With a purpose (French Fridays with Dorie: Sweet Potato & Chicken Tagine)

Somehow, the quest to execute this week's FFwD turned into something greater than making a chicken dinner.

It became an adventure that turned into something a little bit more.

Last Saturday was a gorgeous autumn day in Upstate NY.

Runner Girl's race was 200 miles away, so we weren't able to make it. The Dude was off helping family. And The Karate Kid (I am going to have to come up with a new name for her - she has abandoned Karate in her old age of 17) and I were left with a totally open day.

Not. A. Single. Obligation.

How nice is that?

Since it was a week and a half before Halloween, The Karate Kid really wanted to go pumpkin picking. So we hopped into the car and set off for "Destination Unknown" - we would go wherever the day decided to take us. No planning. No route.

Just. Like. That.

I realize that the time where "mom" is still somewhat in the center of her universe is dwindling and that the luxury of carefree, whimsical days together will not always be an option. I felt a sense of gratitude that everything seemed to be lining up - the weather, our moods (lemme tell, mood plays a HUGE role in a successful outing), the time of year.

On this day, we decided to drive South - figuring the fall foliage was more likely to still be in peak.

A year ago, we wouldn't have been able to take this drive. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys were devastated by the flooding caused by that crazy storm (as were so many other communities up and down the Eastern US).

Evidence of last year's storm was still prominent - FEMA trailers, gutted-out houses, washed-out stretches of land. We were saddened when we stopped to see the remains of the Old Blenheim covered wooden bridge - an 1855 landmark ripped apart in the storm.

The visible reminders of Irene heightened our appreciation of the stops we made along the way.

...picking pumpkins from a farm that had lost their entire pumpkin crop last year in the storm.

...eating lunch at a market that had to close for an extended period because the road to it had been washed away in the storm.

...buying produce from farm stands whose farmers lost the majority of their annual income when their lands were submerged in the flooding that followed Irene and Lee.

At each stop along the way, we were reminded of the hope and renewal that can occur in the wake of disaster. Human fortitude. The ability of earth to renew itself. A sense of healing that only time can bring.

We had no map on hand - we just drove. Stopping whenever something caught our interest - a scenic view, an interesting historical landmark, a park. Taking it all in. Enjoying the scenery and the company of each other. We talked when we felt like it and spent the remainder of the time in companionable silence. We were having an adventure - one mile at a time.

When we finally came home and unloaded our "haul" (there may or may not have been cider donuts involved...), I think we were both mindful of its provenance.

We had a sense of the soil that we brushed off our carrots and onions. We had driven by the orchards that housed the trees that our apples came from. The fields where the Brussels sprouts, green beans and squash had been grown had been pointed out along the way.

The vegetables that went into this "tagine" were either the fruits of our "adventure" or from our CSA share. Instead of sweet potatoes, I loaded the dish up with butternut squash and carrots. Fenugreek and turmeric were used in lieu of saffron and cumin. Star anise was left out to please picky palates. Boneless, skinless chicken was sauteed and nestled in the pot to supplement the vegetables. Oh, and there were prunes. Lots and lots of prunes. Which were surprisingly my favorite part of the meal.

Seriously. The stewed prunes stole the show. I just don't even know what to say about that.

I could have taken or left the rest of the stew, but the prunes were keepers.

Roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower were served alongside.

This may not have been my favorite meal to date from the book, but by far it was my most enjoyable procurement of meal elements. I'll take that any day.

Peace out.

This post participates in French Fridays with Dorie. Other blogged descriptions of this dish can be found on the French Friday's site.


  1. Beautiful. I have the book... I need to crack the book open and try some of these recipes!

  2. Sounds like a wonderful day! I've never been good at the whole pick a direction and drive, stopping along the way, thing. Once i'm in the car, I usually just want to get the trip over with. I remember driving my dad down to DC once, and I was totally thrown when he said he wanted to stop for breakfast. WHAT?? I stop for gas and the bathroom. Period. haha. (We DID stop. When Dad said he was hungry, it was never wise to argue.) I like the idea of just moseying down the road, even if I've never managed to accomplish it.

    Oh, and I'd kill for a cider donut. Those things are amazing.

  3. Nature has a way of amazing us suddenly; what a great day you both had! I just loved this recipe, and vote for the prunes too. Love the idea of carrots and squash. Have a great weekend Cher!

  4. Love the story of the "procurement of meal elements"! I loved this one and will be making it again soon!

  5. Feeling that connection between the food we procure for, the people that grow it and their stories (from hardship to bounty) and the end result is the best. Loved reading about your adventures with the Kid on that beautiful fall day.

    Your substitutions appeal to me - the curry flavors must have been great with the fall vegetables. To have a taste of those fresh Brussels sprouts! It was only last year while visiting friends in Boston when I first saw them on their branch/stem instead of the plastic basket. Even though they did not eat them, Eduardo and I bought and cooked some for the Thanksgiving dinner.

  6. I love the images that this post conjures up, of rebuilding from trials caused by nature. Having gone through numerous hurricanes myself, I know what that's like, to see life wiped away, to have to rebuild. A very profound post - and a beautiful dish!

  7. What a fun day! Wish we had more of a change of seasons here - at least it's cooling down in the evenings. Loved the prunes also.

  8. Sounds like the perfect day!

    That, and now you have me craving cider donuts. I can't even remember the last time I had one of those. So yummy!

  9. Aw, what I wonderful day with your daughter! And how fun that the two of you bought the ingredients for this dish together. I would have had to eliminate nearly everything to please the picky palates here, so took a pass :)

  10. I would have never imagined prunes being the star of the show.

  11. I love the story of your journey - it certainly makes for a satisfying meal.

  12. What a great story Cher! It sounds like a perfect fall day!

  13. And to think we need to batten down our hatches again... what will this Frankenstorm bring us in NY? At least it isn't going to be snow. It has been a lovely Fall I guess we are due for "some weather". Good luck to you and I'm with you not the best recipe but the vegetables were nice.

  14. I'm so jealous that your tagine looks so great! Mine got so dark, probably because of the agave nectar.

  15. I loved the story of your adventure, and the meal that extended the glow. The connection between food and where it comes from is vastly underrated. (And a few cider donuts never hurt anything. Now I've gotten them on the brain and will have to get some tomorrow.) Have a great weekend!

  16. Your trip sounds lovely, Cher, and how wonderful that you were able to use the bounty along with you CSA for this recipe. I really loved the prunes as well, but also the sweet potatoes. They were a perfect marriage.

  17. R and I used to go on little excursions like that a lot when she was growing up. Such fun. I like the subs you made.

  18. Sounds like you had a wonderful day. And I'm totally drawn to this tagine, prunes and all!

  19. What a wonderful day together! I remember those days with my boys...often if I could get them in the car, with NO friends, we could talk and sing and laugh. Happy memories for me and I hope for them too:) I'm with you on the prunes. Loved them! I hope Sandy doesn't give a repeat performance of Irene! Best of luck to all of you in the North East!!!

  20. Cher, wonderful and thoughtful post - it sounds like both of you had a terrific and meaningful time together. And your version of the Chicken Tagine with butternut squash and carrots sounds lovely too.

  21. sounds like Saturday turned into a special day indeed! your appreciation of family, farms and community made your dish so much more delicious, I'm sure.

  22. what a great day out! It sounds like it was really humbling and beautiful! ... how nice that you were able to use your CSA too! :) Love the linens in your top photo!! :)

  23. I am reading your Post tonight (Monday) and am fearful for what Hurricane Sandy may again do to your beautiful part of the world. Just know I am thinking of you especially and everyone who is in the path to catch this hurricane's wrath. I also am grateful that you took this time and had this Saturday with your 17-year-old sidekick. A memory, for sure and a happy one. (Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.) Your tagine looks delicious. I also enjoyed making and eating this dish. Next time I will use prunes (I adore prunes) but went crazy and used dates this time. Nice Mother/Daughter Post. I enjoyed it.

  24. What a perfect day!
    I love spending time with my daughter.
    It's so different to being with the boys.
    I'm sure you will both remember this day for a long time.
    I'll have to add this dish to my (long) list of dishes to catch up on!

  25. Wow, I am reading this in the aftermath of Sandy and am hopeful that those who were so affected last year were spared this time around. It sounds like you and your daughter had a wonderful day! I was happy to get your comment last night because now I know you are alive and well!


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