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Quiet Celebrations

Now what's she going on about?

fractal figments

Yattering about whatever comes into my head. Could be knitting, jewelry making, books... But just as likely to be my state of mind, or family history. No one ever said I stayed focused.

Quiet Celebrations

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From the above, you might surmise that my 4th of July was very low-key this year. You'd be right. ;)

Not that there's anything wrong with this; in fact, I quite enjoyed doing absolutely nothing much, not even watching the neighborhood fireworks. Although that was by accident.

I've probably mentioned it before, but the area around my apartments seems to be a major member of the Local Neighborhood Anarchy, Democracy, and Free For All Independence Celebration Initiative. (As I'm going to try to remember to call it from now on. It seems like an appropriate name. Hi, Homeland Security! <g>) Between my place and the K-Mart parking lot about half a mile away or so, I can usually see about six separate groups letting off fireworks; some of them pretty ambitious. It's a very random, but very pretty show, interspersed occasionally with faint booms from the big fireworks across the Columbia at Ft. Vancouver.

I'd planned to mix up some sour apple margaritas - I'd even made some ice! Gasp! - sit out on the balcony for a while, and enjoy. So I went to bed around 5pm, figuring the first blasts would wake me up, y'know? C'mon, wouldn't you figure that waking up when the first M-80 was set off about two blocks from you was a foregone conclusion?

Uh, no. Either I was really zonked, or things didn't get too noisy around here, because I woke up in the peaceful dark at 1:30am. I have a feeling things may have gotten rained out a little. Or I was, indeed, really out of it and simply slept through everything. Darn! Oh well, there's always New Year's Eve. And next year. <g>

Both the 4th itself and this whole weekend have been extremely quiet, in fact. Friday and Saturday were overcast, with some rain at night, and both days only reached a high of about 72. In a startling turn from the usual Oregonian behavior, this resulted in no grilling outside, no noisy parties, and what was most surprising, no one taking advantage of the swimming pool. No one at all, on the 4th. There were a few kids Saturday, but nowhere near the usual number. And even though today is bright, sunny and a little warmer, there's a brisk little breeze blowing, and it's only been in the last few minutes that I've heard any splashing going on. This is almost unheard of! A temperature of 72 is quite warm enough for Oregonians to go swimming, believe me; and usually we take advantage of that sort of thing. My only explanation of this strange behavior is that everyone was out elsewhere all day to celebrate.

Either that or my attitude towards swimming is infectious, and everyone in the entire complex caught it for the day. Somehow, I don't think that explanation is the feasible one.

For whatever reason, it was practically dead around here. Which didn't bother me a bit. I lollygagged around reading and enjoying the blissful quietness. Did some cooking for future while it was cool. And today, continued in my quest for the Perfect Chicken Salad Sandwich.

The latter has been something I've been thinking about since my mid-20's, but I hadn't done anything about it until last month. Yeah, that procrastination thing again. <g> Well, I hate wasting food, and if I'd totally screwed it up...you guys know I'm a picky eater. Very. If I couldn't eat the results, it would've gone in the trash.

Plus, for some strange reason, chicken salad was not a dish made on either side of my family. Tuna salad, yeah; practically lived on that when I was a kid. Especially since we were Catholic, and you know that Friday thing. (They didn't change that until I was in my teens.) So every Friday there was tuna in some form, and Dad ritually bitched - he hated fish, which is probably why I'm not too fond of it myself - it was definitely tuna sandwiches for lunch, and of chicken salad, there was nary a clue. Except that there were recipes in some of Mom's cookbooks, and occasionally I'd see a mention of it in a book, or an old movie scene; usually when rich folks were having some sort of occasion with finger sandwiches or hors d'oeuvre.

Not something that happened in our family.

So I didn't have my first taste of a chicken salad sandwich until I was 25 or so. That was when I was working for the S&L, and occasionally had to set up  and do the take down for important meetings in the boardroom. The company had a caterer for occasions like that, and although the woman never cracked a smile (she was a rather terrifying German lady), I think she had a bit of a soft spot for me; because if there were leftovers, she always offered me some.

That is where I had my first chicken salad sandwich, and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. Little finger sandwiches, crusts trimmed; light and creamy, with just enough crunch to enjoy, very chickeny, and a delightful amount of green onions. I was in love.

Of course, I wasn't stupid enough to ask for her recipe. Major faux pas with a caterer; I knew that much. I just made sure to have an excuse to be around the boardroom kitchen after any occasion that might have included a catered meal if at all possible, in hopes she'd served those sandwiches again, and I might be able to snarf up another five or seven. At which I was successful quite a few times. Mmmm.

Then I moved to another department, which was not involved in important meetings; and life went on, and chicken salad sandwiches became a dim, forgotten memory. Except every so often when I'd get one from a deli or some such, and enjoy them, but compare them unfavorably to the perfect ones I'd had after those boardroom occasions.

Well, last month I finally snapped. I dunno what did it, except possibly having an intense craving for chicken salad, trying some from the deli at Safeway, and realizing in no way did it compare to the long-ago version I'd had. It'd been 25 years, dammit, and it was time I figured out my own recipe.

If you know me at all, you know this means research. ;) Not for me the easy way of picking out a seemingly reasonable recipe and having at it. No, I have to get thorough.

I asked for suggestions on Ravelry. (We talk about lots more than just fiber pursuits on there, y'know.) I was inundated with several suggestions, whereat I nodded rather numbly and made copious notes. Then I Googled; rinse and repeat. I checked my good ol' Joy of Cooking - a good copy, being from the early 70's, before they screwed it up by going all healthy. (Mine still has instructions for cleaning and cooking squirrel, deer and rabbit, plus even less common game. If civilization comes to an end, my Joy is coming with me to whatever sanctuary I happen to find, should I survive. You never know when you may have to butcher a javelina.) Then, after due consideration of all possible permutations, I bought a range of ingredients.

I knew what I did not want. Grapes of any sort or walnuts, for instance, were right out. Blecch. All very well in their place, but I do not consider that place to be chicken salad. Ditto any other fruit (pineapple?!) or nut, exotic veggies (you know me and veggies), and anything else I consider 'weird.' Which covers a wide range of foodstuffs, as many of you know. ;) As said; I'm a picky eater. Why the hell else do you think I learned to cook at an early age? Well, that was one reason. Half the time, when I was growing up, I was making part of dinner for myself, because I wouldn't eat something everyone else was. This may seem unduly indulgent of my parents, but they learned at an early age (mine), that a child who involuntarily upchucks anything she doesn't like the taste of makes it more trouble than it's worth, trying to forcefeed her anything. Maybe I could stomach some things if I were literally starving, but fortunately, they weren't into that kind of torture.

Anyway, I ended up with the following: shredded chicken, mayo (I use Miracle Whip, which I realize to many isn't mayo, but I grew up on it; to me it's mayo. Hey, it's got eggs and oil in it, doesn't it? I rest my case. Besides, I haven't come across another brand I like.); celery; green onions; lemon pepper; onion salt; onion powder (those three being spices I use with great frequency); a little bit of regular pepper and salt; and the experimentals: paprika, curry powder, celery seed, and tarragon leaves. I'd meant to get some dried mustard, but I'd forgotten it. Oh well, this was a first attempt. Fortunately, Winco has quite a lot of spices in bulk form, so I only had to spend money on a half teaspoon or so of the experimental spices, except for the tarragon. That, I had to buy in one of those little containers about an inch or so tall. Which I winced at, but did. I mean, y'never know what'll be the superb finishing touch.

The first thing I did was see how the various spices mixed with the mayo. This may seem unnecessarily detailed, but I said I was being thorough. Experimentation with food is a delicate thing if you have a choosy palate. (Especially with that upchucking thing. I mean, I try to control it, and sometimes I can and just get nauseous as hell...but most times, there is no latitude. Caraway, for instance. One caraway seed and I'd better have a big napkin ready, because I will have an extremely embarrassing scene at the table if I make the mistake of eating caraway. No, there won't be time for me to make a mad dash anywhere.) Plus, spices can make or break a recipe. So I dipped out five half-teaspoons or so of mayo in little individual globs on a paper plate, and seasoned each with a judicious amount of a single spice. With one glob left plain as a control. (No, I am not kidding about this. I said thorough, I meant thorough. <g>) Then I left them alone in the fridge for half an hour or so for the spices to get acquainted with the mayo.

The celery seed and tarragon leaves were immediate non-starters. The celery seed was innocuous enough, but frankly, didn't really have much of a flavor, as far as I was concerned. It just felt like there was grit in the mayo. As for the tarragon-- Bleaaah. As soon as it touched my tongue, I knew tarragon was never going to feature in any food I cooked. (Anyone want a small container of tarragon leaves, almost full?)

After wiping my tongue - stop giggling - I proceeded to the paprika, which I knew I liked in most things, and as anticipated, tasted just fine. The curry was great, too.

So I proceeded to finely mince a stalk of celery (I don't tend to like big chunks in things like this; flavors don't penetrate well into chunks, and I also don't usually like big bits of crunchy stuff in mixtures that are otherwise fairly smooth), chop a couple green onions, whap a generous amount of mayo on top of the pile of shredded chicken and veggies, and randomly toss in various amounts of all the seasonings. Then I stirred madly, tasted and adjusted a few things. (More onion powder was good, ditto lemon pepper and quite a bit more paprika, comparatively...and ok, what the hell, more curry powder, just in case. Uh, no, I don't measure with a lot of my cooking. I throw stuff in until it tastes right.)

Stuck it in the fridge and waited hungrily for about an hour.

It was good. Not perfect, but darned good, and definitely consumable. Positively better than Safeway's, and better than any chicken salad sandwich I'd bought pre-made. I'd gotten a little too much mayo in there...not enough celery...maybe a bit too much onion salt...and it wasn't quite right, somehow. But it tasted ok, and I happily ate chicken salad sandwiches for the next few days.

Ok, so I had a base. Now if I could just identify what that indefinable, not-quite-right part was... I can think of a food and actually taste it, but 25 years is a long time. It's not like my taste buds are so good I can trot out a list of spices in a dish; I just know if something's missing, or if there's something I hate in it. Plus the caterer likely hadn't used Miracle Whip - I'm betting she made her own mayo, or probably turned up her nose at Miracle Whip and used some other brand. So maybe I'd never get it exactly like hers, but you know, as close as possible to what I remembered/tasted would be acceptable.

Thus today, attempt number two. Less mayo; more celery; a lot less onion salt; even more paprika; and - due to remembering to add it to the list for this month's shopping trip - mustard powder instead of the curry.

That was it.

I have no idea, of course, if she really used dry mustard in her chicken salad...but it was the necessary ingredient for my chicken salad. That made it perfect. And only on the second try! Experimentation is worth it. ;) After half a lifetime, I have my perfect chicken salad recipe.

And after I post this, I'm going to sit down and happily eat some perfect chicken salad sandwiches. In quiet celebration.

It's not every day you come up with something perfect, y'know. <g>
  • (Anonymous)
    Good chicken salad is hard to find, harder to make, and impossible to forget! I'm with you on the Miracle Whip, although ToolMan is a definite Mayo man; we're a two-jar family. ;) I haven't tried dry mustard, I usually put in a squirt of good-ole yellow mustard (same for potato salad and deviled eggs); I think the small amount of vinegar in the mustard makes a difference.

    Oh, and the only thing better than a good chicken salad sandwich? Cold chicken salad stuffed in a warm, ripe, just off the vine tomato, either from the garden or the farmer's market. With a big glass of iced tea. Uh oh, my "Southern" is showing, isn't it? - Bobbie
    • Ah yes, the good ol' two jars! Of whatever. Gee, maybe you and Judy should've gotten together for her mayo over-purchasing she mentioned in her comment last month... [g]

      And I'll have to try a squirt of mustard next time, thanks. For some reason I didn't think of that, and it should be easier to adjust amounts than with the dry mustard. That stuff wants to explode out of the can!

      LOL...Southern? What Southern? I don't see any Southern. ::hastily hides indispensable summer gallon jug of iced tea - with sugar - behind her::
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