Lemon Chicken and Twix Bars and Bear Claws, oh my!

My middle school experience was different than most people’s. Not that it lacked the angst, drama, or general confusion about the world, but that it took place in a red, one two-room school house (they upgraded right before I arrived), complete with bell tower, on a tiny island of only 200 residents. (Including three different orders of nuns. Oh, how the Franciscan order despised us hooligan kids in those days! They must have known we stole Swedish fish out of their candy jar when they weren't looking...)

(Perhaps it was because I didn’t get an authentic middle school experience the first go around that I was fated to repeat middle school as an adult - over and over like Groundhog Day - welcoming in a new crop of cliquey, curious yet confused 8th graders to my classroom each year).

I woke up at 5:45 each morning, and my mother blearily stumbled into the kitchen to help me pack a lunch of PB&J on sourdough bread - wrapped in tinfoil - orange slices, and a Twix bar (to this day I’m not sure how an actual candy bar made its way into my lunch - those few years are the only time, before or since, that I remember having candy in the house).

My dad and I would drive in the dark to the ferry landing where we would park his 1978 powder blue Dodge van in the lower lot and wait for the ferry. Sometimes, if we were early, we’d listen to Car Talk on the radio, a spare saw blade stuck in the hole where the antenna used to be to try to boost the reception. 

If there was real rain (which graced us not as often as you might think), my dad would drive me the mile from his office up the wooded road to the school house. All the other days - those northwest “fake” rain days, sunny days, and every kind of day in between - I would spend the first hour of the day futilely trying to cajole him into a ride anyway. He never caved. His well-meaning but somewhat-snarky colleague would tell me a walk in the dark and damp “builds character.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was pretty sure I already had enough character, thank you very much. Unfortunately (mostly just because I hate being wrong), he was right. 

So I walked or rode my bike. Brian Sesby’s mom drove past me everyday, heading straight for the school, and not once in two years did she stop and offer me a ride. I guess she had some pretty strong views on what builds character, too.

Those years stand out in my mind as the first time I started to really notice the world. I had my first crush, first cigarette, and for the first time realized not everyone thought it was cool to be smart and be a girl. Time seemed to slow down; boredom was my constant companion, not because there was suddenly a dearth of things to do, but because when you’re a teenager you'd rather brood and complain about being bored than just about anything else. To pass the hours after school, we used to sneak out the black and white TV at my friends house to clandestinely watch “VR Troopers” (if you don’t remember this show count yourself lucky) before her mom came home and inevitably caught us.

I have these crisp, vivid memories of longing when I think about the prepackaged (no doubt 3-month-old) bear claws they sold in the ferry’s galley kitchen. The days we took the ‘long boat home’ - which meant we got on the 4:35 and rode across the channel to another island, only to stay on the boat while it returned to our starting point before heading home to the island where we lived - I had hours, nay, (seemingly) decades to beg my dad and his mainland-dwelling colleagues for spare change so I could buy one of those bear claws. I remember being successful only once, when I’d imagine the cost-benefit analysis of handing over a dollar versus listening to a relentless twelve-year-old plead her case finally tipped in my favor.

It seems like it was always dark by the time we got home, though I’m sure it couldn't have actually been in the early fall and late spring. My mother made dinner for us every night, and we’d eat soon after we arrived from the ferry: a glass full of milk, blue cotton napkins, and plates of salad, rice and the entree du jour. I didn’t know until I was much older that not everyone shared my experience of sitting down with their family at the end of each day, downloading the day’s experiences, passing the green peas, and asking “may I please be excused.”

Clearly if I can still recall the family meals and forced marches of the early 90s, I must have built a bit of character in these years, in spite of my best efforts to the contrary.

This chicken was a staple of our family dinners during those years. It was one of my grandmother’s signature dishes, and became my mother's go-to weeknight and guest dinner alike. 

I hardly ever cook meat at home, so this hasn’t made it into my regular cooking repertoire. It also carries a 1950s mentality of everything’s-better-with-more-butter, so maybe reserve it for special occasions.  

Gam’s Lemon Chicken

Whole chicken pieces (bone-in) - preferably breasts and thighs
4 Tbsp butter
3 large lemons
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place chicken in a shallow baking dish or glass pan.

2. Slice pats of butter and dab on top of chicken pieces. 

3. Squeeze juice of three lemons over the top and salt and pepper generously

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven, basting every 15 minutes, until done (45 min to an hour). The basting is key here, as it imparts the lemony flavor and keeps the chicken moist. 

(If not ready to serve right away, reduce the heat to 225 and continue basting while you wait for my grandfather to get home and finish his before-dinner scotch and water.)

Please excuse the mostly-old, somewhat-shoddy photos (one of them was actually taken by a four-year-old) and the conspicuous lack of a single picture that even remotely resembles chicken. It's been a while since I've been back to this little island (or cooked chicken for that matter) so I didn't have a lot to work with in the visuals department.