Five years ago at about this time, I was feeling sort of down about New York. I was 25 and living in a converted studio-to-one bedroom-to two-bedroom apartment (read: I was living in a 5×7 living room with a curtain for a door); I had a job that didn’t pay the bills; and moreover that job—which was at a fashion magazine, not, like, the DOJ—was a constant source of dissatisfaction and anxiety. I had studied in Buenos Aires in college, and I’d loved it, and after I graduated I told myself that if things didn’t work out in New York I’d move back to South America. It had been almost three years since graduation at this point, and my credit card had recently been declined in the process of buying a $2 granola bar. I took it as a sign. I bought a one-way plane ticket to Portland and made plans to live there with some family for a few months before decamping to Argentina.
Once I decided to leave New York, my perspective on the city shifted completely. I’ve always been embarrassingly sentimental, and the knowledge that I’d be moving away deeply impacted my approach to even the most mundane everyday activities. I suddenly cherished those life-affirming moments such as waiting for a turkey burger at the bodega at 2 a.m. Every glass of wine with friends was, in my mind, a romantic, sepia-tinged memory-in-the-making. (Keep in mind, this was before Instagram.) I remember walking over the Williamsburg Bridge one day and seeing a sign that said, “Goodbye, Brooklyn!” I almost cried.
One of my fondest memories from this period is a dinner party I threw as a kick-off to what I thought of as my grand goodbye tour. I invited some friends over and experimented with a stew called Todo Junto, which means “all together” in Spanish. It was a perfect autumn evening, and the stew turned out to be gloriously easy and delicious, and my friends and I spent hours eating and drinking. I mentally catalogued the night as one to remember in future periods of malaise.
Obviously, I didn’t end up moving. Shortly after my dinner party, the economy crashed. The waitressing jobs in Portland dried up. My coworkers at the fashion magazine were being laid off, and it seemed like bad karma to quit a stable job—even a crappy one—while everyone around me was losing theirs. Obama was elected and the vibe in New York changed. People were a little less depressed. I was a little less depressed. Suddenly, I couldn’t quite remember why I had wanted to leave New York so badly. I had had such a lovely autumn, after all! And who would eat stews with me in Argentina? When my JetBlue flight took off that January, I wasn’t on it.
In retrospect, moving to Portland to save money by working at a coffee shop in the middle of a recession seems like, um, a really bad idea, and I’m glad I didn’t do it. Instead I moved out of my disgusting apartment, looked for new job, and tried to figure out how to change some other bad-seeming things in my life. (Hello, therapy.) Which I did with some success! One thing that remains the same from those years, however, is the Todo Junto recipe, which I use frequently to this day.
I got this recipe from my mom, who got it from a neighborhood friend, who presumably got it from someone else, because the neighborhood friend was very Irish and this recipe does not seem very Irish. (If only because the name is in Spanish?) But I haven’t been able to trace it to a cookbook or any online recipes. Does anyone know where it’s from?
Makes 4 hearty servings.
8 pieces of skinless, bone-in chicken breasts or thighs
6 carrots, chopped into chunks
4 potatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or 1-2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp sugar
1 26 oz. can whole plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Prepare your vegetables. Rough chopping is fine for most of them, unless you are particular about the size and shape of your produce in soups. Now…and this was hard for me to believe at first…dump everything but the can of tomatoes into a big old pot. Add the plum tomatoes, smoosh them up with a wooden spoon, and add about half of the tomato liquid. Turn on the heat to medium and let your stew simmer for about 45 minutes, uncovered, or until the chicken is falling off the bone and the carrots are tender. Add salt, pepper, and additional tomato liquid to taste.
*You can also just use boneless, skinless breasts and thighs, which is easier and more attractive. But if you do this, be careful not to overcook the chicken. You probably won’t need to simmer the stew for the full 45 minutes. Just cook until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are tender.