Growing up in Ohio, Sunday dinner meant one thing to me: Granny's Chicken & Dumplings, a warm and hearty stew made of the simplest ingredients of flour, chicken, salt and pepper. A staple in the Midwest and South, chicken and dumplings is about as comforting as a comfort food can get. It seems to be something born of hard times, when only the bare necessities were on-hand to make a meal for a crowd.
As a child, I watched my grandmother roll out dumpling and make quick work of cutting out dumplings into little bite-sized squares. Her knife skills would put even the Top Chef Masters to shame. I often helped knead the dough, standing on a chair to put my whole body into the process of shaping and rolling the dough into a ball, then using a rolling pin to flatten it out. Granny coached me through it, making sure my dumplings were not too lumpy or too thick. Making dumplings was better than play-doh for keeping little hands busy.
Granny didn't use a recipe, so for the longest time I had only a vague idea of how to make chicken and dumplings. My mother showed me how to make it, using the "eyeball it and throw things in until it tastes right" method. My brother Mike is a chef, and he coached me through turning it into a real recipe a few years ago. The recipe that follows is an approximation of what you need to make Chicken & Dumplings, just like Granny used to make. The original recipe only uses salt and pepper for seasoning. I've added some chicken stock base and herbs for extra flavor.
On Monday nights, my Twitter stream is filled with snarky commentary on ABC's The Bachelor. I probably wouldn't watch the show without these folks. This is a sample of those tweets, using Storify, in case you missed it.
When planning our December roadtrip, a stop at the Saguaro National Park was an absolute must-see for my husband Frank. Frank loves cacti of all shapes and varieties. He has kept a cactus collection for more than twenty years through moves from California to Texas and back, with only a few casualties along the way. He loves cactus so much that Alex and I teased him throughout the trip by pointing at every wilted, dried out cactus we encountered and saying, "Hey, Dad, look! A cactus! Don't you want to take a picture of it?"
We thought it was hilarious. Frank just rolled his eyes, and endured.
Ever hear of Country Inns & Suites? I hadn't until about a year ago, when they generously offered us a voucher to stay in one of their fine establishments. We were not able to take them up on the offer until our Christmas roadtrip to Austin, and I was pleasantly surprised by the accomodations they offer at reasonable prices. We enjoyed a complimentary overnight stay at the downtown location in Tucson, Arizona, during our long journey through the desert.
Like many of the better highway hotel chains, they offer free Wifi in the rooms, complimentary breakfast, and a pool. What sets Country Inns and Suites apart are the little things, like complimentary cookies and bottled water on arrival, a full hot breakfast (not just microwaved sandwiches and cold cereal, but bacon, eggs, the whole works), and a homey, charming decor. We found the staff to be friendly and efficient, as well as knowledgeable about the area.
On our December roadtrip, we left the Salton Sea Recreation Area and headed east on I-8 through the dusty California border towns toward Tucson. We were hoping to be in Saguaro National Park before sundown. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for the park. I dubbed this our "Too Late Tour," since it seemed like we always arrived at our destinations just after the sunset so we couldn't see anything. Frank said that he planned a perfect itinerary for summer, or anytime the sun stays up a little past 5:00 pm.
Anyway, we arrived in Tucson after dark and couldn't get to the Saguaro National Park on time, so we went straight to the Country Inns & Suites. We were welcomed with freshly baked sugar cookies in the lobby, a homey fireplace, and some bottles of water, which were great after a long, dry drive through the desert. The front desk staff was extremely friendly and answered all of our questions. There were some kids running around the lobby, and the hotel seemed to be extremely family-friendly.
Our room was nicely furnished and large enough for the three of us. The furnishings and decor were nicer and more traditional than some that we encountered later on our trip at similar hotels. It seems that the latest trend in hotel decor is blinding florescent lighting and migraine-inducing neon green bedding with fuschia accents and large black and white photos of doorknobs and exposed pipes in the hallway. I was happy to find the room to be comfortable and not over-done, with more muted colors and soft lighting. During our trip, we used Marriott and Hilton loyalty program points to stay at Fairfield Inn and Hampton Inn in different locations along the way. We liked Country Inns the best for food quality, service, and general ambience, although the three were pretty similar in locations, space, and pricing.