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It wasn’t a birthday or anniversary that ended in a zero or a five. It was just an ordinary, dreary, chilly winter morning. I had a looming deadline, as writers too often do.

The easy answer: dinner out. Again.

But something was pricking at my conscience. Work was once again getting in the way of life, and there was something wrong with this picture. Just like in those cartoons, the light bulb suddenly went on: I was going to make a fine dinner that involved some time and effort.

So there I was, rushing off to the supermarket. I realized that it had been a long time – a very long time – since I’d sought ingredients like the ones I was stalking: curry powder, fresh garlic cloves, cilantro and fresh parsley. The most wonderful assortment of yellow and red peppers, tomatoes, and onions I could find. And plump white raisins.

All of this for a dish called Chicken Country Captain that happened to be a favorite of the beloved American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – and of my husband.

This dish wasn’t just a throw-it-together mélange of ingredients. It required a huge skillet, several critical processes involving flour, oil and strangely, those raisins. And then there was the browning, sautéing and simmering.

But that was child’s play compared to the exotic rice pilaf to accompany it – and the chocolate cake with chocolate icing, which would delight my resident chocoholic.

I wish I could tell you that I loved gathering up the ingredients and rushing home to create this wonderful, flawless dinner. But what I felt initially was a tad cranky. Sitting at my computer and writing had grown far more familiar than all of this. In the culinary sense, I was rusty.

But in the warmth of the kitchen, my mood changed. Suddenly, the prospect of making this chicken dish I hadn’t prepared in years felt wonderfully right and important.

For the next several hours, I lost myself in dredging chicken parts with flour, creaming butter and sugar, melting chocolate, and creating an epic kitchen mess. Counters were cluttered with bowls and spoons and spills of cake batter. The dishwasher was bursting at the seams. Bowls and measuring cups were strewn at rakish angles.Yet what I felt was an amazing calmness.

I loved the way the kitchen smelled. I loved the sound of the electric mixer as it whirred the velvety chocolate batter. And when a finished cake came out of the oven and slid out of the tube pan without a catastrophe, I heard myself laughing aloud in delight. Such a simple triumph!

I did mess up the rice pilaf. And the salad looked less gorgeous than the ones you see in magazine layouts. But oh, the pleasure of setting the table knowing that tonight it wouldn’t be meatloaf and baked potatoes – again.

My husband wasn’t in the house for 10 seconds when he smelled the curry and cilantro, and remembered. It was going to be Chicken Country Captain on an ordinary Wednesday… for no reason.

That night, as the rain kept coming, there was the pleasure of remembered food with no restrictions from those spoilsports, the omnipresent food police.

Way, way past the foolishness of youth, at a table where a man and woman had faced one another not just for years, but for many decades, there was a wonderful, elaborate dinner.

It was, of course, more than that. It was a wake-up call about what matters, a vivid reminder that work must sometimes yield to more important things. Like Chicken Country Captain on a wintry Wednesday night.

February 2014
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