"Family Album"

American Life in Poetry: Column 041
By Ted Kooser
U.S. Poet Laureate

Those photos in family albums, what do they show us about the lives of people, and what don’t they tell? What are they holding back? Here Diane Thiel, who teaches in New Mexico, peers into one of those pictures.

Family Album

I like old photographs of relatives
in black and white, their faces set like stone.
They knew this was serious business.
My favorite album is the one that’s filled
with people none of us can even name.

I find the recent ones more difficult.
I wonder, now, if anyone remembers
how fiercely I refused even to stand
beside him for this picture — how I shrank
back from his hand and found the other side.

Forever now, for future family,
we will be framed like this, although no one
will wonder at the way we are arranged.
No one will ever wonder, since we’ll be
forever smiling there — our mouths all teeth.

Reprinted from “Echolocations,” Story Line Press, 2000, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2000 by Diane Thiel, whose most recent book is “Resistance Fantasies,” Story Line Press, 2004. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Tangy Orange Chicken

We made the “Cook’s Illustrated” recipes for Sweet, Sour and Spicy Stir-fried Chicken and Broccoli with Cashews and fresh Spring Rolls for dinner tonight. The spring rolls won’t be making another appearance at our table, but the chicken (which, for the sake of ease, we shall call Tangy Orange Chicken) was outstanding. It’s a little time-consuming, and it requires your full attention to make. Just be sure to have all of your parts ready and within reach before you start the actual stir-frying. Oh, and my apologies for the blurry photo. I was so eager to try it, I could hardly hold still.

Tangy Orange Chicken
To make the chicken easier to slice, freeze it for 20 minutes until it is firm, but not frozen.
Serves four as a main dish with rice

Chicken for Stir-Fry
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 cup water
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest from one orange

Stir-Fry
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup roasted unsalted cashews , toasted in dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown, about 6 minutes
1 1/2 pounds broccoli , florets cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 1/2-inches tall and 1-inch wide), stems trimmed, peeled, and cut on bias into 1/4-inch-thick slices
4 medium scallions , sliced 1/4-inch thick on bias

  • Combine soy sauce, sherry, and water in medium bowl; add chicken and stir to break up clumps. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  • Mix sesame oil, cornstarch, flour, and orange zest in medium bowl until smooth. Drain chicken in strainer; press out excess liquid. Toss chicken in cornstarch/flour mixture until evenly coated.
  • Whisk chicken broth, orange juice, vinegar, soy, hoisin, cornstarch, sugar, and pepper flakes in small bowl; set aside. Combine ginger, garlic, and 1 tablespoon peanut oil in small bowl; set aside.
  • Heat 2 teaspoons peanut oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking; add half of chicken to skillet in flat, even layer. Cook, without stirring, but gently separating pieces, until golden brown on first side, about 1 minute; turn chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned on second side, about 30 seconds. Transfer chicken to clean bowl. Repeat with additional 2 teaspoons peanut oil and remaining chicken.
  • Add 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet; heat until just smoking. Add broccoli and cook 30 seconds; add 1/4 cup water, cover pan, and lower heat to medium-low. Cook broccoli until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes, then transfer broccoli to paper towel-lined plate. Add garlic/ginger mixture to skillet, increase heat to medium-high and cook, mashing mixture with spoon, until fragrant, sticky, and golden brown, 30 to 45 seconds, Return chicken to skillet and toss to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and evenly distributed, about 1 minute. Off heat, add broccoi and cashews and stir to combine. Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with scallions, and serve.
  • Worlds of fun

    She may be a little behind schedule, but Poppy is all set for Halloween with her fashionable cat hat.


    Marsha models her new T-shirt for JJ. He is not impressed.

    For years (and years and years and years), Rockford’s dad has requested Oyster Dressing at every holiday meal. And until the waning hours of 2005, he was denied. I had intended to make it for Christmas dinner, but we had oven-space and closed-grocery-store issues. I have to admit, the Oyster Dressing was pretty darn tasty.