Imagine being a little kid coming home for dinner after playing with the other neighborhood kids until the sun went down. The familiar smell of dinner cooking would send your senses wild as you neared the house. You enter into the kitchen, empty belly rumbling and ready to gobble down tonight’s main course. Looking up at the counter, standing on your tiptoes, barely able to see, you spot it. The tan crust baked just right leaving it a fine flaky layer on top. The aroma of roasted chicken wafting from the two delicate slits carved in its center, making the entire house smell so good. It looks like just a dessert pie, but you know better. A mouthwatering combination of roasted chicken and fresh vegetables awaits you inside of that warm crust.
This is supposed to be a simple re-telling about the time I made Chicken Pot Pie with my cousin last summer. It’s a fairly basic recipe, and there’s nothing elaborate or overly memorable about Chicken Pot Pie. As long as you’ve got a pie crust, some vegetables, a freshly roasted chicken, and a working oven, just about anyone can successfully follow the recipe. I soon realized that the reason this particular cooking session stands out so vividly in my mind isn’t because of the recipe, but the bonding moment that I shared with my cousin on that night. Up until that visit, despite being related, we had yet to really get to know each other and feel truly comfortable and at easy around one another. Our little cooking adventure helped to change that.
It is the end of June last summer, school is finally out even from the high-schoolers, and summer is well underway. My cousin Shannon has never been to the East Coast before. Hailing from across the country in the land of sunshine, Pennsylvania is a far cry in comparison to the humidity-free California. She has just graduated from high school, and for her graduation present she has turned down the opportunity to get a used car in favor of a plane ticket. She wants to fly out to see us, and get to know the Parrish East Coast clan better.
Up until a few years ago, our families hadn’t kept contact, and neither of us have known that the other existed. A curious question about my dad’s side of the family leads to the reveal about my late uncle, and my aunt, and three cousins in California. We make a trip out to see them two years ago, and then another just shy of a year ago when my late uncle’s cancer is at its worst. He passes away just a week after we returned to Pennsylvania. I think that part of the reason my cousin wants to fly over to visit us so soon was because of losing her father. After something tragic like that happens, it really changes your perspective on just about everything. I think she wants to do it sooner rather than later, just in case. Family has always been something that we all value greatly, more than anything else.
She spends a week with us here in Pennsylvania, and we show her all of the sites. Shannon has always been fond of cooking back at home, while I have always preferred to stick to baking. My parents think it would be a good idea for us to prepare a dinner and dessert for them. Dessert I wasn’t worried about, give me a recipe, and I can usually make it without much difficulty. Dinner, on the other hand, I am very worried about. Sure, I could try to follow a recipe, but there was just something about it that intimidated me for some reason. However, with Shannon’s reassurance, I decide to take on the task with my cousin.
Immediately, I begin to realize how old fashioned I really am as Shannon turns to the website Pinterest for recipe ideas. I had just gotten out The Joy of Cooking, figuring that we would search through it for a recipe, when I see Shannon typing away on her iPad. Setting the physical recipe book back where I found it, I realize that if we were going to do this, it is going to be her way. We find an Oreo chocolate layered dessert almost right away on Pinterest, and I feel fairly confident that we would be able to make it under my supervision. As for dinner, Shannon already has something in mind as she pulls up a recipe for Chicken Pot Pie. Nothing out of the ordinary, it is a standard recipe for the meal. Yet I stare at the screen wide-eyed, suddenly feeling uneasy about this mission.
There is no turning back now though. We head out to the grocery store, where we pick up the ingredients for both the Chicken Pot Pie, and the Oreo chocolate layered dessert. I check off the items on the list as we go, making sure we have everything that we need for the dessert, while Shannon double-checked to make sure that we have everything that we need for the pie. “Please tell me we aren’t going to make everything from scratch,” I mention at one point, a pleading tone to my voice as I hint at my fear in going the all-scratch route. Thankfully, she isn’t going to go too hard on me, and we opt not to make the pie crust from scratch this go around. We also decide to use just a can of mixed vegetables, instead of buying several types of vegetables individually, since only the four of us would be eating it. “Trust me, it’ll be a piece of cake,” Shannon states reassuringly as she pick up the last ingredient. With everything accounted for, we check out before returning home to get this daring project underway.
We unload the groceries from the car, taking out each ingredient as we place them onto the counter. I dig around in the kitchen for the utensils that we’ll need, and once everything is sprawled out before us on the counter, we get underway. “425 degrees, right?” I ask my cousin as I preset the oven to temperature for the pie to bake once it’s ready. “Yep, 425,” my cousin responds without turning around, though her lighthearted voice is all that I need to hear to know that she hasn’t begun to regret this experiment just yet. Setting the oven to temperature, I make my way back to her side, watching as she opens a can of mixed vegetables before handing them to me. “Here,” she states with a smile. I take the can warily, looking first to it and then to the empty pie crust. “Do I just… dump it in?” I ask, glancing her way. Shannon laughs, before nodding animatedly. “Yep!” Turning my focus to the can, I slowly pour out its contents into the pie, feeling relieved when I managed to go through that step smoothly.
It’s a really simple recipe, at least according to the online cooking website where we got it from. I didn’t think I would ever feel so intimidated by Chicken Pot Pie. As it turns out, there is more than just one chicken in the kitchen that night, as my cowardliness towards cooking shows through.
Up until the actually cooking had gotten underway, my apprehension has been cloaked behind a red and black apron, which, ironically enough, has chickens on it.
We purchase a small roasted whole chicken at the grocery store, which we spend a good five minutes cutting up and tearing it into smaller pieces. I couldn’t deny that the aroma wafting from the chicken is absolutely glorious as my stomach rumbled in anticipation. We add the torn up chicken into the mixture as I stand by my cousin’s side. She pours the chicken broth and milk mixture into the pie crust, before I carefully scoop a dab of butter into the mixture at Shannon’s request. “Okay, hand me the second pie crust”, Shannon instructs. I pause, glancing first at the in-progress Chicken Pot Pie and then back at my cousin. “That’s it?” I ask in surprise, expecting there to be at least another step or two. “That’s it,” she replies with a reassuring nod and a smile. “Wow, I thought it was going to be a lot harder,” I admit with a bashful smile.
The process begin to appear less and less intimidating as I go along, I am beginning to feel a bit embarrassed for having been so nervous about taking on this task earlier. I get out the other pie crust, and we both work together to lay it out over the top of the pie. A few soft giggles escape the both of us as we press down the dough, creating a pattern on the rim of the pie as we move along its edge. I watch as Shannon picked up a knife, carefully carving into two small, delicate slits in the center of the pie. “Why do we have to cut an opening?” I ask curiously, honestly oblivious as to why. Shannon’s light laughter reaches my ears as she set the knife down. “There needs to be at least a small opening for the air flow, it helps to make sure that the pie cooks just right while it’s in the oven,” she explains patiently to me. How she was able to put up with my cooking ignorance with an understanding smile on her face I would never understand. But I find myself growing more and more appreciative of it as we went along. “Also, it has a tendency to explode from the pressure of the steam if you don’t cut a few slits in it,” Shannon adds, her tone unbelievably casual as she mentions that the pie could explode. I pause, mid-step, staring at her in disbelief. All she can do is laugh, amused by my blissful ignorance to the world of cooking.
“Viola,” she exclaims then, stepping back to admire the nearly finished pie. “Now we just put it in the oven, right?” I double-check, carefully picking up the glass pan in which the pie would be baking in. “Yes, for fifteen to twenty minutes. We’ll check on it a few times.” Shannon clarifies. I nod a little, focusing on not dropping the pie as I open the oven door before carefully placing the pie inside. Closing the oven door, I double-check once more to make sure that the temperature has reached its setting, which it had.
Shannon and I proceed to clean up the mess, tossing the empty can of vegetables into the recycling bin and cleaning the utensils that we had used. While the pie bakes, we finish the last layer of the Oreo chocolate layer dessert that we have been working on earlier that afternoon before it had been time to start in on dinner. Placing the finished dessert in the fridge to keep it nice and cool, Shannon goes over to the oven to check on the pie. “It’s ready,” she reports with excitement, putting on an oven mitt as she opened the oven door and cautiously took out the pie. I turn around at once, eager to see the final results of our efforts. What greets my eyes is a perfectly baked Chicken Pot Pie. Its crust has turned golden brown, and visible steam emerges from the center of the pie, making the entire kitchen smell mouthwatering. I couldn’t believe that it has turned out so well, and that I had helped to make it.
We call my mom and dad into the kitchen, announcing that it was finally time for dinner. My dad chuckles as he walks into the kitchen, the aroma of the meal greeting him. “Well it smells good,” he comments sarcastically with an emphasis on smells, as if to imply that he is still a bit wary about how it will actually taste. My dad has always been a jokester, just like Shannon’s dad used to be before he passed away, so we both just roll our eyes and laugh at his comment. Once the table is set, and everyone is seated, I carefully carry over the pie, setting it down in the center of the table. “Bon appetite,” I announce with a smile as I look down proudly at what we have accomplished together.
We all dug in, and as I eat, I spot my chicken themed apron laying the counter. I no longer feel ashamed to wear it, as the experiment combined with my cousin’s encouragement has relinquished my fears of cooking once and for all. The next time that we fly out to visit her and the rest of our extended family, it will be my turn to help teach my cousin how to cook something, a new tradition in the making. I already know what I want to teach her, it’s one of the few things that I’ve actually been able to prepare on my own after my parents taught me how to. It may seem simple, but I know there’s a lot more to making homemade pizza than what meets the eye, and I can’t wait to teach Shannon how to make it when we fly out to visit them next summer.