And also, there are so many times when you need to make a quick escape, but humans don’t have their own wings, or not yet, anyway, so what about a birdseed shirt?
When I was a kid, my grandma would toss my sister and me into her 1968 Chevy Malibu (that she bought her damn self, complete with plastic seat covers) along with a cooler of some off-brand fruit flavored soda, chips that weren’t *quite* Pringles, cookies that weren’t *quite* Oreos, and we would head up to Lake County to our family compound where we would live on the edge for a little bit.
We would float, both figuratively and literally in the still waters of Clear Lake (which, in fact, are never actually *clear* per se) for some indeterminate length of time. Could be a weekend, could be a week (occasionally two), but who cares when the early autumn light is shining through the oak trees and you can still catch that layer of sun-warm water on the top of the lake?
A part of me wants to be 7 again, floating in that lake until my fingers and toes are pruney, letting my legs drop down every now and again, just to make myself gasp at the cold just below the surface.
Maybe it’s something about living on the literal edge of the continent that allows you to be a little more open to things, try new things, be new things. It also makes you just a tad more raw than most people when you know that 10 minutes to the west, you run out of land. Maybe that is what makes the more figurative float possible. I mean, if as far as you can go is well…right over there, you may as well peek over the edge as often as possible, right? Just to satisfy your curiousity about what’s there (or not).
It can also make you a bit of a daredevil, sending you straight for the high-dive over the lake made out of a ladder and an out-of-commission surfboard because while the pier is fun, the high-dive is…funner. Likewise, the tire swing behind your house is absolutely perfect for sending your sister out over a 50′ drop without even thinking twice, or being supervised in any way. You use your roller skates to get to and from school and hook your hoodie over your head and glide down the hill (in the middle of the street, ‘natch) toward home like a superhero, note pinned to your chest from the school informing your parents that while tether ball is fine, they won’t allow you to run tournaments on the playground any longer.
Or maybe it was just the 70s in Northern California, land of little girls on dirtbikes, being home before the streetlights came on, and limitless wilderness to explore (just don’t go too far and don’t come home with any more snakes…).
The last 8 months have been full of inestimable loss, both for me and my little raft of the chosen few. Two suicides. Two accidents. One terribly violent murder. Enough already. Universe, it’s OK to take a break and look the other way for a little bit.
This year, after three years apart, I filed for divorce. And it’s OK. We’re friends (because we always have been). And because (many) moments like this exist:
My sister, my shadow, my partner in all things unapproved by parents, the only other person on earth with the same smile (see below), the person most likely to call me out, who I would go to the mattresses for (and have), and who is so deep in my corner the next person has to elbow their way in, moved 700 miles away.
Grief and loss are probably the most fearful creatures that exist. But loss shouldn’t be a fearful creature. It should be a creature of wisdom. It should teach us not to fear that tomorrow may never come, but live fully, as though the hours are melting away like seconds. Loss should teach us to cherish those we love, to never do anything that will result in regret, and to cheer on tomorrow with all of its promises of greatness. It’s easy and un-extraordinary to be frightened of life. It’s far more difficult to arm yourself with the good stuff despite all the bad and step foot into tomorrow as an everyday warrior.
And because the universe is ridiculous, it’s also been a year of…amazing.
I walked away from a rent controlled apartment in San Francisco (I know, right?!?), and moved back to Oakland. Best decision ever. I’ve got a ton of people I’ve known for *ages* all within stumbling distance of my house…
And this doesn’t even do the smallest justice to the number of people I have surrounding me daily. It’s incredible. You should be so lucky. You should have a Paige, an Angie, a Tony, Chris, Scott, Bob, Jen, Kate, Carolyn, Damien, Lexi, Cristalle, Mindi, Vita, Amy, Amy, James, Allyson, Cherilynn, Mom (x3), Dad (x2). Lorraine, Nigel, Havel, Joyce, Debbie, Liz…the list goes on and on and on…
I opened a restaurant. In 10 days. Like an idiot. But here’s the thing: It works (mostly). Who does that?!? I’m doing (ever so slightly) better than breaking even in one of the hardest industries out there to be an entrepreneur. As a woman. Which shouldn’t mean anything, but it does.
I fell in love. Absolutely in the way I do all things: Completely. Right guy, wrong time? Doesn’t matter. I won’t speak for him, but I couldn’t have helped myself even if I had wanted to. So we didn’t. I chose him. I would still choose him. He’s amazing, I won’t give up a second of it, and if I could rewind the clock and relive the last six months or so, I totally would. I knew the risks, but I got the rewards too.
That said, I’m nobody’s second fiddle (except that time in Junior High when I got knocked down from first chair violin to second by Susie Hitchens, that talented bitch), and I’m not a very good placeholder because I require that I be chosen in return. I’ve been needed over wanted before, and it’s not nearly as amazing nor hard in the right ways as being chosen for exactly who you are. Because people don’t change. Not really, and not even you. Sure, you may gain new interests, learn things, alter others, develop new habits and drop the old ones…but your wiring is already there and it’s not even about changing it, it’s about finding the right hydrogen bond that makes the double helix hold.
So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!
And I have been adopted. By a cat. She hangs out with me when she chooses (she usually wanders in around 6PM and curls up on my feet while I read or makes this delightful Kathleen Turner type growl when I’m occupied with something else). And she has these incredible yellow dragon eyes.
And so it goes. Sometimes, the parting is permanent. Sometimes, it’s temporary or “just for now”. And, while hundreds and thousands of people come and go in your life, occasionally you run into that person who really sees you. And who you don’t see through, but who you see into. And sometimes they can stay, and sometimes they can’t, for whatever reason. All you can do is leave the door open and try not to predict the future because you never know how or when that person will step back through that door.
And if you’ve gotten this far, don’t you deserve something? Of course you do. Now, I normally think of chicken as that thing people eat when they don’t know what to eat but you know better, right? So here goes. I give you the Zuni Roast Chicken because there is no better roast chicken on the planet. Judy Rogers was a bright star and is missed deeply in the little culinary world I live in, and the even smaller world of women chefs.
Seriously, when you go to Zuni, you just order the chicken, which is for two, which is the best way to eat a roast chicken. You don’t even need the menu.
And don’t even think about serving this without the bread salad.
I want an infinitely blank book and the rest of time.
Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken
Adapted from the cookbook from the Zuni Cafe, San Francisco
Serves 2 to 4
One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water
Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.
Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.
Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.
Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.
Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad, below).
Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Cut the chicken into pieces, spread on the warm platter (on top of the Bread Salad, if using).
Zuni Cafe Bread Salad
Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants plumped in 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for ten minutes or so
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried
Preheat the broiler. Carve off all of the bottom and most of the top and side crusts from your bread (you can reserve these to use as croutons for soup or another salad). Tear bread into irregular 2- to 3-inch chunks, wads, bite-sized bits and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.
Toss them with just a tablespoon or two of olive oil, lightly coating them, and broil them very briefly, just to lightly color the edges. If you’d like to toast the pine nuts (recommended) you can put them on your broiler tray as well, but watch them very carefully — they cook quickly!
Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.
Heat a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold them in, along with the pine nuts, if they were not already mixed with the bread scraps from the broiling step. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again.
Taste a few pieces of bread — a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well.
If you’re going to serve the salad under the roast chicken (recipe above), you can pile the bread salad on the serving dish you want to use and tent it with foil. If you want to serve it separately, do the same, but in a 1-quart shallow baking dish. Hang onto the bowl you mixed it in — you’ll use it again.
Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time, for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Tip the bread salad back into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.
*All quotes from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Recipe for Zuni Chicken adapted from the adaptation by the inimitable Smitten Kitchen.