Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simple

I answered my cell phone tonight with one hand, and plucked the bag of raw chicken leg quarters from the fridge with the other. Once I'd wedged the phone between my left shoulder and ear, I could grab the naked pink poultry from the Ziplock with my right hand and fling it--by the drumsticks--into the baking dish I'd set out on the counter.

I chatted with K about the ins and outs of my third day of accreditation meetings at work. I whined about how tired I was. I drizzled olive oil on the chicken legs mindlessly, then rubbed cracked pepper and kosher salt into the skin. Remembering that I had to turn the oven on, I washed and dried my hands, pushed the buttons on the oven and set it to 350. I continued to vent. What a long day. What a long week. What a long afternoon. I grabbed the Tupperware from the top shelf of the fridge, the one that holds the lemon I use to flavor my water. Just how many last minute meetings could be in one week? Six half slices of Meyer lemon, I separated from each other and plunked on top of the meat. Three per leg.

What else did they recommend? she asked, and I was happy to recount the details of the visiting committee's report. Happy to talk to someone who "got it" about what this all was. I rolled another lemon under my palm against the counter, trying to remember which recommendations went with which subcategory of our self-study. I sliced the second lemon in half, squeezed one side over the chicken like I was Mario Batali. (Not being Mario Batali, I dropped in two seeds, retrieved those as I kept talking.) Into the oven, I slid the dish. I set the timer for 40 minutes. Left the kitchen.

Five years ago I wouldn't have trusted myself with most of those variables: dark meat; chicken with bones; roasting poultry; a simple recipe; "eyeballing it"; leaving the kitchen. Most of my cooking from marriage, on, was relegated to following recipes like they were the infallible word of God, making things that came in boxes (just add water/milk, etc), or creating things that went into casserole dishes (just add cheese and cream of something soup or spaghetti sauce). E's discovery that he's allergic to half the known foods in the world changed how I had to cook. Being poor gave me courage to buy cheaper cuts of meat. And in recent years I've found myself on a mission to learn more about simple flavors. I found I really like simple flavors better, anyway.

This year has been the year of the roast chicken.

When I heard Ina Garten speak last fall, she spoke about how people would often come to her fancypants grocery store and bypass all the fancypants pre-made foods for comfort foods like roast chicken and roast carrots. And I sat there and realized at that moment I couldn't roast a good chicken to save my life. Or, that if I did (accidentally?) manage a decent bird, I couldn't do it without all sorts of ridiculous dramatic fear throughout the process. I needed to get my chicken-roasting up to a level of comfort that I have with other foods. So I made it an assignment of sorts. To roast a lot of chicken in all its forms (whole, parts, etc) and to keep at it. After all, I could already cut up a whole bird like nobody's business, and I knew enough about how to use an instant read meat thermometer for it not to be a problem.

Tonight I stayed away from the kitchen after I put the chicken in the oven and continued chatting away on the phone until Henry came to tell me the timer was beeping. A quick poke of the thermometer in a thigh told me the chicken needed about ten more minutes, so back in it went. I left again. No sense in standing around, plus the hardwood in the kitchen was making my feet ache after work. Henry knew enough to come get me the second time the timer beeped. I wrapped up my phone call just about the same time I pulled the chicken from the oven to rest.

I sliced tart, early spring strawberries and made a simple salad which I dressed differently for each of us. I even made a rogue box of Stove Top stuffing for Henry that he managed to find somewhere and talk me into. (Nobody's perfect.) I don't know how it managed to find its way into the house, really, since I'm not a fan of that kind of thing anymore. Next to the simple flavor of the chicken and the salad, it just tasted brash and salty. Chemical.

At this point, I'll take the simple chicken. (And yeah, I'm kicking roast chicken's ass lately.)

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For the next few weeks I'm writing in response to prompts from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.

The Scintilla Project


Today's prompt:

Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.

4 comments:

  1. My grandmother and mother were both wing-it cooks. They taught me a lot, but trusting yourself is a huge deal, too. I love that you made roasting chicken an experiment and worked it until it was second nature. (And I'm also hungry now, too. Thanks!)

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  2. Well done! The simple meals and tastes are best. What do fancy restaurants do but cover the same foods with a different variety of sauces and spices? Underneath it all is the same cut you used.

    Thanks for getting me thinking - this applies to more than what's on the plate!

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  3. Stars and garters, there's something about roasted chicken that tugs on my heartstrings to this day. Roasted thighs in garlic powder and red pepper flake was one of the first things I ever learned how to cook.

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  4. I love a roasted chicken and for a long time I was too afraid to try it. Now...I do it all the time.

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