Or, Chicken You Don't Have to be Able to See, to Cook
Among other strong family traits, my 94-year-old grandmother and I have two things in common - we're both stubborn as all hell, and we both have the visual acuity of, well, 94-year-olds.
Though my grandmother has the well-earned luxury of old age to blame for her poor eyesight, I have an overactive immune system and, depending on how you look at it, a bit of bad luck to blame for mine.
My eyesight, to some degree or other, has featured prominently throughout my life. From countless trips to the doctor, to more eyedrops than tears shed in all the Nicolas Sparks novels combined, to inter-ocular injections that rival something out of A Clockwork Orange, the two 'windows' through which I see the world have certainly been paned with fragile glass.
It's a funny thing to be young and visually impaired, particularly when that impairment cannot be corrected with a simple pair of glasses or a surgical procedure. When you're older, people expect you not to be able to see - they expect signs of aging and deterioration and they don't question them.
When you're younger, they make brilliant suggestions, like "why don't you get glasses?" (...thanks) and say things like "how many fingers am I holding up?" Don't get me wrong, I have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and I manage just fine out in a world filled with particularly good looking people, automatically 'face-tuned' by blurry eyesight and softened lines, but sometimes it takes everything I have not to raise my one finger to their two.
Things like driving, finding a friend at a bar, finding anything at the supermarket and functioning in the workforce, aren't givens. You quietly learn to adapt, so that no one knows there's anything wrong. You never give anyone a reason to question your ability, because you know you are far more capable than anyone will ever give you the opportunity to prove, if they know going in that something they don't quite understand, is wrong.
This past week, as a result of too much stress, failing medication and general run-down-ness, my eyes decided to shut down. The message was clear - slow down. And slow down I did. (I also Malcolm McDowell'ed it at the doctor's office, and as a result, I keep wanting to say 'you should see the other guy',' when people awkwardly stare just a little too long at the slowly-impoving mess that is my left eye.)
In times like this, I think of my grandmother - of our matching hot water bottles, enlarged print, audiobooks and tendency to hold things right up to our faces when trying to read the (probably-not-so) fine print. I also think of the one chicken dish I taught her how to make, because it is so terribly simple, one could basically make it blindfolded, which sometimes, in my case (and all the time, in hers), it really feels like we do.
This dish is uncomplicated and really delicious. The chicken is moist, tender and succulent. I love it served up with roasted veggies and a mash, but it's also wonderful when pulled from the bone and tossed with pasta. It renders a lot of juice from both the chicken and the tomatoes, and thereby creates a wonderful sauce of its own.
(I know, it looks like seven, but are olive oil, salt and pepper really ingredients?)
Set your oven to 350*F.
To begin with, pat your chicken dry. Doing this ensures that the skin becomes crispy and golden. (No one likes roasted chicken with flaccid, pink skin, am I right?)
Season the chicken liberally ,on both sides, with salt, pepper and the chili flakes, and place the pieces in a lightly oiled baking dish. Pick a dish into which the chicken will fit snugly.
Scatter the tomatoes around the chicken, and into all the little nooks and crannies. Leave them whole and pack them densely.
Add your herb of choice. I tear it lightly and wedge it in between all the tomatoes. There is no real method to this - it's simple, rustic and shouldn't take you more than 10 minutes to prepare, so don't worry about perfection.
Scatter the garlic cloves in and around, and finally drizzle the dish with a good glug of olive oil. You are welcome to season the tomatoes, too, although I find they pick up the salt and pepper from the chicken as it cooks.
Bake in the oven for approximately an hour and a half, basting the chicken now and then. Slow cooking your dish makes it moist, tender and super flavorful.
This dish is a staple in both my kitchen and my grandmother's, and neither of us can see what the hell we're doing, so it's safe to say that it's pretty damn foolproof. Whether you're blurry eyed or bleary eyed, this one's good to have in your back pocket on days when your sense of humor is tested and everyone looks like a film star.
Now about those glasses...I'm gonna look into that!