Choose Your Adventure | Another Chicken Salad

Pinecone award for grandmother story of weight bearing strength.
Photo by MA Weprin
The morning glories and the sunflowers turn naturally toward the light, but we have to be taught it seems. Richard Rohr

My granddaughter Pepper said, “Guys. Can you help me catch the lighting bugs? Can you hear them? Gal?” And no I cannot actually hear them, but no doubt they are playing our song because they are literally filled with light and she and I are together there in the dark wrapped in appreciation.

I’m decreeing to Pepper, age 3, a pictograph treasure of a mental tuning fork, just like the two prong tool which once set into vibration gives birth to a pure musical tone. It could come in handy with more than just music appreciation.

These days I am beginning to glean use of a mental tuning fork with the spoken word. Consider the nature of that beast. So many mindless words strung out in a day’s time, so few that have the power to uplift and create.

This summer I found myself on the inside of two blithesome gatherings. They were definitely not run of the mill sit-abouts but more celebratory in mood. Imagine how many shiny and light-filled things are possible to share in such settings.

How about details on that trip you took or the most interesting thing said at a meeting? An update on your life, your children, your work – perhaps new ideas to float? How about use of your spare time, your love of a creative venue, new things you’ve learned or interpretations for the journey?

It’s almost like our brains freeze and topic-possibilities falter. Where’d it all that child-like wonder that prompted the curious nature go ?

One day I checked in with my grandfather. He was living alone in a sparse apartment whose only enhancement was the library across the street. I found him with eyes closed, finger tips splayed together with buddha-like grace. Startled at the deathly quiet I asked if he was ok. With a beatific physiognomy, he replied, “So many beautiful things to think about.”

And so there are, dear Grandaddy.

Taking a backseat in those recent powwows, I noticed amid the hustle, someone would take the floor as telecaster to make sure the sad word was known: an untimely death, a familial tragedy, a traumatic unfolding of runaway proportions.

Is this prompted by our closely held story that we were born into sin or the political dualism that dwells inside us like an alien monster which can erupt in fear? Or maybe we lost touch with what was noted to us by Jesus when he said “YOU are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)

We long to go with the light. I know I do. And usually I know it as soon as the damage slithers out my pie hole. All intelligence is lost.

Elizabeth Kennedy Blackstone and Greenway camper Jack Beck
Photo by Juli Beck

Someone comes to mind when it comes to choice in such a matter. I have known her casually since childhood. From a distance she was a wiry, energetic, brown-eyed young one, curated in photographic detail by her newspaper family. As an adult with grown children, she has spearheaded a side endeavor as Director of Camp Greenway, an astonishing four day playdate for children.

The affair with nature is held in the deep, creek-framed green of her family farm. Rolling fields, horses, and pretend abounds, a puppy-laden departure from structure and concrete. While attending the camp’s slip and slide finale this year, my daughter Quinn and I were greeted by said head honcho, Elizabeth Kennedy Blackstone.

With matter of factness, she ushered us onto the front porch and said, “You can come inside as we prepare the camp birthday cake or you can wait here for the children as they are about to arrive back from the creek. Pick your adventure.”

Could that be all there is? Pick your adventure story? Just a minute here: can we wake up to the story we are telling others? Or more importantly, wake up to the story we are telling ourselves?

This is not a morality tale of positivity; this is a book we are all writing and Elizabeth directed me to a role of good fortune. I’m in.

“So now Pepper, let’s catch some more lightening bugs and then let them fly. Shall we?”

Another Chicken Salad

This really isn’t just another chicken salad recipe, just a better one. In this context it is the first other one I ever embraced after making Tupperware fulls of my Great Aunt Freda’s delicious mixture. It’s under the category of a new and improved thing that I’ve learned by picking a new adventure.

It also comes with the five minutes of fame when I assisted Martha Stewart during a demonstration at The Everyday Gourmet in Jackson, Mississippi. She was touring her 1982 release Quick Cook which I have lavishly counted on ever since.

This is absolutely my favorite chicken salad recipe. Thank you, Martha.

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 whole chicken breasts or 1 breast and 2 thighs OR 3 cups of leftover chicken
salt and pepper to taste juice of 1 lemon
1/2 pound snow peas (sometimes i’ve used green beans)
1 cup sliced canned water chestnuts
zest of one orange and one lime (DO NOT skip)

2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Zest and juice of 2 lemon
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoon chili oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Szechuan pepper flakes
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking dish.

Put the chicken in the baking dish, skin side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lemon juice. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. The meat should be moist.

Blanch the snow peas in a large pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds (or 5 minutes for green beans). Drain and cool them in ice water. Drain again and set aside.

Cool the chicken, remove the skin and bones, and shred the meat.

Arrange the chicken in a serving bowl with the snow peas (or green beans) and water chestnuts.

Combine all ingredients for the dressing and pour it over the salad. Toss well, taste for seasoning, and garnish with zest and serve.