- Sophie, our red hen
Sophie was a hard act to follow. She had been my master’s favorite – a hen of exceptional beauty and character. Affectionate, faithful, productive. How could I possibly compete with her memory?
I have brick-red feathers too, but short of my going to the parrucchiere, their color is never going to set the world on fire. Sophie used to follow Master everywhere, from vine to olive tree, eating the tiny insects that would surface from the grass behind Master’s footsteps. Master saw this act as a sign of Sophie’s undying fidelity, but I see things differently. Sophie was a glutton for food and for attention. Why else would that hen leap into Master’s lap at break-time to nibble on his sandwich and slurp up his iced tea, without ever a reprimand? Master was hen-pecked indeed!
Sure, Sophie had some close encounters with predators, but did she show any bravery? No sir, she did not! For weeks whe cowered, roosting safely on the high window-sill outside the kitchen. Then she began to make her nest and her mess on the front porch, proudly delivering her eggs conveniently in time for breakfast. I do believe she preened with pride watching family and guests ooh and aah over her achievements as she watched them savor the freshness of her eggs.
Mistress Ginda was on to her. Whenever Sophie would hear movement in the kitchen, she would flap her wings wildly and levitate high enough to see who was there. If it were the mistress, Sophie wouldn’t bother to leap a second time – no sense in burning calories on the stingy lady of the house. However, if Master Mike were in the kitchen, Sophie became a veritable jack-in-the-box, up and down, up and down, pecking at the window, flirting and clucking until she got what she wanted – a gentle pat, special scraps, and Master’s daily blessing to free-range on this glorious land. I know all this because they still talk of her, mourning her absence. Sophie lived a charmed life and when it was her time to depart this world, she upped and left, without a trace, leaving only memories in her place.
Well, my story differs. I suppose I suffered justifiably the consequences of my insufferable behavior. Knowing I could never measure up to the beloved Sophie, I went for negative attention instead and my plan met with much success. At first I had free-range of the place, but wrecking havoc in Mistress Ginda’s flower garden and laying my eggs down in the woods didn’t gain me any favor. Master would slip and slide through the underbrush, determined in spite of his bad knees, to retrieve my eggs, but Mistress put an end to that.
“Lock her up in the pen,” Mistress said, “and she will be forced to lay her eggs in one place.” They held me in that cage for 24 hours, but I held my precious egg inside me longer and the minute they opened the gate, I high-tailed it to the woods and deposited my gift deep in the overgrowth, as Master and Mistress watched on in astonishment.
“Two days, this time,” concluded the Mistress, showing no mercy whatsoever. forty-eight hours later, it pained me as I wobbled speedily back to the woods to bury yet another egg beneath the fallen foliage.
With this, they gave up and left me to roam about freely. I continued to plague their days with my mischief, changing my hiding place every week or so. Why they didn’t make stew of me that summer remains a mystery to me. Eventually, I began to feign some fidelity and provide them with regular production, for which Master rewarded me by providing my own supply of cat food, putting an end to my thieving from the feline’s bowl. From then on, we lived in relative harmony, but I had no intention of kowtowing as Sophie once did! I remained unpredictable, aloof, and nameless, although occasionally Master would call me “Red.”
Tomorrow my owners are going to Padova and before the sun sets, they will dine on that Veneto specialty Bigoli al Sugo di Gallina Ubriaca – Drunken Hen. They will be drunk with pleasure and Mistress Ginda will no doubt want to reproduce it in her own kitchen. I am at great risk. But I have one attribute that has escaped their notice and that is that I can see into the future. It does not look good for me. So I must say my farewell. This morning I will flee the coop for good. Unlike Sophie’s departure, which as final, mine will simply be an escape, a new adventure.
Addio, think of me often!
Drunken Hen – A Venetian Specialty
1 large stewing hen
¾ liter of red wine (preferably Chianti)
1 onion, chopped fine
1 stalk of celery, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1 lb. of Brigoli or pasta of your choosing
Cut the hen into small serving pieces. Mince the fresh herbs and chop the vegetables. Place these ingredients into a large glass container and cover with red wine (approximately ¾ of a liter). Cover the container and leave to marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the chicken pieces and pat dry on paper towels. In a large skillet, heat several tablespoons of olive oil with a garlic clove. Remove garlic and add the chicken pieces and cook on both sides until golden brown. Add the wine marinade and let simmer for several hours. Turn off the heat and let cool. Remove the chicken and break up into tiny pieces. Set aside. Run the sauce through a food processor very quickly (you don’t want the sauce to be too smoothly pureed). Add the chicken and sauce back into the large skillet and heat through.
Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente. Serve with the Drunk Hen Sauce.
More recipes and stories can be found in my cookbook.
El Marsam Cookbook – An Umbrian Farmhouse and its Kitchen
by Ginda Simpson
This is not simply a cookbook! Throughout its pages, Ginda offers her readers tasty tidbits of everyday life in the Umbrian countryside where she lives. In short story vignettes, she paints a lively image of the people that teach her everyday to celebrate the food that graces her table. As Ginda gratefully acknowledges – famed chefs, friends, neighbors, peasants and strangers alike have all contributed in their way to her intimate knowledge and deep respect for the age-old traditions of an Italian cuisine that is simple and wholesome, satisfying and nurturing to both body and soul. The recipes are clear, the ingredients simple, the outcome worthy of a party! Cook up some goodness and invite your friends to dinner!
El Marsam Cookbook
Amazon.com for Kindle