WORDS to EAT: Easter Sunday Bird
This year, the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord is extra special.
After 8 months of marriage, I get to host my first big lunch event in our new home. I have my menu planned out – traditional frejon, seafood stew crammed with crabs and fresh fish, white rice with scent leaf, smoky jollof rice, baked salmon, seafood okra, oha soup with periwinkles, stockfish and dried fish, real pounded yam, a seafood pizza with a cream white sauce base topped with shrimps, smoked salmon, and a lot of cheese. I also have seafood linguini, a green salad, tapioca pudding, a triple chocolate cake and fresh fruit bowls with Greek yogurt and ice-cream.
I have taken my time to plan this menu to ensure that the spread is not only impressive but has something for everyone. To ensure I can play hostess with the mostess, I will make some of the dishes ahead, Be a Star caterers arrive at 8am with the rest of the dishes I will not make with a retinue of wait staff in tow. I have unboxed new dinnerware, serving bowls, cutlery and glassware. My husband has water, juice, beer and wine cooling. I have Chill arriving at 9am to set up to mix and serve mocktails and cocktails. My monogrammed napkins and crystal encrusted napkin rings are laid out – a little bling is always a good idea. I have boxes that contain chocolate truffles, gourmet chin chin and a bookmark as gifts for every guest to be handed out as they leave. Fresh flowers from my garden are in vases all over the dining area. A vanilla berry scented candle burns discreetly. I have gone all out to make sure all 20 of our family members feel special and enjoy their time with us.
To channel effortless glam, I am wearing an agbada boubou made by my friend Temi, my hair is in a bun, earrings, mascara and lip gloss complete my look. My husband watches me in amusement. He thinks this is a little much but a little much is next to my name in the dictionary.
I am nervous.
Not about the food or playing hostess. This will go perfectly; this I am sure about.
I am nervous because this is the first time I meet Aunty Mommy.
My husband’s mother passed away when he was 10 and her sister stepped in to raise him. She convinced his father that a young boy needed a maternal figure in his life and my husband went to live with her family. With four children of her own, Aunty Mommy worked harder to make sure my husband was treated the same as her children. The bond between Aunty Mommy and my husband is so strong and I find it endearing. A few years before I met my husband, Aunty Mommy moved to Australia at the behest of one of her sons. Her son wanted her to enjoy her retired life with his family – given the distance, Aunty Mommy’s trips to Nigeria are few and far between.
Throughout our relationship, I have talked to Aunty Mommy countless times on the phone, video calls once a week and endless WhatsApp chat messages. My husband made a few quick trips to England whenever she visited her daughter, but work commitments made it impossible for me to go with him. She did not make our wedding as she was unwell, and it was heart-breaking to see her cry about it. So even though I know Aunty Mommy well and she is fond of me, I have never met her in person. Aunty Mommy is in town and is the unofficial guest of honour at today’s Easter Sunday lunch gathering. My husband’s excitement is contagious. He tells me I have no reason to be nervous and I know that. Still…
Everyone arrives at 1pm. Hugs and kisses all round. Lunch is to be served at 2pm. Our families are excellent at keeping to time. Everyone is here except Aunty Mommy. 1.30pm. Aunty Mommy’s car arrives. Our family rushes to the door. A receiving line of sorts forms. My husband rushes to the side of the car where she is seated and opens it. An elaborate head tie is what I see emerge first. There she is. Aunty Mommy. Dressed like a queen in a gold lace wrapper and blouse with that tomato red gele. Coral beads and gold jewellery, A smile almost as bright as the sun when she sees me. ‘My daughter’ she says. My husband is right. I have no reason to be nervous.
She walks towards me with my husband holding her hand. I step forward to give her a hug when she says ‘Wait’. She says ‘I have a gift for you my daughter. In our tradition, you must take it from me and use it to make a meal for your husband. Not today of course. You can keep it in your backyard until you are ready’.
I am confused. What is she talking about? From the corner of my eye, I see Aunty Mommy’s driver open the trunk of the car. I see movement but my brain refuses to acknowledge what that movement is. I am frozen. The driver hands Aunty Mommy the biggest live chicken I have seen in my life. This is a rooster because of the cockscomb on its head. I know that much. It is huge, squeaking and fluttering its feathers frantically. Aunty Mommy says to me ‘Take it’.
No! No! No! My husband looks at me in horror. He knows about my fear of birds. It is a debilitating fear. They make me break out in hives, my eyes water, my throat closes up and I have been known to scream when I see a bird flying in my direction. I take a step back. Then another. I cannot say a word. I stare at the rooster that has morphed into a killer bird that I know is out for my head and take another step back.
‘Take it’ Aunty Mommy says. I hear some members of my family saying ‘Take it our wife’. I hear my husband saying to Aunty Mommy ‘Let me take it. She is afraid of birds.’ I hear Aunty Mommy say to him ‘What nonsense. She is a Nigerian girl. She must take it. It is tradition’
I think to myself. Maybe this is what I need to get over this fear. Maybe it is not so bad. Aunty Mommy is holding it. I can just take the monster bird and drop it immediately. That will work. This is the first time Aunty Mommy is meeting me. You can do this.
I take a step forward as Aunty Mommy does the same. She stretches her hand out. She has the bird by its legs. I reach my hand out. My husband says, ‘You do not have to’. Aunty Mommy snaps at him ‘Yes she has to. It is tradition’.
I stretch my hand towards the bird. It feels my approach. Raises its feathers in striking position, looks straight at me and I swear its eyes say to me – touch me if you dare. I turn around screaming the Lord’s name, I trip over my boubou but I must get away. I run into the house, up the stairs, into our bedroom and lock the door.
Herb Roast Chicken
You will need:
- 1 whole large chicken
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 cup mix of herbs that you like – Thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaves.
- 1 tablespoon white or black pepper
- 1 head garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large carrots – chopped into large pieces
- 150g salted butter – room temperature
- In a large pot big enough to hold the chicken with space left, fill halfway with water. Add the salt, ¼ cup mixed herbs and pepper and bring to a boil. Add some cold water to bring the temperature down and put in the fridge for 2 hours.
- Bring pot out. Submerge chicken in the brine. Cover pot and put back in the fridge overnight.
- Pat chicken dry and place on a roasting pan with foil underneath
- Preheat oven at 350 degrees or gas mark 3
- Season inside of chicken with salt and pepper
- Stuff the chicken with the head of garlic and the carrots
- Mix the butter with the rest of the herbs and rub mixture gently under the skin of the chicken.
- Rub the rest of the mixture all over the chicken and place the bird breast side up in the pan.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
- Take the foil off and check chicken for doneness. Bake until done and golden brown.
- Let the chicken stand for 10 minutes before cutting.