On What It Is & Easy Cuban Style Chicken Stew

What's on my mind today is that we can ruin a perfectly good thing for ourselves because we're so wrapped up in what we believe should be rather than appreciating what is.

Easy Cuban Style Chicken Stew is what it is...

I don't need to go into details for divorced parents to understand that, at times, the split household thing can be a real downer. Sometimes extraordinarily so if you're the mother, and, through complicated circumstances, somehow lose primary custody of your kids and only have them for weekends and vacations.

(And then other times when we are in the safety of the fraternity of the divorced we will also occasionally delight in the unexpected perks of same...)

But back to the other thing. There's not only external judgment in that circumstance - and to some extent understandably so because it defies what we think is the norm - but also some internal judgment because we are no more immune to expectations of "normal" than are the people who are judging us from the outside.

And when my focus occasionally strays to the should be - that I should be the primary custodial parent because of whatever consideration I think I should be given for what happened in the past, that I should have more direct influence on the daily lives of my two older children, that I should be the one to get to kiss them goodnight more often than that guy I for some reason think shouldn't get to because, well, reasons...

...it brings me to these really shitty and frankly shameful moments of useless bitterness and self pity.

It makes me forget how good the what is is. And what it is, is that, through circumstances no one would choose, I get to have a special kind of connection and relationship with my older kids that was not likely to have been forged had I gotten the primary custody that I wanted, like a good mother should.

There is a sense of appreciation and the kind of fondness that develops over a little absence between us that I'm not saying another mother couldn't have with her children if she had them all the time, but that this mother probably wouldn't have had were it not for what is.

We have more opportunities for shared fun and laughter in the time that we have together now because of what is than we would have shared in what would surely have been the more stressful and less present should be for me.

And I have the ability to impart the unique lessons and gifts I have to share with them more freely and easily in the what is than I would have had the time or opportunity to in the should be.

I know this because I lived the should be for many years once upon a time. And it was good in many ways.

But not in the same ways as the what is, and really, not any better.

Actually, the what is, in my best moments of clarity and acceptance, is exactly what should be, with everyone getting the chance to learn the unique lessons we need to learn, and to grow and bloom from this "abnormal" set of circumstances that isn't most people's ideas of what should be, if they entertain such notions at all.

Life. It is what it is, and what is is what should be. Even when it changes.

What does all that have to do with this recipe?

Well, what it is is that I learned how to make it from my ex mother-in-law once upon a should be... :P

Easy Cuban Style Chicken Stew
Serves 4
Takes about an hour total, with about 20 minutes active time.

- 1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
- 1/2 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1/4" wide pieces, vertically
- 1/2 a bell pepper, cored and deveined and cut into 1/4" wide pieces (red and yellow are sweeter and prettier in this dish, but green will do in a pinch)
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and rough chopped

- 2.5 pounds chicken pieces (bone-in drums and thighs work best, skin on or off, depending on your preference)
- 1 packet *GOYA brand sazon con azafran (Yes, it's a cheat packet, and yes, it's got some MSG in it, but it's what a lot of Latin households use in a pinch, and in small quantities, it can be helpful. :) )
- 2 bay leaves
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt to start
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 15 oz. can tomatoes
- 1.5 cups unsalted chicken stock

- 1/3 cup frozen peas

*If you can't/don't want to use the GOYA packet, try:

- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and, if you have it,
- a pinch of saffron or 1 teaspoon of ground achiote (annatto)

1) In a large Dutch oven or deep saute pan (at least 10"), saute the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the oil over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onions start to turn translucent.

2) Add the rest of the ingredients except for the peas, stir to distribute evenly, cover with the lid askew and bring the stew up to a boil over high heat. (Should take 5 to 7 minutes.)

3) Once the stew has been boiling for 1 minute, give it a good stir, lower the heat to medium low, and simmer for 45 minutes with the lid on askew, stirring occasionally. A good simmer will produce gentle movement under the surface of the liquid, but no splatter.

4) Adjust the seasoning if needed (you might like a little more salt), add the peas, turn the heat up to medium, and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally.

Serve with your starch of choice. The stewing liquid, and lots of it, is delicious over plain steamed rice.

Enjoy! :)




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