Monday, October 20, 2014


you are not crying from anger or giving the fuck up. You are not crying from drinking too much red wine. You are not crying from wanting a different child, a different life, a different husband.

You are watching your son race back and forth in the detergent aisle, his sweaty cheeks getting pinker with each sprint, his intensity scaring customers away from their Tide and Bleach Pens, his grace taking your breath away. He rushes up and slams his head into your belly. He doesn't notice your tears.

Dash. What was your one job?

To find the figs.


I forgot! Don't worry, mom! I will find them.

He makes it ten steps before crashing to the ground. Up he pops, waving, smiling, yelling out, I'm okay, mom. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay.

For once you are not crying because the car is making a funny noise. You are not crying because you forgot the school meeting. You are not crying because you need more sex.

It is 5pm. You are hungry. You are spacey. You are mumbling your way through the market, looking for recipe inspiration, half-planning a week of meals, trying to steer yourself back to the practical: to the sandwich bread, the apples, the broccoli, the dental floss. But what you really want to do is get lost in the condiment aisle.

Across the football field of produce, your son is nowhere to be found. You flip flop from the oh he's fine mom to the oh my god he has been kidnapped mom. And just when you are about to franticly yell out his name, you find him seated in the toiletry aisle, staring up at the baby products.

Dude. The figs.

Wait. Mom. Look. Here are some baby wipes.

Baby wipes will never ever be a part of my life again.

You never know, mom.

Yes I do.

Your tone is too serious. You don't even know how to begin explaining how hard it was.

You are not crying for the woman who stands on the sidewalk in her bathrobe, glaring up at the sky as if she has lost her way or her family or her mind, swaying in a wind of her own sadness and sobs.You are not crying for the homeless man who power walks through Berkeley all day every day until his shoes are worn down and his feet are bloody.

Mom, you could find another baby inside of you.

Like a sock. Or your car keys.


Is it a choice?

Yes. It is. 

So, you could choose to have a baby and go to to bed and then wake up with one. Right, mom? Is that how it works?

All of aisle 10 awaits your answer. The teenager looking at the essential oils. The young couple with the baby. The pregnant mama. Their ears wide open. Their breathing on hold.

You pick him up and cradle his 50-plus pounds in your arms.  The screaming bloody blob of a thing that slid out of you seven years ago can now read in French and English, navigate an Xbox, peel a clove of garlic, weigh in on the pros and cons of soda tax.

Today you are crying for what is right. For what works. For this moment. For this boy who took so many years to conceive. For all those miscarriages. For loving him more than you thought possible. For deciding he would be your last one.

You tuck him into the shopping cart, surrounded by chicken, wine, anchovies, pomegranates, grapes, baguette, goat cheese.

You go off to find some figs. Together.

Every Monday in October, I've made chicken with figs and grapes. This makes me sound way more organized than I actually am. But this particular dish has been revelatory for me because, up until a month ago, I had managed to overcook chicken breasts for most of my adult life.

If you're game, here's my new trick: cook it at a very high temperature. Open the oven at minute 15 for a quick little baste. Take it out at minute 25. That's it. No fussing necessary. 

Flavor-wise, this dish is sort of the 
anchovyfied lazy younger sister of Chicken Marbella. (Remember? Silver Palate! 1980s! Right. Some of you weren't born yet.) Many of the same ingredients are included (brown sugar, vinegar, wine, fruit), but it's not nearly as acidic or herbaceous. It's way easier because you don't marinate it overnight. The final dish doesn't produce much sauce but that's because my goal with this recipe is to let chicken be the perfectly cooked star: moist and tender, not dry and bland. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. 

Be warned, some of you might find this chicken undercooked. I take it to about 160°F. I don't want you to do something that makes you nervous. If you feel more comfortable bringing the internal temperature of the chicken up to 165°F or 170°F or even 180°F, I totally get it. Do it! I've just been stepping away from the thermometer (full disclosure: it's broken) and trying to cook in a more intuitive way. I'm also a big fan of cooking something that can extend into many meals without tasting like overcooked leftovers.

Think of this dish as a template of comfort.A pan of possibilities.

See recipe below for lots of meal ideas.

printable recipe

There's quite a trend in large chicken breasts these days. The breasts I used were about 10-12 ounces each. As long as they're not pumped full of hormones or antibiotics, I'm down with the size. So ask around. Try to get organic and free-range chicken. And if at all possible, avoid the pre-packaged pieces. Ideally, have them butchered right before your eyes. If the breasts are smaller than 9 ounces, you should check them for doneness after about 20 minutes instead of 25.

The fruit shrivels up a bit from the high heat and absorbs the chicken fat and sweet balsamic garlic anchovy marinade. As my friend Margi says: you can't go wrong when you mix carnage and fruit. If the fruit isn't as soft and jammy as you like, scoop it into a separate dish, paint it with a bit of goop from the bottom of the pan, and throw it back in the very hot oven for a few minutes while the chicken rests.

If you can't find figs, just use red seedless grapes. Or dried fruit like figs or apricots. Even prunes would be delicious (à la Chicken Marbella). If you use dried fruit, soak it first for an hour or so in warm orange juice, wine, or chicken stock. 

4 large chicken breasts, skin on/bone in
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
a few turns of black pepper 
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 anchovy fillets, packed in oil
1 tablespoon balsamic reduction*
2 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
3 cups figs and/or red seedless grapes (or prunes, apricots, peaches, dried figs or apricots)
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1/3-1/2 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place chicken in a baking dish or cast iron pan (use a pan if you plan to make a sauce). Generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.

With a mortar and pestle, bash the garlic and anchovies until you have a smooth paste (this takes a few minutes, so be patient). Whisk  in balsamic, red wine, olive oil, brown sugar. Pour 3/4 of the marinade over the chicken. Use your hands or a pastry brush to coat every bit of the chicken. Turn skin up in the dish or pan.

If you're using figs, stem and halve them. Pick through your grapes. If you're using apricots or prunes, make sure they're pitted. Place whatever fruit you're using in a bowl. Toss the fruit with the remaining 1/3 of the marinade. Tuck the fruit in, around, and under the chicken. Crush the thyme sprigs in your hands and tuck them in as well. Place chicken into the preheated oven. After about 15 minutes, baste the chicken with a few splashes of chicken stock. If the pan is dry or the drippings are burning, use a bit more stock to loosen things up. I find that after about 22 minutes, the juices start to flow out of the chicken and the fruit. And by minute 25 the skin is a deep dark caramel color. At this point, remove the dish or pan from the oven. You have many options. You can set it on the counter and move on with your day. You can take the internal temperature and make sure it has reached a number you're comfortable with (at least 160°F for me). You can cut into the deepest part of the largest breast and take a peek. If it's still a bit raw, then throw it back in the oven. If it's just the tiniest bit pink and the juices are running clear, you're golden. 

If your oven doesn't deliver the beautiful color, don't fret. Just place it under the broiler until desired color is reached.

You can eat this right out of the pan as is. Or save it to expand into a bunch of future meals. Here are some ideas:

1. SORT OF A FANCY DINNERChicken With Mashed Potatoes. While the chicken is cooking, make some mashed potatoes. Scoop out the cooked chicken and fruit and place on a warm serving plate (leaving any juices behind). Cover with tin foil. Crank the heat under the chicken pan, add a finely diced shallot, and use a spatula to scrape up the goodies. Add 1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Reduce by half. Turn off the heat and taste. Adjust seasoning. Pour sauce over the warm chicken and fruit.  Serve immediately with the mashed potatoes and a garnish of chopped parsley. 

2. WHEN YOU HAVE 30 UNINTERRUPTED MINUTES TO SPARE (HA!) AT THE STOVE: Lemon Risotto with Chicken and Herbs. Take out two of the breasts and carefully cut the meat off the bone and then into cubes (the skin can be a bit invasive in a delicate risotto, so you might want to give it to the dog or your son or throw it right in your mouth). Make a classic risotto recipe. When you're adding your cheese at the end, stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, one more splash of warm chicken stock, and the cubed chicken. Cover for five minutes. Uncover and stir. Serve with additional parmesan. 

3. SIMPLE DINNER: Rice and Chicken Bowl: Toss cubed chicken (with the skin on this time) and cooked fruit into a pot of cooked brown or white rice. Garnish with chopped scallions. 

4. EASIEST DINNER EVERCheese Pizza with Chicken and Figs. Add cubed chicken (no skin) and cooked figs (don't use the grapes for this one) to a frozen cheese pizza. Follow baking instructions. Drizzle with balsamic reduction* and olive oil before serving. 

5. SOLO LUNCHRoasted Fruit and Goat Cheese Tartines. Scoop out the fruit (eat the chicken another time), top it with crumbled goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, broil until hot and nicely browned, press down onto grilled bread rubbed with garlic. 

6. QUICK HEALTHFUL PASTA: Pasta with Chicken, Sage, and Peas. Brown some butter, toss in a few leaves of chopped sage, turn off heat, and stir in cubed chicken (no skin, no fruit) and frozen peas (or massaged kale). Toss with cooked pasta and a splash of pasta water. Serve with olive oil and parmesan cheese. 

7. SANDWICH:  Chicken Breast, Bacon, Arugula, Avocado, and Garlic Confit Sandwich. Cook a few slices bacon to desired crispiness. Grill two slices of gooey sourdough bread. Spread one slice with mayonnaise and the other with garlic confit. Toss a handful of arugula with anchovy garlic vinaigrette. Layer the sandwich with sliced chicken breast (skin on this time), bacon, avocado slices, and dressed arugula. I highly advise eating this with sea salt and vinegar potato potato chips. For extra crunch and excitement, you might even want to tuck a few potato chips into the sandwich.

*I make balsamic reduction by boiling down inexpensive balsamic vinegar (usually, a 17-ounce bottle yields about 3/4 cup. Just store as you would any vinegar).


  1. I love your writing SO much, you've had me teary eyed on multiple occasions. Im only beginning to understand the profundity of a mothers love.

  2. When you write, I feel like you are talking directly to me, telling me about your day any how you truly feel at the very moment of that day when your son asked you that question… LOVE YOUR WRITING! Aahh 7 year old boys… I almost have a 7 year old boy in less than a month and a 10 year old boy… They are wonderful, scary, exhausting, energy filled 24 hours of the day!

  3. I so enjoy reading your posts. I can totally relate to your mix of emotions as a parent. My kids are the same age as yours. I appreciate your sharing your raw emotions because they resonate with me. Plus, love your humor. Love this recipe-- can't wait to try this simpler version of Chicken Marbella.

  4. I was born, though just barely and not yet on this continent or speaking in English. In any case, I do have a copy of the Silver Palate cookbook but have never brought myself to make Chicken Marbella. THIS, however, is right up my alley. And as always, love the writing.

  5. This made my morning. Thank you. The gratitude for my two boys is the most profound feeling I've ever experienced. How did I get so lucky?

  6. Absolutely stunning. Your ability to convey emotions and secret is incredible and inspirational. Please, never stop writing.

  7. I too have a 7 year old who likes the idea of having a baby in the house - a girl in particular! (he's the youngest of 3 boys) :)
    Beautiful collection of thoughts, thanks for sharing.

  8. You are the best. You capture what's real and what matters. Thank you (once again) for saying what I'm feeling. Cheers!

  9. I love this, Phyllis. I picture you guys in the Berkeley Bowl (right, wrong?) and can so relate to everything - the miscarriages, the end of a reproductive era for better or worse (mostly better!), the tears, the sweetness, the boy, and, yes, the Silver Palette's chicken Marbella - one of my favorites and one of the first things I cooked as a young adult.

    1. eve. yes. berkeley bowl! the new one. you been there? epic. xoxo

  10. You are my favorite writer. Ever.

    1. ashlae,
      why the heck didn't i read these comments before? my goodness. you took my breath away.

  11. This looks delicious, and I love all the variations. And I really love your writing.

    1. thank you. i was worried i was adding too many variations. but it seems like people are into them.

  12. Oh girl. What a great post. The recipe is nice too. If you ever want to offer writing to the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series on mothering and the creative life, give me a holler. I am off to share this. With my neighbor. xo Suzi

  13. Of course I remember Chicken Mabella. But never made it because who can remember to marinate it the day before? But how many dinner parties did I attend given by hostesses much more organized than me?
    So thank you for your much better version! I"ll make it tonight, since I've got a nice chicken from the farmer's market. But I buy mine cut up, with no breasts. I'll let you know how it turns out.

  14. you make me cry every bloody time. And then cook. Tears from australia. x

    1. cry and then cook? wow. oh my heart. thanks so much for telling me.

  15. Wow! I came here to find some wonderful recipes, and as well as those I found your words. Your words about the supermarket aisle are truly like poetry. They are beautiful and poignant and sad and wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing, Mari x

    1. Thank you, Marijke. Beautiful, poignant, sad, and wonderful. All music to my ears. xoxo

  16. Looks amazing. Very inspiring. One question though -- have you noticed any issue with the acidity of the dish and the cast iron pan? This is way less acidic than a tomato sauce, but it's got some I'd imagine. If it only leads to a little extra iron in my diet, win win.

    1. So funny you should ask. My mom voiced the same concern to me about a tomato sauce i had made in a cast iron pan. I haven't noticed any problems but perhaps that's because my pans have quite a build up on them. If you're nervous, any large baking dish would work just fine.

  17. dammit phyllis. i fucking love reading your stories. and i'm whirling in my own orbit so much of the time i don't remember to. with some moments to spare this evening - i got stood up by dinner guests and i'm eating ALL the quiche as vengeance - i found myself here. i miss you! thanks as ever for sharing.

    1. i whirl in my own orbit too. but sometimes i look up and see your photos. and they makes me so fucking happy.

  18. Another compelling story! Gorgeous dish too.

  19. just checking in and taking myself out of my own selfish day to say hi and let you know that dish looks gorgeous, and your emotions are beautiful in their own way too.

  20. Wow. You got some serious writing chops there. So evocative.

  21. You capture this feeling incredibly well. Even though I don't have children, I feel like I must know what it feels like.

    I think your decision is a noble one.


  22. Thank you for interesting recipes. I will try soon to face it.

  23. It's beautiful. Thanks for sharing. That Love is boundless.

  24. I just discovered your blog and I love it. Thank you for sharing!

  25. I'm glad I got a chance to visit your blog. I enjoy reading I love the food!

    ~ Get Digital Kitchen Scale! Check this out

  26. please come back for one post this month! even a short update! I miss your blog so I've gone through and reread it a couple of times. your writing is so cozy it's like a hug from my sister.

  27. This absolutely slayed me. Thank you for doing what you do.

  28. I cook a lot and this is the one dish (ok one of two. I love mussels but I'm afraid to make them) that has intimidated me. But now I will definitely make this!

  29. Nice instructions on how to make wonderful dishes. Ow, and now I'm hungry :)

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