Monday, November 13, 2006

Family Tie or Family Leash?

I have often teased Guillermo about his "odd-ball" ways. By that I only mean his thinking and behaviour are so often the opposite of a typical porteño's. My mother-in-law agrees that he was the most "difficult" of her four children and she tells me there were times they didn't quite know what to do with him. By difficult, his mother didn't mean Guillermo was a misbehaving child or low-scoring student but he was different from his siblings and other kids.

When my husband was three, he had wanted his parents to teach him how to read. They refused him; my mother-in-law explains in those days it wasn't good to be seen as "too intelligent" and they didn't want him to be different from other kids his age.

Unlike most Argentine young adults, Guillermo moved out of home in his early twenties. Meanwhile none of his siblings left home until they got married. He moved quite a distance, at least in his parents' eyes, to Abasto (Abasto is 30 min's drive from Belgrano where his parents have been living most of their lives). It wasn't a comfortable living environment but he felt he needed to have independence. His parents felt hurt and rejected; his mother called him everyday.

When he decided to leave for England to pursue his PhD, his entire family cried a river; they didn't want him to leave them. A PhD scholarship was not enough to convince them that temporary separation from their flesh and blood was a worthy sacrifice. It took me quite some time to understand ours is not some bizarre Addam's Family but pretty close to the norm in 21stC.

Guillermo and I met a lovely retired couple at dinner some weeks ago. The gentleman is Argentine while his partner is a Chinese lady who followed her Pakistani diplomat first husband all over the world and then settled in California with her second husband, an American. She was part of the first set of modern international nomads. This pair met in Buenos Aires, years after she was widowed.

Each of them has children in their thirties. Hers are scattered in England and California, leading independent and rewarding lives. Her children take care of their mother's routine obligations to her house in California whenever she is spending time here in Buenos Aires. His are in their mid-thirties living with their father who is still taking care of household chores single-handedly because his kids wouldn't know how to help.

The two of them make a very sweet couple except when they talk about child-rearing methods. He accuses her of being cruel to her children by letting them leave home when they were young (at university age, late teens to early twenties). She retorts with not wanting them to be reliant, taking a comfortable life for granted. On the other hand, she cannot understand what good it does to children by spoiling them. To this, he retorts that it is not called spoiling but love; he is very proud of his thirty-something stay-at-home children who cannot iron their own clothes or put a nail into a wall.

All I can say is that we wouldn't be having this particular disagreement at home.

After sorting out the last course for our festive lunch with La Familia, I have tentatively decided on the main. Not too fancy (in term of food group) and not too dull – a couscous stuffed roast chicken.

For the Chicken:
1 large chicken
1 litre buttermilk (I used half unsweetened yoghurt, half milk)
1/3 cup honey
2 pieces lemon rind

For the stuffing:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 cup whole almonds
6 dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup couscous
1 - 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon zested lemon peel
1 large egg

For glaze:
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For sauce:
2.5 cups stock
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
juice of half a lemon

To prepare chicken: Marinate clean, rinsed chicken at least 24 hours in buttermilk, honey and lemon peel. Drain chicken and discard marinade. Place chicken in roasting pan ready for stuffing. Pre-heat oven to 200C.

To prepare stuffing: Melt butter in large stir-fry pan. Add sliced onions, garlic, almonds and dried spices. Cook and stir over medium heat until onions are translucent and almonds have begun to toast, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the couscous and stir for 2 minutes more. Add all the remaining stuffing ingredients except the egg, stir until bubbly, cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove cover and allow to cool slightly, for 10 minutes. Prepare the glaze while the stuffing is cooling.

To prepare glaze:Place all glaze ingredients in a small pan over low heat. Stir together to combine, set aside until required.

Stir the egg through the cooled stuffing. Spoon the stuffing mixture loosely into the chicken's cavity. Skewer cavity closed. Heap remaining stuffing (if any) into a small glass or metal loaf tin. Mix all the sauce ingredients except the lemon, and pour them in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Brush chicken with glaze mixture and pop chicken and extra stuffing into oven. Use the glaze mixture to baste the chicken once every 20 minutes until the glaze is used up.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes plus 20 minutes for each 500 grams. This should include the weight of the stuffing. This stuffing is relatively light so I cook a 1.5 kilogram chicken for 100 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow chicken to rest under foil. Use a fork to squash garlic cloves into sauce in bottom of the roasting pan. Scrape pan and pour juice through a sieve into a medium saucepan. Heat the juice until it is reduced in volume to about 1/2. Add the lemon juice and stir. Alter the seasoning for your own taste

Scoop out stuffing on to the centre of a platter. Slice chicken and place slices around the stuffing. Drizzle a bit of the sauce over both chicken and stuffing and serve the rest of the sauce on the side.

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