Sometimes it boggles my mind just how quickly time can fly and usher in a new phase of life quite unexpectedly. Our children grow as quickly as the beautiful, precious flowers do, first going from the little “seedling” stage, then into the “sprout” stage and finally into the vibrantly-colored, fully-bloomed “flower”; and we, the parents, their gardeners, watch intently during this process and make constant adjustments to our “watering” and “feeding” in order to find the right balance when it comes to our nurture of them in their various stages. For us, so much seems to hinge on our children’s ability to develop into a thriving being, as we understand that somehow that precious light that bounces off of them, ends up reflecting onto us. And so we tend to our “seedlings” along the way never thinking to count the multitude of sunsets and the daybreaks that occur, until one day we abruptly realize that our hands-on work is quickly coming to a close; that now, the time is fast approaching for that almost-fully-bloomed flower to be exposed for all the world to admire and gaze upon, that it may touch and inspire those that behold it, in a way completely unique unto itself. And so, a slow release begins to take place; and with that release, a new phase of life, full of fresh opportunities for both the flower and the gardener.
When life brings me into a new phase, or drops me at a shore who’s waters I’ve never dipped my toes into before, there’s an initial hesitation from me to sort of freely “dive right in”. Any changes to schedule; any shifts in how things have been done in the past; any new situations, new activities, new people and all that that entails in and of itself, causes me to quietly and subconsciously “mourn” the way that things were before the shift. But when I give it a little time and begin to feel more acquainted with a new phase, the joy and adventure that a fresh chapter of life brings with it fills my spirit. Happiness for connection with new faces; enthusiasm for healthy conversations, for gentle debates and fulfilling embarkments, fills my imagination. And though there will probably always be a part of me that is at first hesitant to step out of what I consider to be my “comfort zone”, the very fact that I’ll do it anyway, and most likely end up absolutely loving it and learn something new about myself, feels so very liberating. New phases place me in the position to participate in life in a more full and engaging way, even if my mind and body, at first, resist the shift; creativity begins to blossom for me, and it beautifully effects all aspects of my life, with cooking and recipe creating being no exception. A fresh recipe using, for instance, an ingredient like chicken that is an “old friend”, but preparing it in a new way, is part of the food/life connection for me when I find myself in the midst of entering into a new phase; and a dish like Crispy Chicken Caprese, stuffed with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, breaded in a parmesan-panko crust, is the delicious result. It’s the perfect little comforting indulgence to help me to relish the new season’s offerings and the new phase of my life that I am standing at the precipice of, my toes already curled over the edge in anticipation of my dive.
I’m finding myself entering a new phase where the many roles that I play in my life — roles of “mother”, of “wife”, and of “friend” to someone — are beginning to change shape, and become ever richer. And though it’s not always easy for me to let go of how I approached things in the past, as of course those approaches have been tried and are true, I know that it’s a natural part of life — of existence — to continue to grow and evolve. And when a certain phase of life is outgrown, and adjustments are needed to be made in order to keep things moving in the direction of growth and progress, then welcoming in the next phase as something that will reveal to us a new, untapped part of ourselves, is the best thing we can do for ourselves. For me, staying in touch with how I feel about things, and maintaining my alliance with my creativity — my passion for food and for people — will most definitely be the best way to navigate and adjust to each delicious new phase that this adventurous life brings; each wonderful, flavorful, new bite.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Crispy Stuffed Chicken Caprese with Fresh Mozzarella, Basil and Tomatoes, with Fresh, Tomato-Basil Relish
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4 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
• Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
Cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 ripe pearl tomatoes (or 8 cherry tomatoes), sliced ¼” or thinner
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
16 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced ¼ ” or thinner (from an 8 oz ball or log)
16 large, fresh basil leaves
½ cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
• Fresh, Tomato-Basil Relish (recipe below)
-Preheat the oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with foil.
-Prepare the chicken breasts by butterflying each breast, being careful not to cut all the way through (you want to end up with a thinner, flatter chicken breast); place each butterflied chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and gently pound the chicken out with a mallet to about ¼” thickness; place the chicken breasts into a bowl, and add a drizzle of olive oil, the garlic, a couple of pinches of salt and pepper, the lemon juice and zest, and marinate the chicken for about 15-20 minutes.
-Next, place the thinly sliced pearl tomatoes into a small dish, and add to them the balsamic vinegar and a pinch or two of salt and pepper, and allow them to marinate while the chicken marinates.
-To prepare the chicken, place one marinaded chicken breast in front of you, vertically; giving yourself about a ½” border at the bottom, begin by adding 2 of the fresh basil leaves, then 2 slices of the fresh mozzarella cheese, next 4 slices of the marinated tomato, then another 2 basil leaves and finally 2 more slices of mozzarella onto the chicken; starting at the bottom, fold the chicken over the ingredients, gently rolling upward until wrapped; place 2-3 toothpicks through the seam at angles to secure the filling and to keep the chicken held together, and place it onto a clean plate to hold; repeat the process with all four chicken breasts.
-To bread the chicken, add the flour into a medium-size bowl; add the eggs into a another medium-size bowl, and whisk well; add the panko breadcrumbs, the grated parmesan, the Italian seasoning and a pinch of cracked black pepper into another medium-size bowl, and toss to combine; gently dredge each chicken breast in the flour, then in the eggs and finally in the panko-parmesan mixture, and set aside on the plate while you heat your oil.
-To fry, add enough olive oil to a large heavy-bottom pan or skillet for a shallow fry (roughly 1 cup), and place over medium-high heat; once the oil is hot, add in 2 of the rolled and breaded chicken breasts seam-side down, and cook until golden-brown and crispy, about 2 minutes per side (about 8 minutes total); remove from oil and place onto a paper towel-lined plate, and repeat the process with the remaining two breasts; to finish the chicken, add the fried breasts to the foil-lined baking sheet, and place into the oven for about 4-5 minutes, until completely cooked through and the cheese is melted and gooey; to serve, remove toothpicks, and serve on a bed of the Fresh, Tomato-Basil Relish.
Fresh, Tomato-Basil Relish ingredients:
8 ripe pearl (or Campari) tomatoes, diced very finely
2 cloves of garlic, pressed through garlic press
¼ cup julienned fresh basil leaves
• Olive oil, drizzle or two
• Pinch or two salt
• Pinch or two freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
-Add all ingredients in a small bowl, and gently fold together to combine; cover with plastic wrap and keep in fridge until ready to use with chicken. (*Basil tends to discolor and become a bit brown over time once julienned or chopped, so prepare this relish as close to serving time as possible to maintain it’s vibrant green.)