Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Rescued by the Chicken Tikka Masala
This summer, my 13-year-old son refused to do any summer camps except a one-week half-day soccer camp at the end of July. He wanted to do nothing. So for the last three weeks he has been doing nothing except for playing his Flight Simulator game, reading (a bit), and practicing clarinet and saxophone (only when asked) and electric guitar (every day). And picking blackberries. About ten days into the summer he overstepped his computer limits and had his computer confiscated for 24 hours. At that point I told him that this unstructured summer was a kind of experiment and that it wasn't working too well. I told him I would be glad to put him in a day camp if he didn't find a way to get out and do something besides the activities listed above. So far this has been an empty threat.
He did make an effort to call some friends after that, but today was another day where he did not leave the house or bother to put on anything other than pyjamas. In fact, he barely left his room. And--to make things worse--this morning we discovered that he had left his cell phone at the field last weekend (where he reluctantly emerged for some soccer on Saturday) and the person who found it had been going crazy text messaging and making long distance calls to Spanish-speaking countries. Luckily we called to suspend the line exactly 48 hours from when this low creature found it, and 48 hours is the grace period you get from before the moment you suspend the line when you don't have to pay for the calls. As I went downstairs around 5 pm this afternoon to nag him for yet another thing I was grumpy about, he said to me, "Mom, let's cook something."
Last summer, he had also refused to do any summer camps but I scheduled some for him anyway. One of the camps was a Mom cooking camp, run by me, in which he got to choose the kind of cooking. He chose Indian. We bought a cookbook and tried a bunch of recipes, including chicken tikka masala, which is his favorite Indian dish. It didn't turn out very good. But he has grown a lot in his cooking skills since last summer and it seemed worth giving it another try. It was the one thing he had actually asked me to do all day. And besides, I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, including 2 lbs. of chicken thighs.
The recipe we used was from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Suvir Saran is one of those hot and trendy cooks who seems to be the instant authority on Indian cooking these days. I've had mixed results from the recipes in his book; some turned out great and some didn't. In general they are simplified and don't take hours or too many difficult-to-obtain ingredients. But some of them have been a little flat, or a weird texture, like our first chicken tikka masala last summer.
This time, with my son in charge, and me just helping move things along and making tactful suggestions about how high to turn up the burner, it turned out sublime. He chopped ginger, pureed onions, marinated the chicken, measured spices, fried the onions, and more. The sauce was silky, thick, tangy and rich. The chicken was tender and flavorful. We had it with basmati rice, sauteed greens, and nan. It was better than any restaurant chicken tikka masala I've ever had. After dinner, I was suffused with good feelings for my son. He was proud of his accomplishment. The other two members of our family were grateful and appreciative. It's amazing what a good meal can do.