Twenty-seven Hats (and Honey-Mustard Chicken)


After my mother died several years ago, there were 10,000 details to attend to. I’ll tell you now, it isn’t easy figuring out how to stop an electronically-drafted pension issued from a foreign country through an unknown entity based on employment 55 years earlier by a company that had no record of my mother working for it.

But I did it.

Today, I’m checking off the last job on that to-do list. Mom was an ace knitter. She made soft afghans, woolen sweaters and vests with intricate details, and hats crowned with pompoms. She often watched TV as her long needles clicked, her attention held by one of her beloved British comedies or dramas. She might have paused for a sip of hot tea or to adjust the cat on her lap, but rarely did she need to monitor the loops of yarn taking shape in her hands. She loved to knit, and she was good at it, as well as other needle arts.

After retiring from secretarial work, Mom was pleased to discover a group of like-minded women who knitted for a special cause. They made hats to warm the tiny heads of premature babies who were patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in nearby Little Rock. Now her needles had extra purpose, and the hats flew from them like tiny, pastel birds. Mom always liked volunteering, and making the hats suited her need to feel useful. Bonus: she could hang out with chatty knitters. It was a win for everyone.

There was a bag of those little hats in her house after she died. I took it and tucked it away. Other matters took precedence, and by the time I called Arkansas Children’s Hospital earlier this year, I thought it likely that the hat program was no longer active. Wrong. Babies are still being born ahead of schedule, and their heads still need the cover of hand-knitted hats, made with skill and love. Larger hats are needed, too. “Yes,” the Volunteer Services coordinator said, enthusiastically. “We’d love to have them!”

So I’m mailing the hats to the hospital today. Twenty-seven tiny babies are about to feel a little warmer in this big world, thanks to Maureen Burton.

♥ ♥ ♥

I always think of Mom when I make this chicken. Her sister Barbara gave her a similar recipe decades ago, when both were raising families. I love it.

IMG_7567Spot the dog? Her name’s Macy.

Honey Mustard Chicken, adapted from a recipe in The Dinah Shore Cookbook, by Dinah Shore, © 1983 by Sewanee Productions, Inc., published by Doubleday & Company, Inc., of Garden City, New York.

3 or 4 chicken breast halves, bone in, skin on

Brining liquid (2 quarts cold water combined with 1/2 cup table salt and 1/2 cup granulated white sugar)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon chutney

Chicken breasts are huge these days. I cut the halves in half with kitchen scissors, and one of those pieces is often plenty for a serving. Do that with these. (If you’d rather serve the larger chicken breasts intact, that’s fine. Won’t make a difference in the amount of brine, sauce, or roasting time.)

Brine the pieces in a container holding 2 quarts of cold water into which you’ve stirred 1/2 cup table salt and 1/2 cup granulated white sugar. Let the chicken soak in the brine, refrigerated, for 30 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Pat with paper towels to dry.

Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly coat a 9×13-inch pan with non-stick spray, and arrange the chicken pieces in it, skin side up. Season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 2 hours.

While the chicken cooks, make the sauce: In a small saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter over low heat. Whisk in the honey, Dijon mustard, salt, curry powder, and chutney. Remove from heat, and set aside.

About 15 minutes before the chicken is done, take it out of the oven and transfer the chicken pieces to a plate. Pour off the liquid that has accumulated in the baking dish, and return the chicken to the pan. Generously spoon the honey mustard sauce over the chicken, letting some puddle in the bottom of the pan, and return it to the oven. Continue to bake another 15 minutes to let the sauce heat through. If you want to color the chicken a little bit more, finish it under a hot broiler for a couple of minutes, just until the skin is a nice golden brown in places.

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes and a green veg, basting the chicken pieces with warm sauce from the pan.

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