Henry's not halfway to six yet, of course, and any prudent parent will tell you fickle's the only constant, among kids. Maybe, next week, he'll fix his affections on marine life, whales and jellyfish and sea stars and such. Maybe pigs will fly. I'm not holding my breath.
I use the term superhero rather loosely, here. Sort of the way Reagan claimed ketchup for the vegetable kingdom. We've dabbled in the Marvel family, Spiderman and Co. But in his heart of hearts Henry's allegiance lies elsewhere, with LEGO's Bionicles and "Ro-bots in Dis-GUISE!!" (Transformers, to you amateurs.)
I'm not surprised; I expected a bit of Manichaean action about now. I could see it coming around Halloween, and all kids of an age love a little good-versus-evil. I just thought, I don't know, it would involve knights and dragons, or ogres, or pirates, or Tyrannosaurus Rexes. Instead we have Autobots and Decepticons, and a perpetual loop between guy-mode and car-mode. It's all very Joseph Campbell, Hasbro-style. (You can find me in the dictionary, right there under naive).
Part of me is a little ambivalent about these toys. They're plastic, for one thing. This means we didn't whittle them from wood sourced from the forests behind our home, which in my heart of hearts, I somehow imagine we'll do. Even though we're surrounded by miles of cement, not old growth. And I'm fantastically terrified of knives.
Also, I have a tiny issue with the commercial angle.
Namely the shameless marketing engine that preys on young minds by
continually spitting out minor variations and appealing to the basest
of itty-bitty warlord instincts in order to twist tender hearts and
brainwash small boys into little mouthpieces for Big Play and the
industrial-entertainment complex. Not to put too fine a point on it.
But another part of me is coming around. For one thing, it's where we're at. Our life is a deeply urban one. And even if commercial TV has virtually no play in our home and I unsubscribed us from LEGO's propaganda-cum-magazine long ago, these dudes are everywhere. And last time I checked, forbidden fruit had a lousy track record.
Then, there's the way they have got this boy motivated. Henry's always had a willingness to work, but he's been operating on warp speed these past several months. He bought his first Bionicle with precious birthday money (thank you, Uncle James and Aunt Sara!). His second came compliments of Mamo, back in May. The next four? All bought with his very own money, earned the old-fashioned way, through elbow grease and gumption. The kid's been doing chores like nobody's business, sweeping driveways, shredding papers, filling spice jars for a dime. He even does windows. Hard to argue with that.
Plus there's the fact this is Henry we're talking about. Toys, any toys, will forever be but props, springboards to his endless imagination. He might fall in love with the latest and greatest, but he'd never dream of playing by the rules, thank goodness. I go to make dinner and nearly trample my middle child, folded flat on the floor, Ironhide in the flesh. I come down to coffee and end up excavating the step stool, covered in "transformers" engineered out of LEGOs. Henry couldn't mind Hollywood's strict script if he tried.And then, the Bionicles are really just cool. They've got these beautiful, articulate ball-and-socket joints that bend into the most awesome positions. They hang and dangle like a dream, from nets or branches turned enemy lines. And they're small and light enough to bring just about anywhere. Like a Polly Pocket, only with spikes and claws and flaming spears.
Tahu and Henry helped me spruce up the barbecue recently, not for pay, just the promise of chicken. Boneless skinless chicken breast, of all the unlikely things. Super's hardly the first word I think of when this cut comes up; dull, boring, bland, yawn ... tend to head up the list. Served whole, baked or roasted, there are few things I'd less like to call dinner. There's just not enough there there, you know? I mostly avoid it, preferring whole thighs, except for a stir-fry, now and again. And, BIG and, except for these kebabs, which overwrote everything I knew boneless chicken breast to be.
Heady, rich, insanely flavorful, these are smoky, spiced morsels of sweet juicy meat. They come from the inimitable Madhur Jaffrey, which should be your first clue that they are fantastic. Like so many Indian recipes, this one looks long. And like so many Indian recipes, it comes together quick, most of the length simply spooning up spices. You cube your chicken, season it with lemon and salt, then toss with said spices and a half cup of cream. (Your second clue, that.) Then you marinate all for six to eight hours, or, if you're me, for an overnight slumber. There are few things that make me feel more devilishly clever than setting myself up for tomorrow's supper, tonight.
And then, before dinner, just threading and grilling, a twenty minute task even if you're mid-battle. In winter, these can be broiled indoors, and I never hesitate to do just that. But they're unquestionably best done up summer-style, seared fast and finished slow over smoldering coals. Pretty darn super, on planet Earth or Cybertron.
Silken Chicken Kebabs
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey, From Curries to Kebabs
I've increased the yield over the original, as I hardly see the point of firing up the grill for something so delicious, and only having enough for one meal. Leftovers are brilliant tossed in a salad, folded into cousous and green veg, or eaten greedily, with the fingers, by the light of the fridge.
If you don't have garam masala, a blend of several spices, don't let that stop you. Add a little cardamom if you have it, or just plow ahead. It will still be magnificent. This marinade is generous, and could likely accommodate upwards of three pounds of protein.
Please note, this recipe requires 6-8 hours (or overnight) to marinate.
2-2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
4 Tablespoons corn or peanut oil
Place cubed chicken in a non-reactive bowl, and prick all over, lightly, with the tip of a sharp knife. Add salt and lemon juice, then using your fingers, rub seasonings thoroughly into the chicken. Set aside for 20 minutes.
Add cream and all spices (ginger, garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne, garam masala) to seasoned chicken, mix well, cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours, or overnight. (I usually prepare this the night before, after dinner, and pull it out the following evening.)
Prepare the barbecue, with coals banked on one side for high and low temp grilling, until coals are grey and smoldering. Thread meat on 6-8 metal skewers (or soaked wood skewers), brush with oil, and lay on the hot side of the grill. Sear kebabs, 2-3 minutes, until golden, then rotate to sear reverse side, another 2-3 minutes. Move skewers to cool side of grill, cover, and cook another 3-10 minutes, until just cooked through. Check often, piercing thickest center pieces with a knife, until chicken is opaque and juices run clear.
(Alternatively, preheat your broiler, and place the oven rack 5" from the heat. Balance skewers on rim of a shallow baking tray, and broil 6 minutes on each side, or until browned and cooked through.)