Kitchen & Mom's Chicken Divan
The short novel Kitchen by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto (whose name even sounds like a delicious recipe) is an elegant yet simple narrative that explores grief, how we comfort others, and how they comfort us.
After Mikage loses her grandmother, her last remaining relative, she’s taken in by Yuichi, the boy who works part-time at her grandmother’s favourite flower shop, and his beautiful male-to-female transgendered father, Eriko. During the summer she spends with them, she moves through her grief by ensconcing herself in their homey kitchen to zealously teach herself how to cook and it’s her meals that ultimately knit the trio together into a family.
Safe and loved in this makeshift home, the wheels of Mikage’s life start to move forward again and at the summer’s end, she leaves for university and lands a job as an assistant to a famous cooking teacher. But then Eriko unexpectedly dies and the aloof Yuichi becomes more withdrawn and depressed; it is now Mikage who must reach Yuichi through his grief. While researching small town restaurants for work 90 miles outside of Tokyo, Mikage is inspired by a delicious, lovingly prepared meal of katsudon to be bold in her comfort. She orders a second plate to go and finds a taxi to drive her three hours through the night to Yuichi, who is lonely and distraught. Mikage’s unexpected act of kindness draws him out of his hopelessness and reminds him that though the people no longer with them can never be replaced, the two of them can go on.
What is remarkable about Kitchen is that it manages to explore the many facets of loss without being a depressing story. Grief is revealed to be simple actions and complex reactions. It is depicted as a lingering emotion in a world that eventually succeeds in pulling us forward. It neither validates nor invalidates who we are and what we believe in. Whenever I feel tragedy is overplayed in movies and underplayed in the news, I return to this refreshing reminder that grief is a part of all our lives but it is not the only part.
I spent a chunk of my early childhood in Tokyo and quickly became devoted to Japanese dishes and snacks, but smack in the middle of my thoroughly Asian surroundings were my mother’s Western-style dinners. And the one meal that will forever encapsulate being home safe is one that never had a name; my family just referred to it as Laura’s favourite. But thanks to the power of the Internet, I have found what the rest of the world calls this dish: Chicken Divan. An appropriately warm and cozy sounding name, I think. There are more complex iterations of this recipe out there but Yoshimoto’s prose is straightforward and heartfelt and all about the people who make home what it is, so these instructions will follow suit.
MOM'S CHICKEN DIVAN
- 2-3 large chicken breasts (boneless, skinless, and cubed)
- 1 head broccoli (chopped into florets)
- 1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cup jasmine rice
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine the can of soup and the cup of mayonnaise in a large bowl. Add in the curry powder and the lemon juice, and stir until well mixed
Fold the cubes of uncooked chicken and the broccoli florets into the sauce, making sure everything is well coated
Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish and spread evenly
Bake in the oven at 350°F (or 176.7°C for those of you in former British colonies) for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top of the dish is golden but not too brown. In the meantime, cook your rice
Remove the chicken from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes and then serve hot over rice