This Just In: A Break Not As Good As A Rest

Pollo al ajillo
An old joke tells of a Philadelphia area man who, panicking when his doctor diagnosed him with incurable cancer and predicted he had six months to live, begged the medic for help. “Isn’t there any way I can live for longer?”, he asked. “Go marry an Italian girl from South Philly and those six months will feel like a lifetime.” the doctor replied.

During our short family vacation to Vermont earlier this summer, this sort black humor came to mind more than once.

Those of you with children, and those who know be-childrened families, will intuitively understand that going anywhere with young ones, even to the end of the driveway, requires an extensive process of pocket-stuffing so that iron rations of juice and snacks plus at least one diaper and a petite menagerie of dinosaurs are to hand in preparation for the most likely eventualities. So it was that after no fewer than three week’s pre-planning and a minimum for three hours of packing, the car was rammed to the gunwales with everything that we could need on our four-day adventure. To the roof, a self-assemble crib was strapped with patriotically-striped bungies. Amongst the assorted suitcases, Minnie Mouses, velociraptors and micro-scooters in the trunk lay a camping stove and six small propane tanks, three small saucepans, a set of cutlery, a cruet of olive oil, salt, pepper and vinegar, and last, but certainly not least, the cyclopean eyes of 4 large rolls of kitchen towels poked out from the clutter.


Our destination, some occasionally excruciating seven hours distant, was a rambling old guesthouse in the charming mountain hamlet of West Dover, Vermont, in the process of restoration by a friend’s uncle. Tucked away among towering maples on the side of a hill, hidden from the road up a bumpy graveled track and brambled on all sides with wild raspberries and blackberries, it bore a definite Ann of Green Gables air. In its partially-finished condition, with at least 12 bedrooms and a confusing tangle of staircases from which labyrinth we would emerge expecting to meet David Bowie all sharp-fanged and languid perched on a stool, it was a wonderful old pile for the kids to explore. And explore they did. Roving in packs with our host’s giant hound, Bubba, in tow, their screams fading and growing louder as they rumbled around its echoing hallways, happily avoiding the exposed ends of rusty nails and splintering planks, they would return dusty and cobwebbed, full of excitement about the discovery of another secret stairway or bewitched by some peculiar Indian dolls with melted faces.

The fascination and excitement lasted right up until meal-times when the lack of a kitchen, occasioned by an electrical fire in late spring, laid bare our rudimentary accommodations, and made clear why Amy had taken such pains to prepare. Without the camping stove, I do not know how we would have managed to feed four hungry children unless they ate bread and peanut butter for three meals a day. And, I, whose camping experiences, both cooking and sleeping (I’ll save one episode in particular for a later post), range from the absurd to the just mostly uncomfortable, was relieved to discover that not only was this particular model perfectly suited to turning out sausages, chicken legs, pork chops and corn for the under-8s, but that the whole experience was rather enjoyable despite the continual squatting that singed my knee-hairs and exposed my groin to the full force of the burners.

Camping stove cuisine

However, encouraged by my praise for said stove, Amy’s attempts the following morning to turn the several pounds of blueberries we picked at the delightful Boyd Family Farm into pancakes topped with local maple syrup revealed its limitations. And what on a conventional stove would have been a 30-minute stint, turned inexorably into more than an hour as the batter sat gloopily in the pan uncooked while the plastic handle of the pan began to melt releasing cancerous whiffs of petrochemicals into the pristine mountain air.

Even this frustrating episode though was lightened the day after, when during our final breakfast together taken at Dot’s of Dover, we were surprised at having to request maple syrup in place of the Aunt Jemima’s on our table. It felt like being offered a Big Mac in a Paris bistro.

Somerset Reservoir, VT
Sweet Brook Farm, Williamstown, MA

Upon our return home, wearily putting ourselves to bed and scratching our heads at the realization of being more tired after our vacation than before it, we promised ourselves two things: a trip away without the kids err long, and, before that, a decent meal. We have not yet planned the trip without the kids, though we have pulled a few old guidebooks off the shelves which now sit unopened on our coffee-table soon to be fully covered with lego, Elmos and other furry toys, and overall levels of fatigue have reduced our ambitions for a decent meal from one with exotic ingredients to one that’s ready before 9pm.

But happily, lowered expectations meant that a simple dish of Spanish-style garlic fried chicken scented with rosemary and served with a lip-smacking white wine jus and a few vegetables from the garden fit the bill. The crispy, salty skin of the young chicken and the chewy exterior of the fried garlic yielding gently to a soft and almost sweet center offered a mental break and the promise of somewhere relaxing and far away that even the prospect of a 6am start the next day could not destroy.


Pollo al Ajillo – Murcian-style Garlic Chicken (feeds 4)
Adapted from Penelope Casas’ The Foods & Wines of Spain


  • 1 medium chicken, broken down into constituent pieces
  • 16oz olive oil
  • 1-2 heads garlic, cloves separated and skin removed
  • 8oz dry white wine
  • 3-4 rosemary sprigs
  • sea salt


  1. Heat olive oil in a wide-bottomed, high-sided saucepan until around 300F.
  2. Salt chicken pieces liberally and carefully place into oil.
  3. Fry until golden brown, turning at least once, about 12-15 minutes.
  4. Remove chicken to a cooling rack and sprinkle lightly with salt.
  5. Pour off 2/3 oil, return remainder to heat and add garlic cloves.
  6. Fry until crispy on edges and golden all over, and remove to rack.
  7. Pour off half remaining oil, so about four tablespoonsremain. Return to heat.
  8. Add rosemary sprigs and allow to brown quickly (1 minute) before adding white wine.
  9. Reduce wine by half and add to gravy boat for service alongside fried chicken and garlic.
  10. Serve with crusty bread or fried potatoes, salad and a glass of the same white wine.

9 thoughts on “This Just In: A Break Not As Good As A Rest

  1. I was wondering about the Bowie reference–I Googled “Bowie-Vampire” and it gave me The Hunger –I watched a trailer–1983!! How did I miss that? Was that your reference? Now I’ll have to watch it. Better late, etc…
    Sooo glad to hear you had an away game–short and hectic as it was,(does your tribe number 4 kids now? ) but still…and the Pollo sounds mighty fine too.
    I will look forward to the Adults Only destination news–I’m sure it will be somewhere grand and unusual. And somewhat quiet. With a working kitchen…..:)

    1. @Deborah: Bowie reference is his late 1980s Classic “Labyrinth” in all its Jim Henson muppety glory. I haven’t seen The Hunger so thanks for turning me on to that. Adult-only destination is Spain in November and to say we are excited out of our minds would be an understatement. With any luck there’s at least one more post in the meantime.

  2. Spain! Excellent, you guys always have great posts if Spain is involved–Glad for ya, and look forward to the next post before you go–if you have the time! Every “free” moment will be for planning so I’ll leave you be and wait to hear all about the trip.
    Buen Viaje!

  3. Aloha, travelers–how was Spain? I have a few book finds to share but I’ll wait to hear that you’re back first–Busy time of year, and twice so with kids, so any time is great.

    1. @Deborah: so great to hear from you! Spain was, well, insert preferred superlative. It was a trip for the ages that we’re almost ready to start posting about. Watch these pages in the coming days. Happy holidays!

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