There’s a quick flick of the wrist — a natural rhythmic motion one falls into when one is comfortable with a knife. The motion allows you to flick unnecessary bits out of the way so you can keep on task. So you can maintain the forward motion of cooking.
I was looking out the back window, the butcher block and the men, silhouetted in the doorway of the garage, when I saw Rob’s practiced flick. “There goes the head,” I said to Allie, who was with me in the comfort of the kitchen while the menfolk did their work outside.
Allie and I, and I guess the baby who was due last week so technically should be here, were cleaning up after an impromptu dinner I threw together once I realized everyone was coming over at 7:30 on a Friday — a time generally accepted as “dinner” if you are a Midwesterner.
Not ironically, I served chicken.
I served it in a dish I refer to as “Last Minute Chicken” because it is something I can cook without thinking and serve looking like I had been. It’s from Casa Moro. They call it “Chicken Fatee with Rice, Crispbread and Yoghurt.”
The awesome part of Last Minute Chicken is that you can cook the components ahead a bit and then just dump it all together at the last minute. Clove-scented roasted chicken, cinnamon and garlicky tomato sauce, cinnamon-scented rice with sauteed onion and chickpeas, sauteed eggplant, a tossing in of crispbread in the bottom of the bowl, and drizzle of some garlicky yogurt on top. Oh, and a topping of roasted nuts. They specify pine nuts, I tend to use what I have, which is mostly Marcona almonds.
Unless it is bitterly cold, if I am going to serve a “one-pot” meal, I tend to prefer a dish with distinction in its parts. It offers textural variation that can make it feel like a complete meal itself, rather than just a bowl of something to eat because it is dinnertime.
That said, I forgot to pour the chicken juices over the crispbread so, unfortunately, it hadn’t soak up the juices when we all had started eating it. Note to all: this is an important step! Miss it and your guests could, in fact, start ribbing you for putting bagel chips in your dish. It’s embarrassing and, without the bonding opportunities of the Fall harvest wrapped into the evening, could in fact leave a scar.
Thankfully, Rob was about to pull a drippy mass of unformed egg goo out of the butt-end of Pot Pie. Despite his meaty life, the experience seemed enough to distract his brain from what he demanded were bagel chips. I live in a Middle Eastern neighborhood, for the love of all things holy, I can get my hands on various crackery breads at the corner store.
I guess I am scarred.
But at least I was not also scarred by the evening’s main activity, Pot Pie.
Indeed, it was a much different affair to have a butcher on-hand to navigate the way through the chicken. When I think back to that first night Friend X and I had together, all I see flashbacks I would very much like to forget. It was awkward and fumbling and, in fact, seemed very much more like teen sex than two consenting adults, carrying out a one of nature’s most natural acts.
When I think back on last night, the whole is something I’ll want to remember.
Mostly because the evening was really a glimpse into the community that can develop when food is honest.
Food is nourishment. Our very connection to the world around us — the earth and its flora and fauna — it is the nourishment of soul, the nourishment of friendship, the nourishment of body and the nourishment of humanity. In fact, when I think of the spiritual link that ties us all together — what you might think of as a higher power or a God — I think of the cycle of food and how it can enrich my days.
To me, it is that reverent.
It is why I choose to buy food grown by people I know — they become my congregation with whom I share values and beliefs. And why I choose to start with the raw ingredients of life when I cook — it is how I seek to understand the mysteries of my faith.
And it is why I appreciate the shared experience of a Fall Harvest, because my compatriots and I are practicing a ritual that connects us to one another in the most honest, and nourishing, of ways.
Pot Pie was one of the original chickens to come to my homestead. There were three and of them now there are none. I am sad, although I never much liked her and she seemed never to like me. She is being donated to a dinner this week, I think for a stew.
There are four chickens left: En Croute, who is my favorite because she is charming and loving; Mrs. Leghorn, who is standoffish at best; and Dumpling II, 1 and 2, who seem at once feisty and shy because I can’t ever tell them apart so their divergent personalities simply merge.
They will be joined by three chicks being picked up tomorrow. And hopefully, soon, by rabbits if we ever get around to building the hutch. No one so much as brought up bees this year. I don’t know why though I imagine because the work of the vegetables can often seem like quite enough, thank you very much.
I wish this life, this opportunity to connect with the natural world so intimately, for everyone. I am sad when I realize so few even know what they are missing.