from the bone.
I had also now bought my chicken and with determination to overcome my horror at the price of leeks, I had bought my leek. It was supposed to be two but I just couldn't bring myself to pay for that, and anyway I use as much of a leek as I can, not just the white bit at the bottom, so I reasoned that 'my' one leek would be equivalent to Nigella's two. So my chicken went into the freezer and I just hope the leek will last the week. I think it will. If not I shall have to use it and buy another one. It's only money after all.
Then I thought of a dish I had noted in Simon Hopkinson's Roast chicken and other stories, that I had recently purchased and through which I was currently reading in my relaxation moments. It was called Poulet sauté au vinaigre and was based on a recipe by Michel Guérard - he of Cuisine Minceur fame. Alas I cannot find a picture of what it is supposed to look like, although the recipe is online at N1 Kitchen, so you'll have to make do with my finished version and a much posher one from Paul Bocuse, who also seems to sometimes be given the honour of invention. There is no need to tell you which is which.
So that's what we did, and here are a few pictures of the children having fun making it. The boys' mother had come round to join them for the dinner (she almost always does) and she obviously helped out a bit. Neither of the grandchildren families had any pictures of the finished product - they just got stuck in without thinking about it. But they all seem to have liked it very much - as well as Nigel Slater's Baked pear with maple syrup and orange that we also made. But how can you go wrong with that? Mind you, even though I had said you will need a vanilla pod and my son had told me he had one, he didn't when it came to it. That's not such a big problem though - vanilla extract will do. Compromising and improvising to the last.
As you can see from the above there is a huge difference in the availability of kitchen space and equipment and so adjustments inevitably have to be made, but that's life isn't it?
And compromise is a good thing. Lots of people say that you should never compromise, but this is so untrue. If we didn't have compromise there would be constant war. And yes it did cause me a fair bit of stress after hearing that 3.30 was not possible, even, dare I say a minor bit of annoyance. I spent a lot of the night worrying about what to do which is very silly. But that's what the night does isn't it? Makes tiny problems seem like mountainous ones.
You really cannot please everyone all the time, particularly when it comes to food, and that can drive every mum mad sometimes. Perhaps we do give in to fussy eaters sometimes. We can't all be firm and determined all the time. And is that a good thing anyway? I shall never forget my poor mother once losing her cool over something my sister would not eat and making her sit at the table until she ate it - which turned out to be the whole afternoon. I doubt that anyone really won that one.
And look, everyone had fun, everyone loved the final product and next week we shall be cooking Nigella's lovely recipe. It will be at mum's house this time and she has more pots and pans.
"The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters." Dwight D. Eisenhower