Elegance revisited: Chicken salad

Uptown Girl, Billy Joel

Today’s trip in the wayback machine begins with threadbare pillow covers—those zippered cases used to keep pokey, stabby feather ends inside your bed pillow—resulting in a trip to Macy’s. Plenty of parking, empty store aisles, no customers, no perfume squirters, no live piano music, no sales clerks to be seen, as we walked through Cosmetics and rode the up escalator to Linens—just the Sweetie and me left to our own devices. We finally disturbed a young man, who was intent on restocking, “You might try over there in the 50%-off corner.” Hidden on the floor beneath a jumble of duvets, pillows, sheets, and mattress pads were two pillow covers.

Now, how do we pay? We wandered some, looking for a cash register, and saw a sign, “Pay at the Friendly Service Counter.” Luckily, the only other shopper in the store knew what and where the friendly service counter was and we were soon out the door—no wonder we use Amazon. But before Amazon became our department store of choice, there was Frederick & Nelson, The Bon Marché, Bonwit Teller, Bullocks, Younker-Martin’s, and Neiman Marcus. Luxury department store shopping was usually reserved for wealthy customers, but Christmas—with Santa land, opulent window displays, and a chance to ride on stairs that moved—drew in throngs of middle class families.

In my 1950s South Sioux City, our store was Younker-Martin’s. On Saturdays, we crossed over from Nebraska to Iowa on the Missouri River bridge to downtown Sioux City and the corner of 4th & Pierce. In the summer we put shoes on and modeled prickly school clothes for Muth, in front of the full-length mirror. In the winter, we made a day of Christmas shopping, holiday window gazing, and Santa sitting, topped off with a turtle sundae in the 2nd floor cafeteria. Muth took a turn at the cosmetics counter, face upturned, as a primly dressed “Cosmetic Consultant” applied foundation, blush, and lipstick that was too-red. We rode the elevator, operated by a uniformed gentleman who gently intoned, “Second floor Linens, Fourth floor Ladies’ Lingerie” as he glided us up to Children’s Clothes on Fifth. On the way out we strolled through the Men’s Department, picking up a box of pipe cleaners and a flannel shirt, then headed home.

In downtown Seattle, Frederick & Nelson was the standard of elegance. You could rest your elbow on a satin pad at the glove counter while the sales clerk fitted you for a long, slinky glove. You could buy a hot dog in the basement cafeteria, a box of house-made Frangos under the chandelier in front of the grand staircase, a wedge of coconut cake in the third floor Tea Room, or a fancy chicken salad sandwich in the upscale, eighth-floor restaurant.

In the 1970s, traditional department stores, once big city fixtures, moved into suburban malls leaving downtowns vacant. The rise of on-line shopping and the emergence of Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, the Dollar Stores, and Big Lots siphoned customers away from mall department stores, leaving empty stores and deserted walkways. Last week Ginny needed batting for a new quilt, found it on Amazon, and had it in her hands within a day. It’s hard to justify putting in the time and expense to shop in a brick and mortar store, but we do miss that brief visit to elegance. Maybe vacant malls will help in the current push to revitalize downtowns but luxury department stores aren’t likely to be part of the effort.

Frederick & Nelson’s Chicken Salad 4 servings

  • 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, divided
  • 1/3 cup drained, sliced black olives, divided
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice Shredded iceberg lettuce

1. Put the chicken into a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce the heat. Simmer, partly covered, about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the chicken tests done. Remove from the water and cool. Then dice and put into a bowl.

2. Add the celery to the chicken. Save about a tablespoon of the pecans and a couple of tablespoons of the olives for garnish, then add the remaining of both to the chicken.

3. Stir together the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Fold into the salad, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (If the salad seems too stiff once chilled, loosen with a couple of tablespoons water.)

4. Serve the salad on a bed of iceberg lettuce, garnished with pecans and sliced olives.

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1 Response to Elegance revisited: Chicken salad

  1. Ginny says:

    That looked like the real Christy Brinkley in the video. Wonder how long that lasted.

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