“I’m part of the whole universe,” Jacob tells me. I am sitting across the foot of his bed, hugging my knees, leaning back against the wall. It is dark, the nighttime quiet punctuated by Lucas’s soft snoring. Jacob’s feet push at my leg from under his striped comforter. “I feel so cozy right now, because you are next to that edge, and I have my red blanket.” He yawns. “The universe is so big and we are all part of it. Like how all the sand makes the beach.”
We spent the day at Point Montara Light Station, hiking above its craggy cliffs and swirling sea, admiring its sweet hostel and its lighthouse, a lighthouse that in its 133 years has stood watch over two different oceans. Jacob drifts, and I think about the layers and layers of waves, about the way I held tight to the boys as we stared down at the crashing break sixty feet below us. Each wave crested frothy and white, a delicate spray above the pounding rhythm. The sky was blue and infinite above our heads, clouds like a puff of breath against the horizon.
“We are at the edge of the continent,” I told them. “It’s a special place. We can watch the horizon and look for the earth’s curve.”
“You always say that Mommy. But the edge of the continent is really just the beach.”
“Well, yes. I guess it is.”
He was quiet for a moment, picking along the trail. “Well,” he finally said. “I do love the beach.”
Lucas was beaming, watching a bird swoop along the cliffs right at eye level. “I love it AND I like it,” he said, pointing after the gull.
I watched them, walking ahead of me. I felt a quick rise of panic — panic I can still summon — as I thought about that edge, that steepness, that foamy water. But they were right with me, and they know how to keep their feet on the path. They stopped a moment later, and Jacob turned his face into the wind.
“I see it Mommy!”
“See what J?”
“The curve of the earth!”
“Here is the fringey edge where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam. … We have less time than we knew and that time buoyant, and cloven, lucent, and missile, and wild.” – Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
Can we talk chicken? Ok, good. We skirt the edge of vegetarianism at our house, my giant pots of beans and Kyle’s giant pork roasts in a steady balancing act with each other. Last year, I wrote a little bit about our New Year’s Revolution (and hey, more Annie Dillard!). We have made a point to eat (even) less meat, and at the same time we have gotten serious about making sure that the meat we do eat is ethically and sustainably raised. These days we only buy meat from pasture-raised, sustainably farmed, pesticide-free animals (from here, or from this family which sells through our CSA, or from these folks who come to our market, or this group of chicken-farming friends). So no, we don’t always know our chicken’s name (remember Colin?) – but. We do like to know the names of the people who raised it.
I’m not the first to note that while buying sustainable meat means buying expensive meat, since we are also buying less meat our overall food expense hasn’t changed. But the feel-good part of the equation is that we are paying for something worth while – and the money we are spending is going to the people who raised our food, not to a corporation that sells it.
We buy a whole chicken about once each month. There is something about roasting an entire animal that roots us in the reality of what meat is. Rather than a single breast or a ground up hunk, it is a carcass – a body. It shows us that this was a living creature, a creature we are now eating. It feels good to tell Jacob and Lucas about how yes, we are eating an animal – and this animal spent its days stalking through tall grass, hunting bugs, warm from the sun. I believe it is okay for animals to be food. I also believe that they deserve a good life as an animal.
A Week of Chicken
I was going to talk chicken roasting, specifically the slow-roasted (“faux-tissery”) chicken from Bon Appetit – but, it was just written up by Luisa, and she hits the major points I would have made (crispy skin, kids go crazy for it). (Kyle would also have you know that he thinks the potatoes that roast alongside the chicken deserve their own posting.) I’ll include the recipe below, but let’s talk about leftovers, too: at our house, a whole chicken nets at least three dinners (or sometimes two dinners and big sandwich for Kyle – this chicken would have been prime sandwich-making, but we had other plans). Here’s how it played out with our slow-roasted bird last week:
Night one: roasted chicken. Kyle eats an entire chicken breast, while each little guy takes a drumstick. I take a wing (where my love of the crunchy end bits perfectly meets with my guilt about eating too much meat). The potatoes are unbelievably excellent – a few are a bit too crisp (Luisa suggests possibly taking them out at 90 minutes) but Kyle cannot stop talking about them even so. The guys beg for more crispy chicken skin, and Jacob says at least ten times, “I love eating chicken on the bone!” We have a big kale salad on the side.
Night two: chicken tacos. All the leftover breast and thigh meat (plus that other wing) get picked from the bones, chopped up, tossed with ground cumin and coriander, then pan fried with some butter in a big cast iron skillet. This gets wrapped in corn tortillas with a big pile of cabbage slaw, chopped green onions and cilantro, pickled serrano chile, and slices of crisp baby radish. Guacamole and chips on the side. There are no leftovers.
Night three: ramen-inspired noodle soup. The bones/carcass go into my stock pot with a halved onion, some garlic cloves, and a piece of ginger root. This is all covered with about six quarts of water and then simmered for three hours. I strain this twice, first through the colander and then through the fine mesh sieve. It goes into the soup pot and I taste it for salt (it needed some) then bring it just to a simmer. I added a seeded and diced delicata squash and simmered it about ten minutes, until it was tender. Then I let the pot come to a boil and added ramen-style noodles. This cooked for three minutes, then I removed it from the heat. We ate it with hot sauce and spicy kimchi (more weird fusion) and a big pile of sliced scallions. (Lucas ate his without broth, and with bread on the side!)
The herb and spice mixture here is very nice. But you could probably get away with almost any favorite spice combination or herb; it is the process (making the paste, massaging it everywhere) and the method (low and slow) that make this bird fall-apart tender and meltingly supple (yet still with that joyfully crackling skin, Jacob’s hands down favorite part of any roasted chicken experience).
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (we skipped this because of the kids)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram leaves; plus 4 sprigs, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves; plus 4 sprigs, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 3½–4 pound chicken
1 lemon, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved (quartered if large)
(Optional: replace some of the potatoes with cut up carrots, parsnips, etc.)
Preheat the oven to 300°F. With a mortar and pestle, smash the fennel seeds with 1 tablespoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Add the chopped herbs and 3 tablespoons oil and mix to make a paste.
Rub your chicken inside and out with the paste. Stuff the chicken cavity with the lemon wedges, garlic, 2 marjoram sprigs, and 2 thyme sprigs. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
Toss the potatoes (and other veg if using) with the remaining olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Push potatoes to edges of baking sheet and place the remaining marjoram and thyme sprigs in the center. Place the chicken on the herbs. Roast, turning the potatoes and basting the chicken every hour, until the skin is browned, the meat is extremely tender, and the potatoes are golden brown and very soft, 2-3 hours. (You may need to remove the potatoes earlier, or know that they will be extra crispy in places).
Let the chicken rest at least 10 minutes before carving it.