Details change important things remain the same

HAPPY EATER

November 01, 1992|By ROB KASPER

The other night we had roast chicken and state capitals for supper. It gave me an insight into how much things have changed on the food scene, and how much they have remained the same.

The roasted chicken was virtually the same dish I had eaten many years ago when I was a kid. And the routine of a parent simultaneously fixing supper and asking a kid to name the capital of Indiana brought back memories of when I was the fifth-grader scribbling down answers at the kitchen table, not the adult standing at the stove.

But there were also changes. The chicken was seasoned with rosemary and garlic the other night, not the salt and celery of chickens gone by. The side dish was rice, flavored with chicken juice, replacing the mashed potatoes and creamy gravy of my youth.

And while Indianapolis is still the state capital, "Ind.," I learned, is no longer correct abbreviation for Indiana. Now it is "IN." Topeka is the capital of modern day KS, not the "Kans." of my career. Hawaii has kept its difficult-to-spell capital, Honolulu, but picked up an easy-to-remember abbreviation, "HI."

The reluctance to begin doing homework carries over from generation to generation. The other night when my fifth-grader asked me to quiz him, there was much squirming, some draping of arms and legs over furniture, and a longing for a diversion from starting to work.

So when the opportunity presented itself to delay the inquisition and rub a raw chicken with oil, the kid leaped at it.

We coated the chicken with garlic and olive oil, one of the arsenal of oils we now stockpile in our kitchen. We have two types, extra-virgin and regular. There is peanut oil for wok work. An occasional sunflower oil, and some corn oil.

When I was the kid doing homework, there were only two types of cooking oil, liquid and solid. The liquid was vegetable oil in a bottle. The solid was Crisco or some related globular substance that my mom mixed with flour to make pie crusts, and that I melted in a pan to pop popcorn.

My mom used to rub the chicken with butter, at least we called it butter. I think it was really margarine. My mom was a major fan of margarine -- it was cheaper than butter -- and with four kids, that mattered. Butter was a rare adult treat.

The chicken neck has a timeless audience appeal. As do the other parts -- the gizzard and the heart -- that are stored in the interior of the chicken carcass.

As always there was and is great interest in ogling, but not eating, these exotic parts. At least among the kids.

My dad used to eat the chicken heart, often pushing it in front of me and my brothers, asking if we wanted a taste. We recoiled in horror.

It was an effective display of courage. Alas, it is a measure I can not meet. Now my wife is the chicken-innards eater of the household. I still recoil in horror.

When my mom handled them, the neck, gizzard and liver became broth, which eventually played a role in my mother's magnificent chicken gravy. It was smooth, milky, a gravy unsurpassed by any gravy I have tasted. The chicken gravy regularly rested in the middle of a ring of mashed potatoes.

We still have mashed potatoes and gravy, but not as often as we have rice and chicken juice. When I was kid, rice was the occasional dish, not potatoes. Now it is the other way around. As the chicken cooked in the oven, my son and I finished off the remaining state capitals in the homework. I found some of the correct answers alarming. Springfield, which I used to remember as the stomping ground of Abraham Lincoln, is now remembered as the town where Bart Simpson lives. It is also the capital of "IL," not Ill.

The homework was cleared away, and the rest of the family joined us. There was the same eating, much concern about the chicken touching the rice, and questions about the mysterious specks -- the rosemary -- that appeared on the plate. Claims were made about being "full," which quickly dissolved at the mention of dessert. It turned out there wasn't any dessert because somebody had eaten all the cookies. Nobody confessed.

The kids were shooed away from the table, so the adults could enjoy the wine and a moment of peace. The chicken carcass sat before us, battered but with a sandwich or two left in it, a testimony to the timelessness of a roast chicken supper.

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