Just give me a chicken
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
I stack books on a cart, I push the cart to the stacks, I find the books’ rows, and I return them to their predetermined location. It’s dull work, humiliating and borderline pointless, but at least it’s not physical. At the end of my working day, I’ve got energy to write. Rolling my cart under the numerical guidance of the Library of Congress, I mark my days by remembering meals, and they’re not the meal you’d imagine. It’s not a parade of gourmet dishes, baroque as popes and twice as rich. No fantasy ortolan, delicate songbird bones crunching as fat runs down my veiled chin. No Thomas Keller-orchestrated dinners, each plate a bar played in a grand, pure symphony that edges on Wagnerian excess. No savory, silky feast of the seven fishes; no effusive, bubbly banquet of El Bulli foams, extraction and mousses.
No, the dishes my memory presents me with are stark as a wimple. A simple plate of cut tomatoes oozing their sun-warmed guts, drizzled with oil, and sprinkled with flaky diamond white salt. A fat slice of fresh, hot bread with daisy-yellow butter. The crackling skin of a roast chicken spitting hot fat into my mouth. A bowl of berries daubed with obscenely thick cream. They’re the foods, God help me, my mother would have served.
A Certain Hunger, by Chelsea G. Summers
“Mummy, I’m hungry! When is the food going to be ready?” is a phrase I have begun to dread on the weekends. Lately, the hours seem to have started passing more quickly, we are getting busier and busier and I have been running out of ideas on things I could swiftly prepare but are still flavorful and both my kids would want to eat. Add to this the problem of making time to go shopping in order to have these ingredients ready. Forget about tagliatelle alla bolognese, Chinese dumplings, home-baked pizza (dough from scratch) or freshly made fish fingers. The choice has been coming down to tomato soup (cooked with a store-bought stock), fried chicken nuggets or baked meatballs. Again. It is not that the kids would reject eating this reduced menu every week, but is us, the grown-ups, who have our limits.
I like challenging myself in the kitchen, which does not mean I don’t also treasure no-fuss delicious recipes. I do come across them, occasionally, while reading a magazine, scrolling down Instagram posts, or perusing one of my cookbooks, being this last one the way I found the recipe for the Zuni Roast Chicken (from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook). All I needed to have was a whole chicken, some fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Seasoning, resting, roasting and then eating. No need to marinate, add butter or oil, make stuffing or basting it, just turn the chicken over twice after it goes into the oven. Sounded simple enough.
Even though, the original recipe calls for salting the bird three days in advance -which I didn’t do but will try next time- this was a rapid and uncomplicated way of having lunch, while I also had time to take a shower, finish my make-up and clean after the kids. Taught by experience, I also marked the page of the book and wrote the recipe down, since my system of making mental notes has been banishing recipes to aleatory compartments of my brain, thus making them unretrievable in the future when the need for them actually arose.
I baked some frozen fries, too, and seasoned some fresh vegetables with olive oil and lemon juice. It was a hit. Once I saw the little thumbs go up and my husband too busy savoring the crunchy skin to even comment on it, I knew this was a keeper. Next time I’ll try adding some lemon or changing the herb blend, this way I’ll stretch my lunch options for an additional few weeks. I’ll leave the more complicated stuff for when I have more time, late at night, when everyone has gone to sleep.