The story of the chicken that went into these tacos goes back to Friday night.
We had big plans for the weekend: a party on Friday, another on Saturday, friends to see and places to go. We had all the grandparents conscripted as babysitters. But on Friday morning, we got a call from my mother-in-law. Chuck's grandmother Jean had become very ill, the prognosis was poor, she was in the hospital and would we be very upset if she had to cancel that evening's babysitting?
Well, needless to say our weekend plans changed. On Friday evening, though, with Jean hanging in there, we still needed to go out and take care of some things. So my parents stepped into the lurch, showing up on Friday afternoon with groceries. "I'm making roast chicken," my mom said. "Don't worry about it. When do you think you'll be home?" When we arrived home that night, we discovered that she had roasted not one, but two chickens. "You might need the leftovers," she said. "You can always freeze them." Better yet, she hadn't thrown out the carcass of the one they had eaten. I knew they would come in useful.
On Saturday, Jean was failing. They had brought her home and the family had gathered to wait. We rushed to get ourselves and the kids dressed and out the door and as we left, I thought, "is there anything we can bring over?" Terrible, this time of year, to have an empty cupboard; I'd just finished grading papers, and there had been no time to bake (or to cook anything at all; I see the last time I posted here was December 7). We hadn't yet even done the grocery shopping. Then I remembered a complete roast chicken dinner I had frozen a while back. The bird, vegetables, potatoes, everything sitting in its aluminum pan in the deep freeze. I grabbed it and we went over to the house, where it became our offering.
Jean died early Sunday morning. We will miss her awfully. She was tough and funny and loving, the kind of grandmother who played ping-pong with kid-Chuck even when her hands were so gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis that she could scarcely hold the paddle. The kind who didn't blink an eye when he brought over his Jewish girlfriend to meet her on Christmas Eve, the kind of grandmother who suggested it would be nice to light a menorah at her house on Christmas Eve when Chanukah fell at the same time.
Dinnertime still arrives, and someone still has to make dinner. On Sunday, I took the chicken carcass left from Friday night, threw it in the crock pot with some celery, carrots, onion, potatoes, and herbs, and left it so no one had to worry about dinner. Tonight, the other leftover chicken got stripped down and combined with scallions, lemon and lime juices, and canned diced green chiles for tacos.
My friend Allison and I were talking about roast chicken the other day. We both make it a lot, and we bring it everywhere: when someone is sick or hurt, when someone has a new baby. (And I remarked, if someone thinks my roast chickens are gross, they'd better tell me, because otherwise I'll just keep giving them away.) It seems so irrelevant in many ways, really, all the cooking. But when we came home on Friday to discover that my mom had left us roast chicken in the fridge, we both felt loved and cared for. That's the feeling I hope people get when I leave them food. It's how I hope my kids feel, or at least how they'll remember feeling when they look back someday. Like someone cared enough about them to roast them a chicken sometimes, and then to turn the leftovers into tacos.