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!
For Sundays That Carry The Weight Of The Week On Their Shoulders
When your days end with a sweet paste of moistened powdered sugar packed into your cuticles and splotchy stains of pastel food coloring inching up your forearms, sweets are usually the last things you crave. When dusty flour finds its way into places you could have sworn had been covered with layers of clothing and chocolate is discovered behind your ear in the bath, five days in a row, your weekends are usually spent avoiding a kitchen, at all costs. Particularly the sweeter side of a kitchen.
Well, I can tell you that whipped cream flecked my forehead for a good hour on Monday, rainbow sprinkles found their way into my shoes on Tuesday, I accidentally sat in frosting on Wednesday, Thursday, cake batter splotched my jeans and on Friday buttercream, in every shade of the rainbow, cloyed my palate as a result of too much quality control.
And while Saturday was decidedly savory, today, on the seventh day of a very sweet week (one of many sweet weeks spent in the world of deserts meant to surprise and delight as many millions as possible) I found myself craving the sweeter offerings of brunch fare. Pancakes, to be precise.
But, honestly, I couldn't bring myself to pour yet another measure of sugar into a bowl, or to sift bleached, stark white flour into a milky batter. Not after a full week of it. This morning, I needed naturally sweet. I needed sweet that would tint my glasses rose, to match my still-stained, candied fingertips.
Now, I've made two-ingredient banana pancakes before (look 'em up - so good!), but today I wanted something with a little more substance. A pancake that was light and fluffy, but packed full of protein and flavor. I mean, if you're opting for pancakes over eggs, you need to kick 'em up a notch.
These babies are healthy, delicious and they'll keep you going, even when all you want to do is bury yourself in the generic cushions of your IKEA couch and binge watch every happy ending Netflix has to offer. (You can still do that - no judgement - just fill up on these first.)
Mash your bananas to the consistency of baby food, then whisk in the eggs and coconut milk until well combined.
Add the almond flour, rice flour and baking powder and whisk until incorporated. Finally stir in the extracts and salt.
Grease a pan set over low-medium heat with coconut oil (or butter) and spoon about 2 tablespoonfuls of batter per pancake, onto the pan.
Since these are gluten-free and have a lot of moisture from the bananas in them, they will take a little longer to cook, so keep the heat relatively low and cook them for about 2 minutes per side, until golden. Just like regular pancakes, they are ready to flip when little air bubbles pop on the surface.
I heated up some wild blueberries with a little honey in a pan and poured them over-top.
After a week that had me willingly take a needle full of vitamins to the gluteous medius and a bath (or two) in sugar-syrupy water, these pancakes still hit a spot I didn't know I'd want to hit again, any time soon. Bananas, right?
Because after a Certain Age, the flavor packet Just Doesn't FlY
You know you're a grown up when making ramen at home means getting out the pots and pans, as opposed to tearing open a flavor packet and sheepishly turning on the microwave. (At least you think you're a grown up. The reality is, you're probably still sucking down a bowl of this rich, pork-y goodness around 2:00am, after a late night out that may or may not have involved some paint-peeling karaoke and unnaturally bright cocktails, somewhere in the depths of Little Tokyo. Just me? Man, I hope not.
If the only ramen you've ever had came in a yellow and orange plastic packet with a side of roommates, shower shoes and questionable judgement, it's time to put down the Maruchan and experience the real deal.
The good stuff is unctuous and murky. It's packed full of salty and rich pork fat and often lent an unmistakable umami by fermented miso paste and the silkiness that only a runny egg yolk can produce. It's heaving with yellow-tinted, alkaline wheat noodles that hold up firmly in the broth and have a distinct chew that can't be beat. Topped with everything from pork belly and bok choy to soft-boiled eggs and seaweed, a bowl of ramen is a veritable blank canvas made vibrant by the call of your cravings. Ramen is what you want when you've had a soul-sucking week, a big night out or too many kale salads in a row.
Have I made ramen the hard way? Yes. I have roasted bones and slow cooked pork and spent the better part of three days cooking one dish. Was it worth it? Yes. Is that going to happen any time soon? No. With three jobs and the dream of some semblance of a social life, I'm not sure that slow-cooking pork solo in my kitchen with a glass of wine for three days, is a responsible use of my time.
While you'll never find me ripping open something with the words 'chicken flavor' stamped across it, I do recognize that there's a happy medium to be found. Homemade, but made quickly.
Makes about 4 servings
Place your mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with a cup of boiling water. Let them reconstitute.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat and add the pork. With the back of a wooden spoon, break up the pork and cook it until it is no longer pink - about 3 minutes, then add half the sliced scallions and season it with salt and pepper. (Remember, miso is a bit salty, so keep that in mind when adding salt here.) Cook for a further minute.
Add the miso paste to the pork and mix to combine. Then, add the broth, soy sauce and Sriracha. Strain the mushrooms from the water, and pour the mushroom infused water into the soup, reserving the mushrooms as a topping. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, add the bok choy.
While the soup is simmering, cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet and soft boil your eggs. (For a perfect soft boiled egg, I gently submerge mine into moderately boiling water and cook them for 6 minutes, then dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking, before I peel them.)
Divide the noodles among your bowls, and add the broth with the pork and bok choy. Top your ramen with the mushrooms, grated carrots, remaining scallions, and halved, soft-boiled eggs. If you're feeling spicy, throw on a little more Sriracha.
This shouldn't take you more than about half an hour to make, once you get the hang of it. That leaves you with plenty of time to rehearse your karaoke game plan, so that next time you're better prepared.
As for the ungodly hour at which you choose to consume this delicious creation, well that depends entirely on how grown-up you're really feeling.
*Miso paste can be found in Asian supermarkets and in the refrigerated portion of the international section of Whole Foods.
(Full disclosure - the noodles in the photograph are spaghetti noodles, because if I don't make a shopping list, I basically can't function properly.)