In the middle of preparing lectures and spelling out writing lessons and elucidating grammar lessons and working on the History of the Renaissance World…the rest of life revolves on.

Revolves, turns, rotates…it’s hard to find a word that carries the exact shade of meaning, the one that implies exactly the right sort of forward movement, taking the same exact struggles to a different place, in which they’re neither the same nor different, but both distinct from the previous struggle, and identical to troubles which have come before…


This is a blog, not a book, which means (according to Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which I’m finding incomplete and unsatisfactory) there’s no point in reflectively considering deep issues on it.

Instead, let me just share with you my strategy for dealing with weeks in which I am not only writing/working/parenting/home educating but also dealing with multiple cases of family illness and assorted crises:


Cookies, sure. But although cookies are super-fine, when real troubles loom, a Virginia family needs chicken and dumplings. Forget chocolate: this is the ultimate comfort food.

So I cooked it for dinner tonight.

If I’d had the spare energy/mental space/knowledge of my camera’s whereabouts I’d have taken a picture of mine, but I was simultaneously dealing with dispensing prescriptions meds/answering the phone/feeding needy animals/checking school lists/chopping onions.

This is someone else’s photo that’s really close, though.

Doesn’t give any sense of the warm happy soul-infusing well-being that the real thing produces. If you want to try it out, here’s the two-part recipe, complete with all the parts where I throw in stuff without measuring it.

Part I: The Chicken

In a soup pot or stock pot (I use a copper pot this size), slosh enough olive oil or melt enough butter to cover the bottom. On medium-low heat, cook one chopped onion, two stalks of celery, two garlic cloves, and a couple of minced carrots until they begin to grow soft and brown (caramelize).

Add the chicken. I do this various ways; I roast two chickens for dinner (for six) and then pull the leftover meat off the bones for the next night’s meal; I roast a single chicken first thing in the morning and then, around noon, toss it into my stock pot, cover it with water, let it bubble away for a couple of hours, and then pull the chicken out and set it on a plate to cool, after which I pull the meat off the bones (saving the water I boiled it in–the “stock”); or I brown five (or so) boneless chicken breasts in butter in my favorite iron saucepan so that the chicken has some color to it, and then cut up the partially-cooked breasts.

However you do this, toss the meat into the pot with the cooked veggies and saute it for a minute or two.

Then add chicken stock (canned or boxed, or home made–that’s a different post) until the chicken and other elements are covered; then add 1/2 of the same amount of liquid again.

Simmer for twenty minutes or so; taste and then add salt, pepper, and thyme until the broth is to your linking.

Then add 1 1/2 cup of milk, put the lid on the pot, and turn it down to a gentle simmer while you mix up…

Part II: The Dumplings

Dumplings, in Virginia cooking, are baking-powder biscuits finished in liquid instead of on a baking sheet.

In a bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. baking soda.

Into this combined dry mixture, drop 1/3 cup shortening (I like Crisco veg oil sticks).

Cut the shortening into the flour mixture–which means, get a baking tool that looks like this:

and press it down into the flour mixture and shortening until the mix looks like it has very small peas in it.

Pour 1 cup of buttermilk into the flour mixture and stir until the flour is just barely folded in (better to have a few stray grains of flour than to have a thinner, well-beaten batter…biscuits and dumplings are born out of lumpy batter).

Part III: Together

Drop the biscuit dough into the chicken mixture, about 1/3 cup at a time. The liquid that you drop the dough into should be bubbling, not still, and the biscuit dough should be formed into balls.

Put a lid on the pot and cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat without peeking.

Then correct the seasoning (which means, taste it and find out if you need to add more salt and pepper), ladle into deep bowls, and eat immediately.

And then you can luxuriate in warm happy soul-infusng well-being, at least until you have to administer your last dose of prescription meds and check your last round of grammar homework. Let me know how that works for you.

Showing 12 comments
  • Rose Burke

    Boy, does that sound good. I haven’t had Chicken and Dumplings in a long time.

  • Aunty Social

    Thanks for your recipe! I didn’t grow up in Virginia, but chicken and dumplings were a wintertime comfort food when I was growing up. I haven’t had them in about a year – the rest of my family doesn’t like them (barbarians! 😉 I may have to make them suffer through soon though…..

  • Carolee LeBlanc

    I’m WAY further north than you…and I grew up on chicken and dumplings! The only thing I add to my stock is cumin…gives a little heat to the stock. Chicken and dumplings are a French Acadian dish as well, but they call it Chicken Fricot (my husband is Acadian). In the old French recipes for the dumplings you omitted the baking powder (or used very little) and dropped the dumplings by the tbsp. into the batter to cook amoung the veggies/meat. The dumplings are denser…but just as good. All this talk makes me wish for cool fall days (of which is have had NONE) and indoor cooking! Perhaps with hurricane Earl about to hit us, I should make up a batch so that I have something to heat on the wood stove when we lose power. Not if…but when b/c we ALWAYS lose power during a wind storm. 😉 Hope your chicken and dumplings cures whatever is ailing you! 🙂

  • Susan in TX

    You forgot one thing…what time do we come for dinner? 🙂

    I cheat. I make my dumplings with Bisquick. I know, I know, they’re not the same, but it saves me a whole 3 minutes…at least I think it might. 😉
    Sorry to hear you have sick ones!

  • JFS in IL

    This is one of my Kansas-born and bred Dad’s favorite dishes. Along with (overcooked) pork chops and taters in Cream of Mushroom soup.

  • Hope Yetkin

    Thanks for the recipe! I’ll have to try it! I love chicken & dumplings, but have never found a recipe that really works. Yours looks like it will.

    And thank you for your “History of the … World” books. I love them! Don’t stop! They are the spine of my self-study!

  • Jeanene Snell

    You are a hero to me. I homeschool 5 children (which happens to be all of them, aged 16-1; I put my oldest first because she has put up with me longest). I am so glad to have found your blogs. And, if it ever cools down here in the southwest, I will be trying your chicken and dumplings recipe.

  • Ellen

    Chicken and dumplings are the best comfort food ever. I make them in the fall and winter, but my recipe can never match my grandmother’s. Neither does my beef-vegetable soup or my biscuits. Or anything else, frankly.

  • Krissi

    I think I like your recipe better-I’m trying it! Even in SC we can eat Virginia dumplins 🙂

  • Nicole

    I don’t think you’ve yet shared with us which classes you’re teaching this semester, but perhaps I overlooked it.

    Only a few people make chicken and dumplings good enough to eat–you are probably one of them!

  • Staci

    I’m sure you’re aware of this (since you explained what dumplings are in Virginia), but in my family of Midwestern farmers, dumplings are rolled and cut. The only difference between dumplings and noodles is that dumplings are cut wider and not dried.

    The first time I was served drop dumplings like yours, I was very confused. 🙂

  • Carolee LeBlanc

    Well, Susan, it finally feels like fall here in the maritime provinces after a week of stupidly hot, humid weather. It is now cool (15 C. but rainy and damp) here. So for my first Saturday after the official start to our homeschool year, I made chicken and dumplings with some homemade brown bread. My kitchen smells soooo good! 🙂 I also made cream cheese stuffed pizza crust to freeze for later in the week.

    Thanks for the inspiration to make an old favourite dish. My husband, in particular, thanks you! 😉 If you were closer…I would send over a loaf of brown bread…a old-time maritime saturday evening special!

    Blessings, Carolee

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