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Our Own Personal Fiscal Cliff (with a Segue into Chicken Heart Stew)

Spiritual Smart Aleck
This is a kind of whisk that is the best thing for making gravy. My mother had one, and by the time she died the metal on the bottom was worn thin from decades of whisking.
This is a kind of whisk that is the best thing for making gravy. My mother had one, and by the time she died the metal on the bottom was worn thin from decades of whisking.

This year, on top of the holiday stress, we are looking at my husband’s being laid off from his job. He plans to make the best of the cards he has been dealt by calling himself retired. The man is 67, after all, and on dialysis. People have retired with less justification.
Over the years I’ve heard many people talk about how they wished they could live and work on the island. This is the dream – not to have to commute, but to live here in paradise all day, every day, and only leave when absolutely necessary.
Rick and I have lived that dream. The only fly in the “live and work on the island” ointment is that most jobs pay lower wages than you’d get on the mainland for the same work, and most jobs do not have benefits or pension plans. You accept those conditions because you’re so gosh darned lucky to have a job on the island, and most island businesses can’t afford benefits and pensions, anyway. Like some others who have lived the dream, we will now have an income from Social Security and nothing else.
I keep crunching the numbers and it looks like we’ll be fine, except for not having any money in the budget for food. I’m not sure how we’re going to roll with this. I am thinking lentils, peas, and beans. This is okay. Lots of people become unintentional vegetarians after they become unintentionally retired.
We’re okay. We have a home, and good friends and family, and it turns out that all those platitudes about friends, family, and love being the things that really count are true. The one about having your health is true, too, but that ship has sailed for us, so, eh.
The non-vegetarian recipe I’ll be making a lot is chicken heart stew.
In November of 1977 I did a folk concert tour in the interior of British Columbia. While I was there winter set in. I learned the joy of using an outhouse at -20 Celsius, which in Fahrenheit terms is, “really really cold.” I arrived for my last concert in Prince George, B.C. and took a taxi to the house where I was being put up. When I got there, I found a note from my absent hostess welcoming me, saying she’d be back later and to help myself to some chicken heart stew that was simmering on the wood stove.
It was the first time I’d ever heard of chicken heart stew. I was a little worried. There was an “eeyew” factor. I dipped up a bowl and ate it and liked it a lot. When I got home to the island I tried to re-create it, and it became a family staple over the years. Even the kids liked it.
It’s a great warm cheap stew for a January night. Here it is:
Chicken Heart Stew, a la Casa Tuel
Take a package of chicken hearts and rinse the hearts in cold water, then throw them in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer them on medium for 45 minutes or so, skimming any foamy sludge that forms on the top and throwing it away, unless you’re one of those creative people who has a good use for boiling chicken heart sludge.
While the hearts boil, chop up:
One green pepper, seeds and membrane removed
One onion
One large carrot
Two stalks of celery
Add them to the stew after that first 45 minutes. Let the stew simmer for a further 15 minutes. Drain the vegetables and hearts, reserving the stock. While they’re draining, make gravy.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet, add 2 tablespoons of flour, and let the flour cook in the butter until it turns light brown, stirring constantly, 3 or 4 minutes of so. Mix in one cup of the stock you reserved, and you can throw in a little white wine if you’d like, to make your gravy.
Add the drained hearts and vegetables to the gravy and season to taste. We eat it with a savory blend – Italian seasoning for example. If it’s not wet enough to suit you, or if you need to stretch the recipe to go around to more bowls, add as much of the stock as you wish. You can eat it on its own, or add toast, corn bread, and/or a salad if you like, same as any other stew or soup.
So there you go, a good cheap winter meal if you’re not quite committed to that vegetarian diet, which I’m not. Enjoy.