I am normally pretty even-keel emotionally, not prone to wild fits of irrational optimism. Certainly not when Stephen is out of town and I have been home alone with Abby for two days. So I can’t explain what possessed me to attempt this, but last week I decided to cook a new recipe from my Real Simple magazine for our small group potluck dinner on Tuesday.
I bought most of my ingredients at HEB on Monday. I bought the rest of what I needed at our local Farmers’ Market early Tuesday morning (did I mention I’ve been rereading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?). The recipe was called “Spicy Chicken with Couscous Salad.” The magazine said it would take 20 minutes of prep time. I started an hour ahead of time.
I brought Abby into the kitchen with a billion toys and set to work. My first task was to rub my chicken with a spicy rub and cook them in a skillet. This took a while, because as soon as I would handle a raw chicken, Abby would get into something and I would have to quickly wash my hands and redirect her attention. My anxiety heightened as I began to get the chicken pieces into the skillet, trying to keep an eye on my cooking poultry as well as my into-everything crawler. Abby was tired of playing with all one billion toys, as well as all of my blunt-edged cooking utensils that I had tossed onto the floor for her to play with.
I moved Abby into her booster chair with some Cheerios and a sippy cup of water. This kept her contained and entertained for long enough for me to finish cooking the chicken and prep my vegetables for the couscous salad. When I hit a lull in production, I tried to give Abby my full attention and feed her some carrots. That backfired; she was not interested in carrots. As my punishment for putting those abominable pureed veggies near her mouth, Abby refused to sit in her booster any more.
All I had left to do was assemble the pieces of the couscous salad and slice the chicken on top of it. This seemed like the home stretch, so I placed Abby back on the floor for another round of toy-play. I quickly sliced the chicken into strips and dumped the cups of fluffy couscous into a baking dish. Abby crawled around, crying, discovering every piece of dirt and old food clinging to the baseboards. She pulled up on the sharp-edged drawer of the stove and dumped out my plastic recycling. She got stuck under the kitchen table and bumped her head trying to get out. Hurriedly, I dumped in the sliced pea pods and tomatoes.
Here I began to question my sanity. Up to this point, I had been frazzled but in control. However, my experiment was unraveling. I needed to leave the house in five minutes. Abby was pulling up on my legs, crying and drooling, while I was squeezing juice out of a lemon and grating the zest with my microplane grater.
I heard the sound of a diaper blow-out as I stirred the couscous salad together and artfully arranged the chicken slices on top of it. I washed my hands, scooped up Abby, and changed her into a fresh diaper and outfit.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at Bible study, carrying a clean but still-sniffling Abby in one arm and my dish of Spicy Chicken with Couscous Salad in the other.
“What a sweet baby! What a delicious dinner!” said our friends. If they only knew.