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Fowl for the Season 

As the weather gets cold and the days grow short, let your food go to the birds

It's not just that I have the fireplace going every day now, or that dusk comes early, the mornings are chilly and the dogs want to stay burrowed under the covers, that have me embracing a new season. Nor that I have felt drawn to Ecclesiastes and the somber realities of life changes in these daylight-shortened days. My tastebuds alone signal the cadence of the year.

Spring is about regeneration, and the summer a time of sloughing old layers. For me, the fall is the season to take stock, moving into the winter of quiet nourishment and stored strength. There's no surprise in the fact that food follows these forms.

Two of my favorite cookbooks are Roy Andries De Groot's Feasts for All Seasons and The Seasonal Kitchen by Perla Meyers. They offer complete seasonal menus in their books, and if De Groot is a little too quick to suggest MSG as an ingredient in his recipes, he does have a great appreciation for garlic. From time to time, I've thought it would be an interesting experiment to follow one or both for the whole year and try the full consistent range of their insights. I am too undisciplined to do so--as many people would easily confirm--and I get distracted by something I've read or heard about, the luxurious nonseasonal item I happen across at the market, or the bizarre momentary craving that makes me want gazpacho in January or lasagna in July.

This fall-into-winter transition has put me in a fowl mood. At Thanksgiving, I decided to try duck. My request for recipe suggestions fell on such fertile ground that I ended up cooking three different ducks in the course of several weeks. More on that another time--and I promise you're gonna love Rabbi Eisen's version.

David, grandfather of my godchildren, was so enthusiastic recently about capon, that I went out and bought one to experiment with before making it for him. It made me pretty enthusiastic, too, and it's turned out to be a dish that has kept on giving. It started out being roasted, then it became an amazingly rich stock and, finally, found its happy conclusion as one of my favorite childhood breakfast meals of all time--creamed chicken on toast. Trust me--this is food perfect for the season!

The simple details:

Roasting the bird

  • 1 capon, 5-7 pounds
  • Rosemary sprigs
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 lemons, 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chardonnay
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried sage
  • 1 onion
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut lemons and onion in half. Puree sage and thyme in melted butter, wine and lemon juice. Wash bird; pat dry. Season inside cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff with lemons, onion, rosemary sprigs and garlic. Truss legs.

Thoroughly coat bird with half of the pureed herb sauce. Place breast-side down on a rack in a roasting dish (with a little water in the bottom to keep drippings from burning) and cook for approximately 20 minutes.

Remove from oven; turn breast side up, and coat with remaining herb sauce. Lower heat to 350 degrees and put bird back in oven and cook until legs move freely and clear juices run--about two hours.

When browned, remove and let rest for 20 minutes. It is ready to eat.

The stock

Remove all meat from carcass. Reserve skin for stockpot. Leave stuffing in place. Chop four stalks celery, four carrots and another onion, and toss in pot. Cover with water to an inch over the carcass. Bring stock to a boil, then reduce flame and simmer for as long as you want (the smells will be terrific), but no less than three hours. Strain stock; let cool and refrigerate. Remove fat from cold stock. Use or freeze stock.

Creamed chicken on toast

  • 4 cups chopped chicken
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 slices bread
In a double-boiler over a medium flame, make a roux: Melt the butter; slowly sprinkle in flour and stir until flour is dissolved. Slowly add the milk (and this works better if the milk is slightly warm). Stir constantly with a whisk until mixture thickens.

When thickened, add chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue stirring.

Toast bread. Butter bread. Ladle creamed chicken on toast. Eat until it hurts.

OK ... perfect honesty: Mother used Wonder bread and slathered it with yellow-orange oleomargarine. I used 12-grain bread and butter. She used, at the very least, whole milk, and sometimes cream. I used the fat-free stuff. Hers was better, but it no doubt contributed to my diabetes. Ahh, well ... life is about tradeoffs.

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