Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In case you ever want to go home again

Some things change a lot, and other things never do. I went home to Vermont for the first time since moving to California in April and was pleased to discover that my mother's kitchen is exactly as I had remembered it. The occasion was my father's 60th birthday, which required lots of great food and a big cake, of course.

My mom is a cook, too, and messing around with food seems to be in our blood. We like planning menus and parties, and we really like cooking good things for people we love. Friday morning found us brainstorming the menu for the next day's festivities-- shrimp on the grill, deviled eggs, fried chicken, corn salad, broccoli and cauliflower salad, biscuits, bean salad with walnut vinaigrette and the cake--a four-layer white cake layered with whipped cream and my mother's homemade raspberry-chocolate jam. It was summer picnic at its finest, cooked in the wretchedly humid East Coast weather.

Fried Chicken truly brings out the best in humankind. It's stinky, greasy and annoying to make, but so wonderful to eat--frying up a big batch is culinary shorthand for "I love you." There's a lot of good information about fried chicken out there (I happily defer to the great John T. Edge, Southern food writer extraordinaire, and his seminal book, Fried Chicken and Apple Pie) and plenty of good recipes. When I'm at the cast iron skillet, I keep it simple: flour seasoned with salt and pepper and cayenne, chicken soaked in buttermilk, vegetable oil for frying. A friend that grew up in Arkansas turned me on to the wonders of double battering, in which you take the chicken out of the buttermilk, dredge it in the flour, back into the buttermilk and one more turn through the flour. This is very good, if you're in the mood for lots of crispy coating.

At any rate, all of the fried chicken was eaten, the guests and the guest of honor relished the meal, and our heroine discovers, happily, that home was just where she left it.

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