Tonight, Matt and I are eating jerk chicken for dinner, which I’ve been making for years. I used to cheat and use a bottled sauce, but ever since I discovered the glories of homemade jerk, I will never go back. Habanero, fresh ginger, garlic, and scallions. The house smells like the Caribbean and the warm September weather has me tricked into believing that summer has just begun.
I was similarly tricked last night, when we joined our friends (and their toddler) for dinner outside at my favorite little Greek restaurant. While we ate, Brady stared intently at the sky from his high chair and every once in a while shot an arm upward. “Caw,” he would say. We all looked up. Yup, that’s a bird. Or, “No, there aren’t any birds up there, buddy.” But he persisted, with fifty percent accuracy.
Like Brady, I’m also rather enamored with birds. In Rangeley, we have a hummingbird feeder and the house goes silent when we see the tiny little bodies hovering on blurred wings outside our windows. The persistent tapping of the pileated woodpecker on the spruce tree next to the lake path always draws our attention. From the boat, we watch loons that dive unpredictably and reappear many meters away. My mother imitates their chortling laugh and insists that the loons are responding to her calls. A few years ago, she installed a giant bird feeder, cantilevered off the deck, that attracts a large variety of songbirds – thrushes and chickadees and warblers. She and I pore over the bird guide trying to identify them. My dad had bought the bird book when we first built the house, along with guides for mushrooms, trees, and wildflowers, and a chart to decipher animal tracks. If we were going to live in the wilderness, we were going to know what we were talking about.
A year or so after my dad passed, we took his ashes out for one last ride on the Cris Craft with a few family members and friends. As we scattered the ashes over the side of the boat and said a few words, we noticed two large birds circling high above us – bald eagles. It was the perfect tribute and, to those who might be inclined to believe it, a sign that he was watching over us. Funny how something as simple as a bird overhead can inspire such comfort in a group of grieving adults and such joy in a toddler, just discovering the world around him. (And a delicious meal to boot.)
Chicken with Jerk Sauce and Cool Pineapple Salsa from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger
For the salsa:
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 cup finely diced pineapple
1/3 cup finely diced, seeded English cucumber
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
For the chicken:
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, about 5 ounces each, pounded to 1/2-inch thick
1 cup chopped scallions (about 6 scallions)
1/2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chile pepper, seeded and finely minced (wear gloves when handling)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, or 1/4 teaspoon ground
1 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
For the salsa:
In a small bowl whisk together the honey and the lime juice. Combine the pineapple, cucumber and mint in a medium bowl, pour the dressing over and toss to combine. Set aside.
For the chicken:
Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, or until browned and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan. Stir in the scallions, pepper, garlic, ginger, allspice, and thyme. Cook for 30 seconds over a medium heat. Add the chicken broth and soy sauce and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lime juice. Put the chicken back in the pan and coat well with the sauce.
Serve with the pineapple salsa.