There’s a clear order of operations to my conversations these days. You know, like how in 8th grade math class you looked through an equation to find all the additions you had to do, then the subtractions, then . . . or wait, was it the multiplications first? (This is why I’m not a math teacher.)
But yes, it goes like this: First, people ask how the baby is doing. (He’s great, by the way. More than ten pounds!) Then, they ask how I’m doing. (Fine also.) Finally, always the third question:
Are you writing?
Honestly, this one sort of cracks me up – first, because going back to work is really still nowhere near the top of my list of priorities, and second, because when I was working regular full-time hours, people in general assumed I wasn’t writing. I’m not sure if this applies to all freelancers, but most of my friends with normal jobs have always called at, say, 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, when they’re on their lunch break on east coast time. They say something brilliant, like Hey, what are you doing? Like Tuesday morning is popcorn hour for all freelance writers. It always seems to come as a big surprise that I’m working. Sometimes I make things up, just for shock value. Oh, you know. Getting a pedicure before my dog’s Botox appointment. Normal Tuesday stuff.
But now, six weeks after Graham’s come home, it seems everyone expects me to be writing writing writing. And, well, what can I say? I sort of expected I might be, also. It’s not that I don’t want to write. And the words still come – only now, they flood my brain at the most inconvenient times. I do my best to contain them, while I’m nursing or walking or rocking a baby in the middle of the night, but it’s marbles on an ice rink, and I’m not even wearing skates. Heck, I don’t even own skates.
Before Graham was born, I had a very clear-cut creative process. I wrote in violent storms, usually in the morning. They were never any more predictable than that, but when they came – always with mental lightning and thunder, some sort of warning that got me sitting in front of a keyboard before the rains came – I was usually available. Now? Not so much. I’m often whole rooms away from a keyboard. The rains come, and they drench me, and then they pass, and I’m left sitting there in a big puddle of words.
Someday – who knows when? – I’m going to have to find a new creative process, for the days when I’m not in charge. Not an umbrella, per say, but maybe gutters, or a good, dependable catchment system for all these thoughts. A new thing, for this new life. I don’t think it will necessarily be a better way of writing, or worse. Just different. I’m really looking forward to it, whatever it is.
For now, since all those words about my neighbor’s birthday party have long since dried into puddle crust on the kitchen floor, just a recipe for the chicken salad I made for a group of giggly women. If nothing else, I beg you: Make the herbed mayonnaise. It goes a long way to make things exciting when you’re slapping turkey sandwiches together in the middle of the night.
My neighbor recently had what she called her first 49th birthday party. I volunteered to bring chicken salad. I wanted something summery and light and herby, but didn’t want to make any presumptions about how gooey guests liked their sandwiches. (Goodness knows there’s nothing worse than eating the wrong rank on your mayonnaise scale.) I think I found the ultimate solution: I mixed the chicken up with about half the dressing—a mixture of mayonnaise, plain yogurt, bright lemon zest, and handfuls of herbs from my porch garden—and let people slather the rest on baguette halves, along with tomatoes, avocado slices, and pickled onions, as they assembled their own sandwiches.
Save any extra herbed mayo for bartering; it’s worth its weight in gold. (And if you make your own mayonnaise, it’ll be worth whatever’s more expensive than gold.)
If you’re pressed for time, substitute pre-roasted rotisserie chicken (2 large or 3 small) for the chicken breasts.
TIME: 45 minutes
MAKES: About 10 big sandwiches’ worth
4 cups chicken broth
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
2 cups chopped celery (from 4 big ribs)
3/4 cup golden raisins
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Zest and juice of 2 large lemons
1/2 cup finely chopped chives, plus 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
1/3 cup finely chopped tarragon
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley, plus 1 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large shallots, finely chopped
Bring the chicken broth to a bare simmer in a wide, shallow pan. Add the chicken breasts, and poach, turning occasionally, until cooked through (about 15 minutes). Transfer chicken to a cutting board to cool. Add the celery and raisins to the hot broth, and let sit for 5 minutes. (This softens the celery a bit and plumps up the raisins.) Strain celery and raisins (reserving broth for another use, if you’d like), and set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 cup finely chopped chives, tarragon, and 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Shred or chop the chicken, and transfer to a large mixing bowl, along with the celery, raisins, 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives, 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley, chopped shallot, and 1 cup of the herbed mayonnaise. Mix well, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. Serve on lettuce or in sandwiches, with additional mayonnaise on the side.