The Greatest Chicken Salad I Will Never Make Again

This post is in response to Kitchen Wench's one-off event challenging bloggers to share a recipe attached to some event in your past in a substantial, yet bittersweet way. When I read this challenge, I knew immediately the recipe and its story that I wanted to share even though I cannot include a picture (you will see why!). It is the story of the greatest chicken salad I will never make again.

I can't even remember now where I got this recipe, it must've been from a person, because it is neatly copied on one of my beautiful 4x6 recipe cards for a set that included a recipe box with matching cards that I received as a gift back when I and my family was young. Most of my recipes are torn from magazines, cut from a newspaper, scribbled on random bits of paper, or typed by friends or acquaintances, printed out from Food Network or Epicurious. A recipe had to be really special in order for me to use one of the 50 cards that came with my set, and it had to be something that I was sure would be a permanent addition to my culinary reperatoire.

This recipe is everything a recipe should be - delicious, light, healthy, easy to make, filled with complex, swett-hot flavors and very portable! In fact, I made this Szechwan Chicken Salad several times when I needed to take something to a pot luck and there were never leftovers. Everyone in my family loved it and were always suggesting it, particularly during the dog days of Tidewater summer!

There was nothing unusual on a day, so long ago, when I made a big double batch of this salad. The weather was going to be warm, lending itself to a light salad, and I was planning to take any leftovers for lunch at work in the next week. I had just placed the covered bowl of salad in the fridge when we got a call from the hospital that my husband's father was near death. The Colonel, as he was affectionately (and respectfully) called by all, was an incredible man, with a sharp memory and a knowledge for world history that would have shamed any history professor 4 decades his junior. He had served in three branches of the service during his military career, had served in the esteemed 1st City Troop, and danced with Lucy Mercer in the Roosevelt White House as a young officer. He was full of stories for anyone who would listen, and since most of his family had heard them all (multiple times) , as the newest daughter-in-law, I was a welcome audience. As our family grew, he was a doting grandfather with all of the grandchildren, bouncing them on his knee to the tune of "Gary Owen". The older Dowd grandchildren remember to this day their "Grandpapa" blowing the bugle. He was always an ally to a grandchild who wanted an extra dessert or to stay up past bedtime. A man who was sometimes remembered as stern by his own children, was a marshmallow to his grandchildren.

I will never forget the first time that I met him. It wasn't long after the movie Patton had come out. My father-in-law, who was at that time the Superintendent of the Winchester National Cemetary, was strolling among the headstones and when he turned around, I thought I was dating the son of George C. Scott!! He had the bearing and demeanor (and the posture) of a career military officer. You could imagine that he cut a dashing figure in his younger years (and he delighted in telling you so!).

As young newlyweds, my husband and I moved in with my in-laws in order to save money to buy a house, and allowing our mother-in-law to travel to wherever my sisters-in-law were having their children (and for awhile there was a steady stream). In the years that we lived there I never saw my father-in-law in any state other than either fully dressed (to the nines I might add) or in his pajamas, robe and slippers. When I had my own first child, my mother-in-law was away, so I brought my daughter home to a house run by the Colonel and my husband, who had gone to the commissary to get all manner of food for a new mom... and Guinness stout because he was sure that would help with my nursing!

His pet peeves- Cheap suits or shoes, runs in a lady's stockings, adults or children who were disrespectful, lazy or dishonest people. When he was told by his doctor (he was a Type 2 diabetic) that if he was good, he could have a half-cup of ice cream a night, he picked the largest mug in the cabinet and then used about about 600 psi to spoon in as much Breyer's chocolate ice cream as could be accomodated by the laws of physics!
My mother-in-law told me about his one cooking experience, when she came home from the hospital after the birth of one of their children. She said that he was determined to make her a meal and serve her (despite the fact that, to my knowledge he could only cook hot dogs and toast!). This was when TV dinners were brand new and he said he would make her one. Despite her offers to help (and her strong conviction that he had no idea how to use the oven!), he insisted that he could do it. She ate her words when he marched proudly up the stairs with the foil plate with a turkey dinner golden brown and steaming, smelling delicious and inviting. As he ran to get her a drink, she stuck her fork to take the first bite... and found that beneath the golden brown steaming surface, the food was still frozen in the middle!

The days leading up to his funeral, we put the Szechwan Chicken Salad that I had made what seemed like an eternity ago out with the other food brought by family and friends, and as always, it disappeared. My husband has, since then, associated that chicken salad with his father's death and even though I and my children have tried to convince him otherwise, I have not ever made it again.

While it may seem strange, this blog event gives me the opportunity to share not only my fond memories of the Colonel, and his incredible life, but to share with anyone who reads this a great recipe that you and our family can enjoy. I hope that you will make it and enjoy ...and also remember, in a fond way, a man you never met except through my words.

Szechwan Chicken Salad

1/4 cup peanut or sesame oil (I used sesame)
4-5 tbsp red wine vingar
1-2 tbsp honey
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic
3/4 tsp hot pepper sauce, adjust to taste
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients above until well mixed and then toss with the following:
1/2 lb bow tie pasta, cooked and drained
3 cups broccoli florets
2 cups cooked chicken cut in chunks
1 cup fresh or frozen snow peas
2 green onions, cut up
Once combined, salad is best if it sits for 4-8 hours or overnight.


s'kat said…
What a sweet, sad story. The Colonel sounds like one swell guy. I'm going to print this out, it sounds quite nice!

ps- I went to Create for the first time last night. Whoa, nelly, that was some good stuff!
Sara said…
That is a sad but very true story. I can remember what I was eating for dinner when I got the call that my beloved Grandmother had died. I've never cooked that recipe again and I don't think I ever will.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for sharing this for the Nostalgia event. A beautiful post that remembers a wonderful man, and though your husband may not be able to partake in this dish again because of the memories it holds for him, hopefully others that try this recipe will be able to make it a part of their special occasions too.
Deborah Dowd said…
Shelley - I think you will like this recipe, especially as the weather gets warmer!

Sara - I guess that food memories are very strong whether good or bad...

Ellie- Great idea for an event and I hope those who read this recipe will try it.
Anonymous said…
I got chills reading this post. Excellent writing. Thanks for this personal glimpse into your life!
Deborah Dowd said…
Kristen- Thanks. I hoped with would connect with readers, who ay have their own "Colonel"
Eva said…
I can't really recall through how many links and clicks I ended up at this post during my regular foodblog-reading. It shows me one more time how many interesting and touching things are out there that just wait to be discovered. Thanks for sharing such a special story.
Deborah Dowd said…
Eva- I hope now that you've found your way here you'll become a "regular". THanks for the kind words.
Pookah said…

I was food blog hopping and came across your blog. I enjoyed it. It brought me home, in a way. I am from Hopewell, VA and my husband is from Norfolk. My father had the number one slip at Lynhaven (va beach) until the day he retired so I 'grew up' on the bay. Your story about your father-in-law brought tears to my eyes as I just lost mine. Perhaps you might read it:
I'll try your recipe!
Glenna said…
So sorry about his father. But I understand the connection and his reluctance. I think food is second to odor, and maybe because of scent, in taking us back to certain memories, good and bad.

My condolences.
Deborah Dowd said…
Pookah- Thanks for stopping by and I hope now that you've found me you will come by regularly. I am glad my story resonated with you and I can see why after reading about your father-in-law.

Glenna- You are so right! I have heard from man fellow bloggers who have had simlar experiences. But I hope you will try the chicken salad, it is great!
Lis said…
Because of your comment on my blog (thanks for that!) I came to see your blog and happened upon this post..

You wrote it beautifully, in mere minutes I feel a respect for this man and am happy to know that he led such a wonderful life and was surrounded by his family often.

The salad sounds very good - and yep, when I try it I'll be thinking of your FIL. =)
Deborah Dowd said…
Lis- Thanks for stopping by. I am glad I found you via my Saturday morning blog-surfing- I'll be back! And let me know how the chicken salad works for you!
2be said…
What a beautiful story!

Thank you for sharing the story and the recipe. It will go in my 'keeper' file for future use.

And thanks for leaving a comment on my blog, which lead me to yours!
Deborah Dowd said…
Ashleystravel- I hope your travels will bring you back. And the recipe is great for summer. You can make a batch and eat it when it fells too hot to cook (or eat) anything.
barb said…
what a great blog you have and your ability to tell the story is wonderful. I found you thru Ellie but I will definitely be back. Thanks for the sharing!
Anonymous said…
Thank you for sharing such a touching story!
Such a heart tugging story, thanks for sharing.
Anonymous said…
I finally got a chance to read the Nostalgia roundup and loved your story about the Colonel. Very touching. Enjoyed the rest of your blog as well and have added it to my blogroll. Thanks for sharing and writing.
Anonymous said…
Helped me lot… thanks for such a informative article