Monday, June 7, 2010

Roast chicken and other thoughts.

It started out on Twitter, the way so many things do these day. One famous food writer declared that roasting a chicken took no time at all, and anyone could do it, even on a weeknight. Another food writer declared that if she could cook three meals a day, plus baking in the afternoon, with a toddler, then other people could, too. It was one of those off-hand comments that hit a nerve. This second writer is someone I admire, love, respect, someone I consider a friend. And on the one side: anyone can learn to cook. And on the other side: first, they need the desire to learn, and the willingness to make mistakes. That is the hard part.

The beautiful part of Twitter, for me, is the tight-knit community of food-loving people that I have found in both my own city and across the globe. The bitter part of it is that what makes us so close can also, temporarily, blind us to what is outside: people who don't share that same passion. Who don't have certain luxuries that I, for one, take for granted: a childhood with parents who loved food and took me everywhere from roadside stands in Taipei to the Russian Tea Room in New York City, money to buy food and experiment with ingredients that may be expensive and/or hard to find, time to shop and cook, and the kitchen skills and confidence that allow me to turn out a meal for one person (when I am alone) in about half an hour, or three people (when my parents are in town) in about an hour.

I have a repertoire of dishes I can make with my eyes closed. I have a well-stocked (if not well-organized - where the hell did I put that bottle of Worcestershire?) pantry. If I lack a true professional chef's speed and skill - I am sure my friends who have actual training would wince if they saw me cook - I do know what I am doing, most of the time. I have a schedule that means I am home by 4pm. I am always thinking ahead - what can I prep tonight so I don't have to do it tomorrow? What leftovers can be stretched and reassembled into something different so I don't get bored? I do this because I love to eat, and because I care enough to take the time to think about what I eat, at least 90% of the time. (Except for nights like tonight, when I had one salami sandwich and one smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese sandwich for dinner). I'll bake a cake because I see a recipe I want to try, just for the hell of it, and I am not usually intimidated by a mile-long list of ingredients or three pages of instructions, although I save complicated things for the weekend.

The conversation about mothers-who-work and mothers-who-stay-home and mothers-who-work-from-home is one that I am completely unqualified to participate in. I am single and childless. I am not responsible for the care and feeding of anyone besides myself, except for, occasionally, my parents (they spend about six weeks of the year in Seattle, with me). Laurie Colwin wrote movingly and clearly about her feelings about being a working mother who nevertheless was determined to make sure that her family ate well, nearly 20 years ago, and she put it better than anyone. (See the chapters "Real Food for Tots" and "Four Easy Pieces;" hell, see ALL the chapters in More Home Cooking, a collection of brilliant food essays collected just before her sudden death in 1992).

In college I would buy poussins at the slightly larger, fancier Wegman's supermarket over in Pittsford (a short drive from the University of Rochester, where I was a student). I'd spatchcock them with a pair of kitchen shears and roast them, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, in my toaster oven until the skin was golden and crispy and the meat was juicy. I'd make soup with the bones and have chicken noodle soup (with spinach and scallions and Chinese wheat noodles), sorry, poussin noodle soup, the next night. Why doesn't anyone talk about roasting poussins or Cornish game hens on a weeknight? Splitting the birds down the back and flattening them (the complicated way of saying "spatchcocking") enables you to cook them quickly, making them perfect for when you are short of time. It's roast chicken, with a little bit of fiddly work with a pair of scissors but minus the feeling of being in Spain when dinner isn't ready until 9pm. Unless you want to feel like you've gone to Spain.


Rachel said...

You're right -- no one talks about roasting poussins or Cornish Game Hens on a weeknight. But that's a great idea.

I don't have kids either, and the waste generated from cooking most recipes -- even for 2 of us -- puts me off of cooking more than once a week, if that. Which doesn't help my ultimate goal to raise my game.

It's possibly why I got so excited about Judith Jones' blog (& her new book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One) in the last year. It was a much more accessible idea to me since we try not to overdue it with portions, either. Every time I confront a recipe, I have to strategize how I'll share it to keep from wasting things.

I think *you* should write more about making these things!

kitchenmage said...

Ooh, tiny birds. Good idea! (Ortolan lunches?)

Cooking is so fraught with stumbling blocks, as you know. Starting with, yes, willingness to learn and make mistakes. As people who write about food, we need to honestly look inward as often as we look into other's shopping carts - I'm trying to do that more myself.

heh, my captcha is 'mensu' which could be someone in our twitter circle, ya know?