How I Forgave Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver's Sticky Chicken Thighs

Jamie Oliver’s Sticky Chicken Thighs

If you have the time and the patience, and room in your heart to forgive chef Jamie Oliver for referring to his Crispy and Sticky Chicken Thighs with Squashed New Potatoes and Tomatoes as a “simple pan-baked chicken dish” then I encourage you to try this recipe.

But for God’s sake, know up front that it is not “simple.” Okay perhaps, technically, it is “simple” but “simple” implies “quick.” Doesn’t it? To me it does. And quick it is not. The time alone that it took to de-bone and trim the chicken thighs of the cheesy fat clusters could have driven me to chase Mr. Oliver through his English potato garden with a pair of kitchen scissors. To say nothing of the time-consuming tedious task of individually stabbing, then peeling the skins off all those little cherry tomatoes. Peeling skins!

I typically have a rule in the kitchen never to cook anything that takes longer to prepare than it does to eat.

But alas, if I had stuck to that rule I would not have experienced this glorious masterpiece. Could I have skipped the tomato disrobing? Yes. But then I wouldn’t have tasted how “lovely and sweet” the tomatoes become when cooked stripped to their flesh, and the claim from Mr. Oliver that “their intense flavor will infuse the potatoes.” And after all, “Sometimes in cooking, you know what, it’s not all bish-bash-bosh, you need to put a bit of love in it, a bit of care, and it will taste fantastic.”

I got seduced into preparing this dish after seeing an episode of Jamie at Home. He looked tenderly at his ingredients, calling his potatoes “darlings” and “underground jewels.” Everything was “lovely,” from straining veggies to surgically removing the bones from chicken thighs. He even urged viewers to plant potatoes in their own backyard, claiming they’re super easy to grow and there’s nothing quite like using “freshly dug” potatoes. I’m sure he’s probably right about that. Though I have some pretty solid experience using potatoes which are weeks old−in fact, they’re one of the only vegetables that will last and last, even after they’ve practically grown a clone of themselves right there from their own skin. But maybe I should keep that to myself.

There was something charming about Jamie Oliver serving messy portions of his meals into chipped plates and pottery. And the sight of his charming country kitchen, a busy affair with brick walls and jelly jars cluttering counter tops and stacks of dishes and terra cotta, shelves practically leaning to one side. No granite or marble in sight. Not a stand mixer or cappuccino maker to be found. This cozy setting shouted “You can do this too! You American Food Network viewer, sitting on your overstuffed couch in the suburbs!”

Yes, he was talking to me. Thank God I was listening.

He told me to take the fresh oregano and “bash it up a little. Smash the oregano for butt-kicking flavored oil. You can’t chop it up and be nice about it.” It felt so comfortable, the spills and the clutter, the ruffled shirt. It was like I was cooking in the kitchen with my younger brother, if my younger brother could cook. (Of course you can cook, dear! That was just a little joke!) Did I mention the adorable English accent? Who can resist someone who pronounces oregano with the emphasis on the third syllable? Certainly not me.

I can’t explain to you why or how it happens that a mere six ingredients can produce an aroma transcendent. It leaks from your oven door when you least expect it. When you’re not even in the kitchen! You’re upstairs folding the laundry and bam! It finds you. And you go a little weak in the knees. Oh my gosh, you think to yourself, is that coming from my kitchen, from my oven?

Yes it is.

Thank you, Jamie Oliver. I forgive you.

Advice Martha Stewart Gave Me On Living and Lemons

Martha Stewart's Vodka-Thyme Lemonade

Martha Stewart’s Vodka-Thyme Lemonade

I have a confession to make. Years ago, I was semi-obsessed with Martha Stewart. “Semi” in that while I did drive past her Connecticut farmhouse, I didn’t peer through her windows with binoculars (forgot them at home) to see if her magazine living room was in fact her real living room. I did collect every paint chip from her interior paint line, I attempted (or planned to, or fantasized about) every craft project and Good Thing, and to this day I own many years’ worth of Martha Stewart Living magazines, mostly the mid 90’s through the early 2000s. I ate up her advice like whipping cream, the essential rickrack, frosting windows, cornhusk crafts, pressed seaweed, chintz, decoupage! Tomato aspic! Don’t know what half those things are? Just wait!

The one thing I rejected like curdled goat’s milk was a monthly feature called, Martha’s Calendar−her personal daily to-do list. It was mostly chores and house maintenance tasks that “she” planned to do and wanted to remind others about. Who needs Martha Stewart to nag them about doing drudgery? That’s what family is for.  Plus, her to-do list was a far cry from the rest of ours. Did she intend for this to be a peek into an elitist farmer-collector-decorator-entertainer lifestyle or was she trying to inspire? It ran for a short time. After all, who but Martha Stewart has winter and summer curtains to switch in and out?

I recently had the urge to pull out a vintage MSL, and fell upon Martha’s Calendar with the same fascinated voyeurism I had years ago. Here is a compilation of some of the best Calendar entries. I’ve provided a handy-dandy how-this-might-apply-to-your-life translation.

April 1, 2001 – Count canaries. This was a stumper. Martha owns canaries, but doesn’t know how many? That’s a lot of canaries. But why count them? The closest thing I have to birds is a roast chicken in the fridge and a down pillow for overnight guests. Tally: approximately 2.

April 2, 2001 – Wash and seal stone floors. Wow, this sounds awful. In lieu of stone floors, remove nail polish from white bathroom tile floor where daughter has dropped a shocking shade of fuchsia.

April 4, 2001 − Sow tomatoes in greenhouse. Plant herb seeds for a clay pot herb garden. If they don’t germinate, buy small herb plants from Home Depot. If they die, buy basil at the grocery store. If you’re too busy counting canaries, use the dried stuff.

April 5, 2001 − Begin transplanting seedlings; apply horticultural oil to fruit trees. Drive your seedlings to school. Moisturize their arms and legs before leaving house.

April 8 – Organize linen closets. Be happy you have clean linens and go make a terry cloth rug out of old towels!

March 4, 2002 − Finalize tax returns. Ah-ha! Just figured out why Martha’s Calendar was canceled.

April 10, 2001 − Open pools in Westport and East Hampton. Order a Slip ‘n Slide from Target.com. Have it shipped in time for Memorial Day.

April 1, 2001 − Take final test for pilot’s license. Hmm, another toughy. If you want to feel like you’re flying, go get some dental work done and ask for the laughing gas.

April 9, 2001 − Return from Japan. Order sushi for dinner and pick it up. Return from Japan(ese restaurant).  

December 13, 2002 – Wash all light bulbs. If you have the time, desire or inclination to wash your light bulbs, you have bigger problems than I can help you with.

January 22, 2003 – Rotate mattresses. You’ll need assistance for this, so be sure to ask your husband 3 days in advance, so when he says, “I’ll be right there,” it’ll be done exactly when you intended.

June 8, 2001 – Clean behind washer and dryer. Barring the possibility that you are a contortionist, weight-lifter, or wizard, let the dust bunnies be and go decoupage a side table!

August 19, 2001 – Go rowing. Here’s one you need not feel guilty about unless you have a canoe, some oars and a body of water handy. Hey, if water is handy, consider making pressed seaweed art instead!

April 17, 2000 – Clean chicken coop. …I guess you could clean out your refrigerator…another job I dread. My rule: never clean anything that’s bound to get dirty again. Waste of time. Instead, take all the cheese and veggies you have in there and cobble together a sumptuous quiche!

Apirl 2, 2002 – Climb Mount Kilimanjaro again. Again? That sounds pretty boring. Decorate a wall with a bunch of empty mismatched tag-sale frames. Nestle some smaller frames into larger ones for a fabulous effect! (You’ll need a step ladder to get some frames up high. Be careful, the air thins out up there!)

April 6, 2002 – Take down and wash storm windows. Come on, Martha−we know you’re not doing this! Skip the windows and make a gorgeous lampshade out of sheets of birch bark−beautiful when light shines through!

April 7, 2002 – Scrape and paint chicken coop enclosure. Enough with the chicken coop! Fix yourself a Vodka-Thyme Lemonade and be thankful it’s someone else’s urge to raise chickens.

November 13, 2002 – Wash cats and trim claws. Oh, a cat bath sounds fun and easy! Everyone knows cats love water! Remember, “claw” is a noun and a verb. My advice: get used to the way the cat looks and smells. With the time you’ve saved, make a Grasshopper Pie−Martha’s recipe is to die for. And watch your family’s claws come out!

An Open Letter to Pigs

Dear Pigs,

By the way, may I call you that? Pig? It’s meant with the utmost respect, and after all, it is your name. Believe me. I’ve never used your name in vain when referring to perverts or sleazeballs. I don’t know who started that. Uncool. Nor have I ever said, “go clean up, you filthy pig!” to either of my kids or my husband. Even that time when they were so foul I wouldn’t let them in the house without hosing off in the backyard first. I’ve read that elephants and rhinos are much dirtier than pigs, but the dirtiest of all, obviously, is the dung beetle. Just so you know, whenever possible I do correct people by saying, “go clean up, you filthy dung beetle!”

Okay, that’s not why I’m writing you. I need to talk to you about the state of pigs. I’ve read the news and it’s not good. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a paper. We’re in the belly of a pork shortage. Nobody’s bringing home the bacon these days. Even Major League Eating has suspended their bacon eating contest. (Side note: the writer of this letter does not endorse the brutish public display demonstrated at MLE events and remains unbiased regarding this vulgar competition.) But that’s the least of your problems.

You’re becoming a rare breed. And not in a way that gives you bragging rights in the barn. Farmers can’t afford to raise you anymore. You’re too rich for the roost. They’re downsizing pigs, buddy. They’re blowin’ your house down, man!

Thankfully for you, nobody knows better than I about raising expensive livestock. And I’m here to help you.

Let’s isolate the problem. You only eat two things. Corn and soy. Right now they’re too darn expensive. Let’s examine the facts. Pigs are natural scavengers.  Meaning you’ll eat any ol’ crap. In fact, I heard pigs will even eat crap. (Just saying.) So what’s with the diva demands? Hanging with Nicki Minaj much? Well, lucky for you no one knows about finicky, stubborn, picky-eater-livestock better than I do. I mean, who can subsist on just mac and cheese? Everyday?!? I don’t think so. Not anymore. Nope. Not when there’s Jamie Oliver’s crispy-skinned chicken thighs with heirloom tomatoes and fresh oregano to be had. And Ina Garten’s beef stew, with aromas that make you weak in the knees. No. Not anymore kiddies. I won’t be shamed by other mothers’ stories about how their kids eat avocados…in their salads!! No more mac and cheese! I can’t! I won’t!

Whoa… what just happened? Where was I? - sorry pigs.

Let’s set up a plan. First thing, mix it up. Try new stuff. If you’re apprehensive about this, experiment with the “just one bite” rule. This encourages the exploration of new flavors. You’ll never know you like something unless you try it! Okay, if that one bite makes you want to puke, pinch your nose and shut your eyes and try again with a massive gulp of milk. If that didn’t do it either, don’t be discouraged. There’s always the “try it 3 times” rule. Go back to this food on three different occasions. You may gag the first time you eat Brussels sprouts, but by the third meal, if you’re not pelting them across the barn at the cows, you just might tolerate them.  If all else fails, proceed to the “deep fry it” or “cover it with melted cheese” rule. Both work like a charm.

What I’m proposing, at times, will be difficult. Stay strong. And don’t, like some of your kind, turn to the bottle. Pigs can become alcoholics. Did you know that? I don’t mean to bring you down; you can read about that here. Seek out smart pigs and form a support group. I heard that one pig farmer was so desperate to keep his pigs alive he fed them candy. And they ate it! (Okay, I never told you about the “one M&M for every Brussels sprout” rule. Guilty as charged.) Anyway, those are the kinds of pigs you need to surround yourself with. The resilient ones. Remember, survival of the fittest. We want you around. Don’t be pig-headed.

Fondly,

Roast Pork Loin with Garlic & Rosemary Lover

Gut Feeling

The strangest thing happened to me today while I was outside “exercising.” On the days I don’t play tennis (that sounds like I play a lot!) I “exercise” by walking. Okay, carbo-loading is not exactly necessary for one of these walks, but at least it’s something.

If I’m going to be completely honest with you, it had been some time since my last “workout.” However, as I was out there hustling butt, I felt something I’ve never felt before. Exhilarated? No. I wish. I know some people get a high from exercising. I think if I were ever gonna feel that way I’d have to get high beforehand. Anyway, it wasn’t endorphins. No, what I was feeling was in my gut. Actually, it was my gut. And it was jostling to and fro.

This was a new sensation for me.  I’ve never felt my stomach jostle before.  In fact, I’ve never used the word jostle before.  This fleshy appendage lapped against itself, like the waves of a stormy sea smacking against the surface of the ocean. It made a sound, thwap−the thought of which still makes me cringe. Even the sides of my waist were gyrating like those massive brushes at the car wash. I promised myself to get back to my desk as soon as possible.  It would be better there.  I always look fantastic sitting at my desk.  And by that time, hopefully, all movement would have ceased.

I did a 180 and headed for home. How could I stand a chance at feeling high now?

With a burst of energy, the likes of which I’ve rarely experienced, I ran through my front door and straight to the hall closet with the full length mirror. I took a long look at myself. Front view. Side view. I had the silhouette of Saturn. How did I not see this coming?  Or going. This was a blow below the belt, if there ever was one.

I had to think fast and shift into problem-solving mode.  Could others have already noticed?  If not, there was no time to waist. Oh gosh, waste. Wasn’t there some kind of hologram or optical illusion that I could utilize until I could properly dispense with this thing?  Perhaps I could create a garment with a color-block hourglass design, duping passersby into seeing a slim waist mirage. Yes, indeed!  I don’t think anyone has done that before.  Sorry Donna Karan−but shoulders, shoulders, shoulders−really?

I ran to the computer to start typing a business plan and although I should’ve been elated for being so dang genius, my mood quickly deflated as I caught a glimpse of my stomach. My God, it was on my radar without having to lower my head! My belly, now stationary, rippled over itself like ribbon candy.  My thighs looked like two water balloons−spreading out and challenging the tenacity of their latex.

A sobering kind of sad seeped through my ampleness.  It was a deep, profound sad, one that I knew would not be fleeting. I’ve felt this kind of thing before.  It was the kind of sad that only a warm dark chocolate lava cake with a dollop of whipped cream could nudge. Would it erase the sad? Of course not, but it would be a start. And as I thought about the lava cake the strangest thing happened to me.  I can’t be sure of this, but it felt very much like endorphins.