It’s funny how likes and dislikes go topsy-turvy as we age.
As a child, one of my least favorite meals was any sort of chicken stew dish. Maybe it’s because Mom didn’t serve this much at home. So ‘my’ chicken casserole derives from a recipe in a Martha White cookbook, one purchased during the early days of second marriage. The recipe quickly became a family favorite except for the ‘icky’ mushrooms. I compensated by slicing and not chopping to make the mushrooms easy to pick out, though eventually, most of the kids grew to like them.
The phrase ‘most of the kids’ means four. We began married life with the two girls from my first marriage. And then we didn’t waste time adding two boys to the mix. In less that two years, my husband went from a quiet, sedate bachelor existence to family circus mayhem with four under the age of 10 — surely these are grounds for growing saints… or for becoming insane.
Just like any new U.S. President in office, my new husband turned prematurely gray from the stress of his new family responsibilities. Our eight-to-five jobs were easy in comparison. Who knows but maybe this was part of the reason neither of us seriously considered putting our careers on hold to stay home with the children. Being the business professionals we were, we invited a sassy southern lady into our home and paid her well to help us raise our children while we were away at work. Nanny Tellie was part of our family for five years.
A divorced grandmother who hailed from Mississippi, Tellie never bothered to mince words. If she thought she could improve the state of our family with the wisdom of her years, she was quick to dish it up. With four children and two stretched-at-the-seams parents, we offered plenty of areas for Tellie to point her finger at and shake her stern head toward — as she muttered under her breath — Humph, Humph, Humph.
But like most people, Tellie had more strengths than not. She was dependable; she arrived a little early; she was rarely ill and fairly flexible in working overtime. And as a bonus, Tellie did light housework and all of our ironing. But best of all, Tellie was a steady influence in our children’s lives while my husband and I were running in and out the revolving door. She was good to all our children, though clearly, her favorite was our oldest son Bryan.
In addition to all of this, Tellie was a fabulous southern cook. Though she didn’t cook for us often, it was a treat when she did. My second biggest mistake during our Tellie-years was not paying Tellie to cook dinner for our family and hers. My first was not buying Tellie a copy of the Martha White cookbook that she enjoyed looking at — I should have a made a special trip to the store the very day she asked if she could clip the mail-order coupon at the back of the book.
My life is full of ‘should-haves’ and ‘wish-I-would-haves.’ As I recollect our years with Tellie, I wish I hadn’t let Tellie’s constant nagging cloud my vision of all the good she brought into our lives. And surely there is a lesson in this story for us all — for whining and nagging surely shows us at our worst — and its value is questionable in helping others to dig deep for their best.
In honor of the best of Nanny Tellie, I share this adapted Martha White recipe with you. Serve it over rice, in the best tradition of most good southern dishes. And in memory of Tellie’s worst…. remember to hold the whine.
From my life to yours.
Serves 4 60 minutes (another 60 minutes plus to pre-cook chicken)
Stew1/2 cup chopped celery 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 cup sliced mushrooms (diced cooked carrots may be subsititued) 1/4 cup butter 1/3 cup flour 2 cups chicken broth 1 cup whipping cream
2 to 3 cups cooked shredded chicken (3 half-chicken breasts, baked or boiled)
1 Tbsp parsley 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper
In a large sauce pan over medium high heat, cook vegetables in butter until softened. (Note, if using carrots instead of mushrooms, cook separately and add cooked carrots to cooked celery and onion.) Gradually add flour and stir for about a minute. Gradually add broth and cream — boil for 1 minute — sauce should be thickened. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour stew into a greased casserole dish.
Buttermilk Biscuits1 cup flour 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 2 Tbsp shortening
1/2 cup scant (less 1 Tbsp) buttermilk
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles course crumbs. Add buttermilk and stir only until dough leaves sides of bowl. Do not overwork.
Turn dough out onto floured surface. Gently knead or pat dough a few times — then roll into 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into biscuit with either 2″ inverted floured glass or even with a sharp knife — biscuits don’t have to be round.
Place biscuits on top of stew and place casserole into a preheated 400 degree oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving over rice.