As an icebreaker at the beginning of the birthing classes we took in preparation for the arrival of our first-born, participants were divided into male and female groups and invited to sit together and discuss their greatest hopes and apprehensions for impending parenthood. The biggest concern of our fellow soon-to-be-parents turned out to be making sure their birth plan was followed to the letter and that on no account should their spouse be somehow duped into accepting analgesics against her wishes by velvet-tongued medical professionals offering relief from the agony. We were surprised to be the only ones looking beyond the birth and confessing their concerns about actually raising said child.
Now that we have been parents for some years, the reality of raising said child, is well, very real, and while those concerns remain, they’re subsumed by the every day requirements of parenthood. Among them, the quotidien hassles of dressing, feeding and entertaining, but also matters requiring rather more nuance, like, just as prior to the birth of our second, explaining to a three year-old where the hell babies come from.
At the time, I considered peddling the age-old yarn of benevolent storks, but decided against it because it would require an explanation of what a stork is, since they aren’t commonly seen in the suburbs of Philadelphia, especially in unseasonably chilly Decembers. Instead I hemmed and hawed my way around the topic, saying that babies sort of come from their mommy’s tummies which open to let the baby out when it’s ready to be born, and felt quite relieved to have avoided anything more akin to biology class.
That is, until recently, when I read that Aristotle supposed that when the storks flew south from Greece for the forests of Central Africa at the onset of winter, they were heading off to recommence an age-old war with bow-and-arrow-wielding Pygmies who harried them from the backs of specially-trained attack goats. Had I known of this at the time, I could have woven a terrific tale for my son of daring Lilliputian combat against fierce, Brobdingnagian birds, perfect for the imaginations of young boys. Admittedly, it might not have provided a very convincing narrative about the arrival of children, but as a fable about the secret lives of very placid-looking storks it would have made for truly gripping stuff.
I had never seen a stork in the flesh until I came face to face with a mother and her juvenile a few years ago in central Spain. [I would use the word chick for the young stork, but at about two feet tall with some serious beakage, it hardly seems appropriate.] I was wandering around the small Castilian city of Zamora on a surprisingly hot day in early May appreciating many of its magnificent collection of Romanesque churches and waiting for a restaurant to open for lunch. Turning off one of the many deserted streets into a narrow alley, I almost bumped into this skinny-legged pair as they were tottering gently along side-by-side like an elderly couple out for a stroll. Sensing my presence they gave me a casual glance over their shoulders, and hopped onto a low, guano-encrusted parapet on the city wall, and stalked storkily to their giant nest overlooking the curve of the Duero river that is called Douro just over the horizon in Portugal. Around another corner, I spotted the bell-tower of San Isidoro crowned on all points by giant nests, perhaps like the headdress of a pygmy emperor.
Over a substantial lunch of a rabbit and almond stew perfumed heavily with garlic and cumin and a ceramic jug of black wine in the one place that eventually opened, I briefly pondered the migratory lives, mythic and real, of these charismatic, bean-pole birds. The Spanish consider it propitious for a family of storks to return annually to nest on one’s house, a belief that is shared throughout the stork’s summering range in continental Europe. Indeed, many homeowners actively work to promote the attractiveness of their roofs to visiting storks. In southern Poland years earlier, I recalled seeing some nests so vast that the roofs of the buildings appeared to be thatched, not tiled, having been augmented for stork-comfort by the home-owner’s hands.
I never learned whether the presence of the storks on one’s roof was thought to bequeath increased fertility upon those sheltering under it, but, apart from the visual and sanitary inconvenience caused by their copious droppings, their imperturbable demeanor and awkward, but amiable, appearance can’t fail to contribute to domestic tranquility. As I rose from my table about to leave the restaurant, I caught the eye of a thin old boy sitting close by who was rinsing the dregs of his cafecito cup with a dram of orujo. Nodding towards the window, and the stork nests visible through it, he waved and said “Que Dios bendiga su casa familial con una cigüeña!/May God send the blessing of a stork to your home!”
I thanked him and walked back out into the sunlight, not entirely sure whether his benediction meant that he hoped a stork would come and live on my roof or that a stork would bring me a baby. Either way, it seemed appropriate recently, around Emiliana’s first birthday, to recreate the stew from that day and thank the storks who brought she and Paolo to us. If only they’d come back and baby-sit now and again…
Conejo/Pollo al Andaluz – Andalusian-style Rabbit or Chicken
[Recipe adapted from one found in an old issue of El Gourmet magazine, courtesy of our friend Nuría.]
- 1 medium rabbit or chicken (3-4lbs)
- 1 medium yellow (spanish) onion
- 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4-6oz whole almonds
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 good pinch dried oregano
- 2 cups chicken stock or hot water
- 1/2 glass dry white wine or fino/manzanilla sherry
- 2 tablespoons good quality white wine or sherry vinegar
- 6 tablespoons good olive oil
- 4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Kosher salt
- With a cleaver or large knife, break chicken or rabbit down into constituent parts – thighs, drumsticks, breasts (cut in half)/legs, loin – reserving carcass for stock, and remove skin.
- Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and flour.
- In a large, deep saucepan over medium-high heat, brown chicken pieces in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until good and golden brown all over. Remove to a plate and reduce flame to medium.
- While meat is browning, in a blender blitz up almonds, garlic, cumin and oregano with remaining olive oil and 4-6 tablespoons of water until you have a loose-ish paste that is mostly smooth.
- Pour garlic-almond paste into saucepan and cook until fragrant, 3-4 minutes, over medium heat, taking care not to burn either the garlic or the almonds.
- Add white wine/sherry and use your wooden spoon to free up any crunchy good stuff from bottom of pan.
- Add chicken/rabbit back into the pan and add remaining water/stock, stir well.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil before reducing heat and simmering gently for 40 minutes.
- Check consistency of sauce. If it’s still quite thin, remove meat and increase heat until sauce has reduced enough to coat back of a spoon.
- When sauce is right, (put meat back in, if you removed it) add the white wine or sherry vinegar and parsley. Stir well. Taste and correct seasoning.
- Serve with fried potatoes, a green salad and a glass of the same white wine or sherry.
18 thoughts on “Storks, Pollo al Andaluz and the Facts of Life”
Love this story! In lieu of the storks, we’ll babysit anytime!
@Karen: Thank you! We must figure out a date to have you and Frankie over for dinner before the winter’s out.
Happy belated to your little one! This meal looks fantastic thank you so much for the recipe.
@Christine: thanks Christine! Yours must have turned one around the same time, no? This recipe is a winner (I know we always say that, but this one is good enough to make once a month). Thanks, as always, for being a loyal reader. We really appreciate it!
Julian’s birthday is 12/12. I can’t believe how big he’s gotten so fast!
And I would say you’re welcome to the loyal reader thing, but really it’s thank you for churning out wonderful recipes! Even when I’m just peeping on Instagram, it’s worth it for the inspiration.
@Christine: congratulations on making it through the first year! They do grow like crazy. We’re just glad to still be able to post occasionally and find the time to cook and eat well as busy as we are. Thanks for your support.
I left a lonnngggg comment in the October 9th post where we discussed books–didn’t want to muck up this one too! haha
@Deb: have no fear of mucking-up our blog! We’re delighted you make like a stork and come back to this very spot time and again. This forgotten corner of the internet is sufficiently hard to find that any muck at all will likely only improve its visibility, not obscure it.
That’s funny! I slightly resemble a stork, so it’s fitting. I’m taking a short break from books this weekend and putting in some time at the stove making some sort of Persian dish–not decided yet. Helen at Food Stories refers to a Persian food shop in her Peckham neighborhood run by Sally Butcher and her Iranian husband, and they wrote a cookbook called Persia in Peckham, so I got it and although the writing alone is worth the purchase, I need to cook. Helen has also mentioned WANF in the recent past so you may already be pals, and I may be giving you Old News.
I DO know that I’ll be using dried beans and barley and maybe lentils since I need to use some up and it shouldn’t be hard to incorporate them in this cuisine—I hope!
I will let you know, successful or not-have a great weekend!
@Deb: we stopped resembling storks around the time we started a food blog. Speaking of Persian dishes, and we do know Helen Graves at Food Stories but not that store in Peckham, the very day you posted this, we had a wonderful Persian lamb shank dish, which will be appearing on these here web pages in the not too distant future. Do let us know how your Persian cookery went!
I look forward to the lamb dish very much as I’m determined to try something new this spring with lamb and shanks are my favorite cut.
I made Swiss Chard Soup with Chickpeas and Barley (except I used a kale mix and lentils instead of barley, because I had those two items already) but the chickpeas were from Rancho Gordo and so was the recipe which I found in the RG archives from Oct 2009. There are some terrific, very simple bean recipes in this blog, this particular one was taken from Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Turquoise, a Turkish cookbook, and this dish was very good– The allspice and cinnemon were a nice change from my usual Mexican spicing.
I am deeply in love with my slow cooker as now on a Sunday morning I can spend max–45 minutes prep time getting something like this cooking and then slump down on the sofa and read for 5-6 hour until it’s ready! It’s enough for dinner and a few work lunches, can’t beat that. I’ve done lamb shanks in the s.c. a few times and they are always excellent–do you use one at home at all? I’ve not noticed it in any of your posts but maybe I just missed it, not having used one until recently–My new bean fetish makes it a perfect device as well.
Next I’ll choose something from Persia in Peckham–
How’s Mardi Gras in your neighborhood? It’s not done here, but it’s Chinese New Year so we have our share of street celebrations etc…Happy Year of the Ram!(makes me hungry for goat)
oops–rams aren’t goats, are they–well I’m still hungry for goat…
@Deb: billy-goats are what you mean, I think. And, like young rams, they will be most of the kid-goat you’ll find for sale.
Not much Chinese New Year celebrating near us, though Philly had quite a knees-up downtown I believe. We’re celebrating Fat Tuesday/ Shrove Tuesday aka pancake day tonight – only two days late, but it shortens Lent, so that’s good.
Ah, I know that stew and love the storks. They are so stately, aren’t they? They also seem terribly intelligent. They must be if they have figured a way to make themselves adorable to the public and safe from hungry hoards. Here’s to storks, good luck and your merry brood.
@Deana: Thanks for stopping by! Lovely to hear from you. I agree, storks are stately in much the same way as Prince Charles – awkwardly but with benign intentions – but they definitely have something attractive about them that ensures general goodwill. Also, I understand that they taste dreadful, which, looking at them, you can kind of imagine.
Just finished Nooseboom’s In The Dutch Mountains–and love it so I’ll have to get ahold of more of his work–funny, I’m having a hard time getting through Calabria with old Norm–am I detecting a bit (a large bit, actually) of contempt for the locals from him or is he just being charmingly snobbish? I’ve been in Colorado visiting family and while there I read some Wendall Berry fiction that my sister had and fell in love with his work–excellent American writing on par with (my absolute favorite) Jim Harrison who I in turn recommended to my sister. Thank God for books, si? And more so, sharing them!
Happy Spring and where’s that Persian lamb dish? 🙂
@Deb: Thanks for commenting, faithful reader! We miss you!
Nooteboom is rather special isn’t he? I found Old Calabria a little tough at times, but I rather liked his snobbishness. There are too many travel books these days that are non-judgmental and credulous that you just end up with bland reportage of what the author saw. I care less what you saw and more about how it made you feel, whether that’s reflected, as with Theroux, through the snippets of conversations with people he meets, or with Norman Douglas, in his snide remarks about the locals.
And, the Persian lamb dish blog is mostly written but the memory card with the images on it went missing when my sister-in-law borrowed the camera, so we’ll have to make it again. Could be worse, I suppose, but in general, we’ve been super busy lately and not blogging. It sucks. Hoping to find time to get back into it again soon.
Have been reading though. Recently finished James Herriott’s Yorkshire which reminded me a lot of miserable “outward bound” weekends as a young teenager spent scrambling over sodden heather in thick fog and being yelled at by my school master for getting lost. Excited to start Bruce Chatwin’s The Viceroy of Ouidah now.
I agree–the insights from authors and feelings are what makes things interesting and compelling.
Sorry about the lamb recipe pics but like you said, it could be worse! I’ll be glad to see it whenever it appears. Meanwhile I made another version of the lamb ribchops with a spicy Thai-ish marinate–very nice for a change.
I read an irresistable book review from the Progressive Populist, I think, of Scott Anderson’s Lawrence In Arabia, and I’ve just started it–the review was accurate–it is very good so far. I can safely say that whatever I learned in school was a far cry from any kind of truth, or at least the entire truth, about any of the major goings on in the world-esp. the wars. Good thing I’m old enough to have forgotten most of my school stuff anyway, so I’m not confused about “facts” remembered—-:)
Your current selections sound good too–we can swap reviews later.