I thought my mum was going to live forever. At the very least, I thought she’d see the right side of eighty, maybe even surprise us with a ninetieth birthday. Her effervescence was something to be craved; her warmth, kindness and friendly nature (somewhat an understatement) unrivalled. That Covid struck and caused her sickle cell and lupus to take her from us, days before my own daughter was born, is the kind of cruelty that I won’t ever be able to reconcile.
She was desperate for a granddaughter so for her wish to come true was an added cruelty. I’m not sure why she wanted a granddaughter first, perhaps it was the chance to see if she could persuade her to be the more outwardly feminine version of me. Who knows. Either way, our chats before my daughter’s arrival were based around the idea that whoever this baby was, they would be themselves − no more, no less. I would have limited time to wield my influence on them and if pink tutus, glittery and frilly things were their bag, then so be it. My only caveat: for it to be their choice.
Left only with my version of events, I now linger over the memory of these interactions, analyse, dissect, repeat them in my mind. They of course change as memories are never a true reflection of what happened, but our own perceived version of events, edited over time through choice or circumstance. Becoming obsessive about the minor details − the need to know I had done enough − is a dangerous place to be when grieving. I grapple daily with the knowledge that my own GP saved me from Covid, impressing on me the three things I had to do to keep it from creeping any further into my chest at thirty-five weeks pregnant. Desperate to survive, to not leave my own husband a widower with our unborn child and my dad alone after losing his son twelve years ago, his wife and then daughter all in the same month, I did them religiously, focusing and drawing all my energy inward. To survive.
Nine months later I’m working on how to thrive again. Because, in reality, I’ve been in survival mode for the sake of waking up each morning and giving my daughter the best version of me I can muster. It is a slow and uphill struggle, with rocks tied around my ankles and the hill seemingly steeper as I walk up it. But I try. To think of myself as thriving, I allow myself to reflect on all that my mother gave me. She was my number one fan, a phrase I was reminded of when I searched and stopped within our messages to see it written; all the more disarming when you realise that you won’t hear those words uttered again.
When it comes to food, in the literal sense, I have to be honest and say my mum passed few things on to me. It’s not that she wasn’t a good cook, she was. She just didn’t have the passion for it like my dad and me, or even my brother when the occasion took him. But no one rivalled B’s roast chicken. No one. And that gravy was a thing of love. A roast chicken that’s then stewed to make the gravy − an unconventional approach for an unconventional woman whose influence, grace and smile radiated beyond her physical presence. I’ll be requesting it as our first meal when we meet again, just as I requested it whenever I went home for Sunday dinner.
I already know my roast chicken will never rival Mum’s and this recipe will, I’m sure, evolve with time. I can only hope for a version that will bring the same level of nostalgia for my own kids as they grow.
On my path to thriving once more, I give you an ode to B’s roast chicken. Enjoy.
Ingredients (serves 2 with leftovers)
500g chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 – 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp all-purpose seasoning, I use this one
2 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp soy sauce, you can use low sodium soy sauce if you want to pull back on the salt a little
2 tbsp olive oil
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and then add the chicken. Mix well and rub some of the marinade under the skin of the chicken. Marinate in the fridge overnight or if you’re short on time you can do it first thing in the morning.
Take the chicken out, half an hour before cooking.
Line an ovenproof dish with foil, enough to be able to wrap the chicken like a parcel.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6. For a fan assisted oven you’ll reduce the temperature to 180 degrees.
Cook the chicken for around 50 minutes, you’ll want it to be browning before you open it.
Open the foil parcel for a further 10 minutes to finish browning and crisp a little.
You want the chicken to be tender and juicy but the skin a light crisp, you may need to adjust your cooking times if you know your oven is a little slower or quicker than others.
Marie Mitchell is a chef, food writer and new regular contributor to The Happy Foodie. Her first cookbook, KIN, a collection of recipes from the Caribbean and its diaspora, will be published in 2023. Keep up to date with Marie on Instagram and don’t miss the next instalment of her column, coming in early 2022.