I was a child of divorce with a lot of freedom, in what now seems like the free-wheeling 1970s, when there were far fewer safety or security issues for children. We lived in a large apartment complex in Reading, Pennsylvania. My brothers and I, along with our ever-changing gang of kids whose parents were also somewhere along the road to splitting up, had the run of the place.
My mom worked at the local mall a couple of miles away, and we spent so much time there that I realize now how she used its open spaces, its cheap, available food, its movie theater and its Hickory Farms cheese samples as our baby sitter. My brothers and I loved it. We loved the Baskin Robbins and the Bavarian pretzel stores. We loved an afternoon at the movies and lunch at the Arby’s cross the hall. We had just a little bit of money, but we could do whatever we wanted with it, and what we wanted to do was eat. And my mother, alone with three young kids, working, getting divorced and trying to figure everything out, was grateful that the mall was there to feed us.
Then came her second marriage, a move to a lovely two-story house with a dining room, and a powerful desire for everyone to sit down and eat dinner together. While my mom had always cooked a little bit, in her three young children she didn’t really have anyone to appreciate the effort. But now here was this man, one who worked long days with his hands and drove a truck and came home hungry. When my mother married him, she gave herself a wedding present: a subscription to Gourmet magazine. One night an amazing casserole called Chicken Divan appeared at the table. I loved it so much that I asked her to teach me to make it, and when I brought it to a pot luck at my new school, I was, miraculously if temporarily, popular. My mom made beef stroganoff with chewy, slippery egg noodles. She made dips. Once—it could have been a birthday, maybe it was just a Friday—she said, “I made a special dessert,” and Gourmet’s chocolate mouse was put in front of us. Our blended family (my stepfather, his young daughter, my brothers and I) made “ooohhh” sounds and “yum” sounds, and I treasure the memory of my mom’s face when she saw how she had delighted us.
Sometimes I would help my mother cook, but as 13 turned into 14, I was starting to break away. Driving around with boys and learning to smoke became priorities, and I rarely came home straight after school. A year and a half into her marriage, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She died that August. My brothers and I moved in with our dad in another city, and in that house there were no sit-down dinners.
I’m 50 years old now, and I think of my mother every day. I’m so grateful for all the ways she found to feed us in the short time we had together, fast and cheap when that’s what was available, rich and satisfying when the world conspired to make things that way. Gourmet magazine ceased publication in 2009. I still have some back issues.
Amy Goddard is an actress, writer, producer, and mom of two in Los Angeles, California. She is the creator of the five-episode web series "Another Day With You," which can be seen on Whohaha, the website for women in comedy created by Elizabeth Banks. She can be found @msamygoddard.
(adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)
1 1/4 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, rinsed and patted dry
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. broccoli, trimmed and cut into 4-inch florets
4 T. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 T. all-purpose flour
2 c. chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. medium dry sherry
2 t. fresh lemon juice
1 c. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Season chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
Add chicken and cook, turning once, until cooked through, about 8 - 12 minutes.
Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut into thin slices.
Meanwhile, cook the broccoli in a large pot of boiling well-salted water until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes; drain.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat.
Add flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes.
Add stock in a slow stream, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil, whisking.
Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for approximately 20 minutes more.
Remove from heat.
Beat cream with an electric mixer until it holds stiff peaks.
Fold cream into sauce, along with sherry and lemon juice.
Stir in 1/4 t. salt and 1/8 t. pepper.
Arrange broccoli evenly in bottom of a 2-quart gratin or other flameproof shallow baking dish.
Pour half of sauce over broccoli.
Stir 1/2 c. Parmesan into remaining sauce.
Arrange chicken over broccoli, and pour remaining sauce over chicken.
Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 c. Parmesan.
Bake until just hot, about 15 minutes.
Turn oven to broil, and broil about 5 inches from heat until sauce is golden and bubbling, about 1 minute.