Sunday Dinners

Old School Chicken Piccata
 On that rarest of occasions when Mr. B has a Sunday off and it's not football season, we make every attempt to wrest ourselves from our daily habits and enjoy the day. Of course, with a pretty spectacular backyard and a pool, that doesn't always mean we leave the house, but we certainly do try.

In Spring, things are different, though. The winter rains--no matter how few--magically turn the landscape into a patchwork of rolling green hills, incredibly lush and tempting, the wildflowers bedazzle the landscape, first with the bright orange poppies, shocking waves of yellow mustard, and then later on, seemingly endless streams of blue lupine. Along with those famous California blue skies and sunshine, grazing cows and sheep, and winding country roads, there's nothing we want to do but get into the car and spend the better part of an afternoon roaming the back roads, taking pictures, and working up an appetite for Sunday dinner.

Sunday dinners haven't always been top on my list. When I was very young and my father very strict, Sundays would drag on forever; there were no children's programs on the television, no friends to play with, and no places to go. Later, after my parents divorced, I spent weekends at my grandparents's house and after Sunday dinner--at noon, mind you--we'd pile into my grandfather's big brown Oldsmobile and ride off in search of adventure. I lived in Colorado at the time, so there were many Sunday drives to the mountains, then when we tired of that, my grandfather would drive us to see the new model homes in the housing tracts that were becoming ever more popular, to the mall on the other side of town for window shopping, or to a museum or historical site that had been of particular interest.

There was no hurry on Sunday and he'd drive slow enough so we could enjoy the scenery and people watch along the way. Sometimes we'd play games, looking for unusual license plates or models of cars, but mostly, we'd listen to my grandmother's stories, or sometimes, the radio, until my grandfather would decide to take that next turn, the one that would take us back home.

Sunday supper was at 5 p.m. sharp and consisted on nothing more than reheating the afternoon meal, smaller portions, but, second helpings of dessert--if there was enough to go around.

Mr. B and I are far more casual when it comes to Sunday dinners. During the winter, we like roasting or braising somewhat large cuts of meat or whole chickens, long and slow, until the house is filled with the smells of our cooking and our appetites are stoked by the anticipation. In the summertime, however, Mr. B will man the grill while I make salad and slice bread. Sometimes, mostly between the seasons, I'll cook old school suppers, meals not in our usual rotation, but dishes seemingly from another place and time, but still well-loved by both of us.

This past Sunday, after walking through meadows richly scented with wildflowers and fresh earth, after I'd trounced over fields of chamomile until the heady aroma threatened to overtake me, after we stopped at a little winery on the edge of a neighboring town and sipped our glasses of wine as we gazed over the landscape, I returned to my kitchen to pound out the chicken breasts and cut fresh herbs. It was almost dinner time and I decided to surprise Mr. B with chicken piccata.

Mel's Chicken Picatta

2 chicken breasts, sliced diagonally into 4 to 5 pieces each
2 eggs
salt and pepper
1 lemon
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup of sliced scallions, green parts only
1 T. of capers
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup of white Vermouth
1 chicken bouillon cube
Vegetable oil

1. Pound the chicken breast slices until about 1/4 of an inch thick.
2. Crack the two eggs into a bowl and whisk in enough milk to create a loose wash.
3. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour and transfer to the egg wash.
4. Pour about a 1/4 of an inch of oil into a frying pan and heat to 325 degrees.
5. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, without overcrowding, and fry until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. When all the chicken has been cooked, transfer it to a plate and place in a warm oven.
6. Pour out any oil remaining in the pan. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and just turning golden.
7. Pour in the Vermouth and loosen any pan drippings. Add the juice of one lemon and the bouillon cube and cook until the bouillon cube is dissolved.
8. Return the chicken to the pan and turn cutlets in the sauce; add the capers, green onions, and parsley and cook until the chicken is heated through.
9. Place chicken on warm plates and spoon sauce over.
10. Serve with mashed potatoes or pasta, steamed broccoli or salad, and a glass--or, two--of white wine.


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