Listening to an audio version of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, my husband and I started laughing so hard that tears were running down our cheeks and we could barely see. Since we were driving at the time, we actually had to pull over to the side of the road, wipe our eyes and try to compose ourselves before we could proceed. We are the same age as Bill Bryson, but I don’t think a reader has to be a Baby Boomer to find this memoir of growing up in the mid-west in the 1950s and 1960s one of the funniest books ever written. It just adds another dimension to your enjoyment if you can remember Nehi sodas, Saturday matinees and the next best toys for boys.
The son of two writers, Bryson had an active imagination as a child. His detailed memories of his experiences as “The Thunderbolt Kid,” his alter-ego, and the creative play he and his buddies engaged in (what other kids figured out how to bleach the color out of Lincoln Logs?) are set within the context of the social history of the time. He experienced the introduction of television, t.v. dinners, atomic toilets and bomb drills in school. He writes of a time when we were immortal – obviously, because we did not require seatbelts, remembers the time when he and his sister were riding in a new Rambler station wagon, standing on the tail gate and hanging onto the roof as their father drove.
It was a simpler time, a more innocent time – especially as viewed from the perspective of a child. But when you get to the end of this book, after all the laughing and nostalgia, you can’t help but wonder how we got to where we are now from where we were then.
Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, in a time when words like “curry” and “gumbo” hadn’t yet entered Iowans’ vocabulary. Since his mother had a job as well as keeping house, “cooking was not her strong suit,” and dinner was always a variation of Burned. He remembers that “all our meals consisted of leftovers.” Frugal, ok — cheapskate, parents like Bryson’s rarely ate out at restaurants, so what was in the refrigerator became the next day’s dinner. How many of us today will make another meal out of last night’s dinner? Here’s a suggestion that Bryson’s mother probably made for her family. (Burning is optional!)
Chicken Pot Pie with Left-Over Chicken
2 cups chopped up leftover chicken from another dinner (rotisserie chicken, roast chicken, or whatever chicken dish you made a couple days ago)
2 cups cooked vegetables, chopped up (you can also use leftover veggies from last night’s dinner): carrots, potatoes, peas, celery, broccoli
2 T. butter or oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 T. flour
1 cup chicken broth
Salt, pepper, thyme, or your favorite herb/spice mix (I like Penzeys Sandwich Sprinkle)
Heat oven to 400 degrees and butter a medium-sized casserole dish.
Steam or boil chopped fresh veggies in a little water until just soft, about 5 minutes.
Saute chopped onion in butter or oil until soft. Sprinkle with seasonings while cooking. Add flour and mix well. Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for a minute, then add chicken and veggies. Heat through. Set aside.
Make biscuit topping:
Mix 1 cup of flour with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder together with a fork in a bowl. Add 3/4 cup heavy cream and mix with fork until you can form dough into a ball. Knead gently for 20 seconds.
Place chicken and veggie mixture in a greased casserole dish. Take small handfuls of biscuit dough and flatten a bit and place on top of chicken mixture, covering entire surface, but gaps are okay.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, till top is nicely brown and the casserole is bubbly. (Or leave it in longer so the top will burn. Like Bryson’s mother, you can scrape off the burned part.) Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with a vegetable gelatin salad, of course!
Enjoy your nostalgia!