by Lois Flowers
When my college roommate Rachel called to tell me her family would be traveling through the area and would love to stop by for an overnight visit, the first question that popped into my mind was what I would serve them for supper.
I realize that other things besides menu planning really should dominate your thinking when one of your dearest friends makes such an announcement. But when said friend is bringing her husband and six energetic children with her, figuring out what to eat is a top priority.
I have a collection of tried-and-true entrees I turn to when company comes, but for a group this size, there’s really only one option—a dish called Lazy Man’s Chicken that my mom used to make for our large family when I was a kid. (You can find the recipe at the end of this post.)
It’s easy, it tastes good, it goes well with rice (always a plus at my house) and—most importantly—I had made it for this group before and knew they loved it.
Getting that decision out of the way freed me up to joyfully anticipate our upcoming houseful of guests.
Before I tell about their visit, though, some background is in order.
After college, Rachel and I both married construction management majors and settled down less than an hour’s drive from each other. We’d see each other occasionally and remained close, but as time went on, our family lives went in markedly different directions.
She suffered some heartbreaking losses along the way, winding up with six blond kids who range in age from seven to 18. My own personal struggles later turned into the joy of adopting two daughters from China.
Eventually, we both returned to our roots. First, she moved back to the farming community in Iowa where she grew up, and then—10 years ago this week, in fact—Randy and I moved to Kansas, just a few miles from my own hometown.
We kept in touch through occasional emails and her annual Christmas letter. But about five years ago, it suddenly became very important to me for our children to know each other. I asked her if the girls and I could come to her family farm for a visit, and she graciously agreed.
The kids all hit it off, and what started out as a tentative experiment has become an annual summer trip that we all look forward to and enjoy.
Logistically, it’s much easier for us to visit them than it is for them to come to us, so Lilly and Molly were thrilled to be hosting their friends this time.
In anticipation of their arrival Sunday evening, I had taken the poultry I planned to serve for supper out of the freezer the day before. When I pulled it out of the fridge the following afternoon, it was only partially thawed, but I didn’t give that a second thought because I have often prepared Lazy Man’s Chicken with meat that wasn’t completely defrosted.
I assembled the dish, tucking enough chicken pieces to feed 12 into my largest baking pan and popping it into the oven right on schedule.
Rachel’s family arrived around 5 p.m. Everyone was hungry, so we wasted no time putting all the side dishes on the table and getting the husbands seated. The kids were already dishing up rice when I took the chicken out of the oven and put it on the dining room table.
When I lifted the aluminum foil from the pan, I knew immediately that something was wrong.
It wasn’t done. Not even close.
I was mortified. During almost 22 years of marriage, I’d prepared plenty of meals for large family gatherings, and this had never happened before.
Rachel calmly suggested we just put the chicken back in the oven and let it finish baking. And before I could even get the foil back on the pan, eight hungry kids had abandoned their partially filled plates and were dashing out the front door.
I was so embarrassed I wanted to cry. And I don’t embarrass easily or often.
But there was no use crying over undercooked chicken.
If I had been thinking more clearly (right then, but especially when I prepared the chicken to begin with), I might have spread the whole sorry mess out in two pans so the heat could circulate around each partially frozen piece better and bake it all faster. As it was, it took another hour for the single pan of poultry to cook enough for us to eat it.
The most amazing thing happened during that time though. The kids didn’t miss a beat. The next time I looked outside, they were all playing soccer in the front yard, and our neighbor and his two small children had even joined in on the fun.
The men stayed seated, each at one end of our long dining room table, and talked shop the entire time the chicken baked. Rachel and I chatted and laughed and toured my flowerbeds, coming back inside every now and then to check on the chicken.
It wasn’t not one of my finer culinary moments, but it turned out OK.
It highlighted the resiliency and adaptability of our kids.
It gave our husbands, who hadn’t seen each other for more than a decade, a chance to catch up.
Most importantly, it showed me that friendship, fun and flexibility trump a perfect meal presentation any day.
This post first appeared here. You may want to click there to get a clearer image of this recipe.
Lois Flowers is mom to two lovely daughters and wife to one good man. She’s an author, former journalist and lifelong Midwesterner who values authenticity, loves gardening and always reads the end of the book first. She would love to connect with you on Twitter (@loisflowers16) or Instagram (loisflowers). She also blogs regularly at loisflowers.com.