Sense Memories

February 8th, 2012 · 28 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized

There’s a photo we have, in our album from 2002, that captures the exact moment my parents and Jenny’s parents saw Phoebe for the first time. Jenny’s in the hospital bed, all wired up and groggy from surgery, head slightly elevated, and she’s holding Phoebe in her arms. Phoebe is swaddled, purple-faced, about thirty minutes old. Thirty minutes old. All four of our parents are lined up on one side of the bed, leaning in, as though peering off the edge of a cliff. The expression on Jenny’s mom’s face is one of those amazing, ecstatic expressions you see in life’s happiest moments – such as the birth of your daughter’s first child – or on the front page of the New York Times, in the grief-stricken face of the person who has just walked away from some kind of life-altering natural disaster. For real, her expression has that kind of emotional weight to it. Stripped of context, it could be an illustration of the most sublime kind of joy, or the most warping kind of pain. In this case, thank god, it was joy. I remember taking that picture — standing off to the side in my scrubs with my old-fashioned film (!) camera — and the one that came a few seconds after it (above) when all four parents had moved one step closer to Jenny and that primal expression had morphed into something more closely resembling tears of joy. When I think of Phoebe’s birth, I think of that moment, and how little we really understood about, you know, what it all meant.

I have a bunch of these kinds of memories from the day Phoebe was born, flash-frozen moments floating through my head, mostly intact, ten years later – writing a rambling journal entry, as Jenny was in labor, on the Esquire notepad I’d stolen from my place of work, though God, I could never ever bring myself to read it now; standing in the waiting room in my white sterile booties, waiting to be reunited with Jenny as she was being prepped for surgery; being so incredibly confused when we realized Phoebe was a girl because we’d been so firmly convinced that Phoebe was a boy (something about the angle of the bump); I even think I remember what it felt like to hold Phoebe for the first time, though if I really focus on it now and try to conjure it up, I can’t be sure.

If it sounds like I’m protesting too much, that’s probably because I feel some weirdness around the fact that so much of what I remember about those four days in the hospital has to do with food. It’s bizarre – and might point to a larger problem — but I can remember pretty much everything I ate, and how I felt when I ate it. The hamburger and Tanqueray-and-tonic I devoured at the legendary JG Melon’s with my in-laws, six hours after Phoebe’s birth. The bagel (plain, with scallion cream cheese) and coffee I bought at Eli’s, and ate on a bench on Madison Avenue the morning after: the bagel and coffee were average, and I hadn’t slept a wink, what with the baby in the room and my rolled-up jacket as a pillow, but the sky was so incredibly blue and I’d never felt that kind of euphoria before in my life. If someone could bottle that feeling, I would eat it, inject it, and snort it. I would snuggle it to death. I would be king of the… that was a heartbreakingly good morning. The turkey ragu I made when I raced back to our apartment the next afternoon, and froze in batches, to be eaten when we returned home. The O’Henry bar I bought in the gift shop. The bottle of Bordeaux my brother-in-law brought over, and which we took down in short order, with a corkscrew I ran out to buy at a wine store down the block. The chicken consommé and lime jell-o I plucked from Jenny’s hospital tray as the Percocets worked their magic. The dinner we had, on the third night, when my aunt Patty – whom we’ve written about on this blog before – dropped by to see the baby. She brought a white paper bag with her.

“What’s in the bag?” I asked.

“William Poll,” she said.

“What’s William Poll?” I asked.

“Jesus, nephew,” she said. “It’s only the best deli ON THE PLANET.”

Out of the bag came two neatly-wrapped sandwiches: chicken salad with bacon on pumpernickel bread that had been sliced about ¼ inch thick. “These things cost a fortune,” Patty said.

“How much?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know,” she said.

We sat there in the hospital room, by flourescent light, and ate. I’d had a lot of chicken salad in my life, but this was insane.  I was in a heightened state and susceptible to hyperbole, but no: this was not normal. The crispy bacon, the impossibly-thin bread, the unabashed, almost gleeful use of mayonnaise: YES. Patty, being a food genius, had also brought a Dr. Brown’s cream soda, which only added to the experience.

Twenty months later, when Abby was born, I walked over to William Poll to get some dinner and arrived just as they were closing. The man who let me in, it turned out, was the son or grandson of the person who had founded the place, and I explained to him that my wife had just had a baby and I was hoping to bring her back a chicken salad and bacon sandwich since I’d had one when my first daughter was born two years ago and it had made a mockery of every chicken salad sandwich I’d ever had in my life, and I’d had some good chicken salad before, too. He said he was just about to close for the night, but okay, why not, come on in and I’ll set you up. I got the feeling he had done this before, that he was possibly a Fixture in this neighborhood. (Turns out, he was: Joan Crawford was a fan of his sandwiches, too.) It was just the two of us. He arranged the bread. He pulled out this white plastic tub, covered in saran wrap, and spooned out the chicken salad. The bacon, in another carefully-wrapped container, was placed on top. When he was done, he turned to the glass-fronted refrigerator behind him, and pulled out what looked like a cup of yogurt. “Lemon curd,” he said. “It’s delicious. Take it.” I took it, and he was right: it was delicious. As were the sandwiches. Which were not cheap, either. (You don’t want to know.)

I realize I have written a thousand words about a chicken salad sandwich. But this was not just a chicken salad sandwich, just as this was not just another time in our lives, and I think about that every time we make it. – Andy

Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Bacon
Makes 4 Sandwiches

Bring 4 cups salted water to a low boil in a large saucepan. Add 3 halved large chicken breasts, and simmer, uncovered, 12-15 minutes until cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate and cool. Chop into small pieces. While chicken is cooling, whisk together 3 large dollops of mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon sweet pickle juice, a squeeze of brown mustard, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken, and a handful of finely chopped sweet pickles. Serve on thin pumpernickel toast with — crucial step – two slices of bacon on each sandwich. Lettuce, if you must.

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28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kendra // Feb 8, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Mr. Ward, you are a poet.

  • 2 Alison // Feb 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

    That brought tears to my eyes, and also made me curse my husband for not running home to make and freeze us a meal when my baby was born. Not only do you guys offer up some great recipes, but you also share the most amazing personal snippets from your lives. Honestly, my all time favourite (that’s how you spell favorite in Canada) blog. Can’t wait for the book!

  • 3 Shirley Boulay // Feb 8, 2012 at 11:33 am

    nicely done

  • 4 Joelle // Feb 8, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Kendra pretty much summed it up. I’m totally tearing up.

  • 5 Liz // Feb 8, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Ugh, you guys are too cute. I can’t stand it. P.S. I want bacon NOW.

  • 6 Kara // Feb 8, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Wow, what a fabulously-written story. I felt like I was in that deli!

  • 7 Tara // Feb 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    My son, our eldest child, just turn 10 this week. And you’re absolutely right about remembering the food we ate. The turkey chili and cornbread, the soups and stews and biscuits that we stocked the freezer with before he was born tasted better than they ever could again, I think. And when we finally dared to venture out into the world and take him to our favorite coffee shop for our Saturday morning bagel and cappuccino ritual? There was something transcendent about the cream cheese that day. Something about it all being a decade ago makes it even more poignant. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.

  • 8 Amanda // Feb 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I agree with Kara, I felt like was in the deli with you! Amazing writing (as usual!)!

  • 9 Caitlin // Feb 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I love when a memory is wrapped up in the senses, beautiful piece.

  • 10 Gretchen // Feb 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Wow! Wonderful story, wonderful memories! Reminded me of our daughter’s birth — just 18 months ago — but birth is so intense, such a miracle no matter how long ago it happened! I also have fabulous memories of the food post-delivery, including wonderful homemade casseroles, etc., but also the first omelet from the hospital cafeteria that i ate just as soon as my apetite recovered after surgery and it was AMAZING! (I’m well aware that it was totally mediocre, but my starving, healing, newly nursing body said otherwise.)

  • 11 Jessica@ Stay at Home-ista // Feb 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    What a beautiful post. We were lucky enough to give birth in a hospital in San Francisco very close to some delicious restaurants, so my husband would run out and bring back “real” food for us to eat. Thank you for sharing this.

  • 12 Lori@ In My Kitchen, In My Life // Feb 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    That’s a nice string of words about chicken salad, sir.

  • 13 Cecilia Madden // Feb 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    this is exactly what food is all about. recalling good memories, filling us with the hope of what’s to come.

  • 14 Annie // Feb 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    You’re making me cry. Stop it. My family brought us three meals a day when we were in the hospital after having our twins and the food was impossibly good…even if I cried the whole time from hormones.

  • 15 cianne // Feb 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Another post reminding me why I adore this blog. Your words are lovely describing your daughter’s birth. And I’m also now craving chicken salad.

  • 16 Melissa // Feb 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Loved the story…love the picture of my aunt, uncle, cousin and baby cousin…love chicken salad and bacon…hope to share some with all of you sometime soon!
    Oh, and P.S. Even if wasn’t already obvious from, well, how obvious it is, I would know this was an Andy story and not a Jenny story because the only chocolate mentioned was in an O’Henry bar, and really…does that even count as chocolate? But since there was bacon, and mayonnaise, and even lemon curd (yum!), it’s all good. Rock on, Andy – you are one cool dad/dude!

  • 17 rachel // Feb 9, 2012 at 4:57 am

    I hate chicken salad – but good lord, man, you write like nobody’s business!

  • 18 Lisa D (This Little Piggy) // Feb 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Beautiful story and really well written! It is so funny I remember scoping out the upper east side for good delis before I went in to have my twins. I then gave my husband a list of what I wanted from where.

  • 19 Kerry-Ann // Feb 9, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Getting a little choked up! Such a beautiful picture and story. Our first born celebrated his 10th. birthday yesterday so this post is really speaking to me. I’m making those sandwiches tomorrow!

  • 20 Jennie // Feb 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Beautiful

  • 21 Carolyn // Feb 10, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Such a lovely picture, with equally lovely words as accompaniment. Thank you for sharing such a tender moment.

    Also, wanted to let you know that I was delighted to find you referenced on my “second favorite blog”: http://joannagoddard.blogspot.com/

    Have a great weekend!
    xoxo

  • 22 The Very Hungry Bookworm // Feb 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Wow. I have yet to have children, nor do any of my friends or siblings have kids, so I cannot yet fully understand those emotions. One thing now is for certain. At some point, in the still-distant future, when I have a baby, I want one of those sandwiches waiting for me. This post is lovely.

  • 23 Heather // Feb 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Your description of your daughter’s birthday is so touching. I think my husband thinks many of the same things about our daughters but I don’t think he’d be able to put it into such wonderful words. I hope you put this story in her baby book.

    AND, today I went to William Poll for the chicken salad sandwich. It was worth it! (well, once). The super crispy thick bacon made my day. I consider myself a chicken salad snob and this is definitely in my top 2! The other top is a fruitier on in California. Hmm, guess that’s a different category. Thanks for the recommendation. I had a great Valentine’s lunch!

  • 24 andy // Feb 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Heather, that made my day. Can’t believe you went there and had a chicken salad sandwich. God, that’s great. And now I’m hungry.

  • 25 Luisa // Mar 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    This is such a beautiful post and now you’ve made me want to make a beeline for William Poll when I’m in NYC next week. :) Or at least make this recipe! I totally get remembering every single blessed thing you ate on or around that day.

  • 26 Eleana // Mar 15, 2012 at 11:15 am

    What a beautiful post – and an amazing photo up top. I hope one day when I have children, that someone can capture that moment for me on film and in words as well.

  • 27 Ingrid // May 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Wow – I just stumble across your posts from time to time Andy and am just blown away! Were you always this deeply introspective?!?!?! You could have lived in The Zu and grown your hair long with this type of poetry!

  • 28 Ocontogirl // Jul 2, 2012 at 1:12 am

    William Poll took lots of my money and gave me foodie pleasure during the last 6 months of my first pregnancy…but the indigestion from the hidden onion in that chicken salad…ugh.
    But the BLts…the hidden treasure.

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