Who You Callin’ Chicken?

I roasted a chicken Sunday, and as you know by now, it was not an easy feat. Actually, let me clarify: roasting a chicken, and some vegetables and potatoes to go along with it, is probably one of the easiest, least prep-necessary meals out there.

However.

I told you in the beginning of the year (you remember, don’t you?) how I read Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and it changed the way I cook and grocery shop. Gone are the bags of produce that seem good at the time but end up in the trash in two weeks. The only packaged, overly processed foods I buy now are the “travel snacks” for the kids–you know, pretzels, animal crackers, and back-up meals like organic mac and cheese. I’ve bought one loaf of bread in two months. I’ve tried (and epically failed) to make sandwich bread two times. A friend of ours, Lisa, who’s this extraordinary wonder woman who’s smart as a whip (not quite sure what that means, except that she’s really, really smart) who homeschooled four really awesome children and looks completely put-together and lovely every time I see her, and bakes like she’s got magic flour in her fingers, was kind enough to share her recipe with me. I don’t want to tell her that six loaves ended up in the trash (ignore my previous comment about not throwing out food, will you?), and six more ended up being given away or used for finger sandwiches because for some reason my loaves looked like they missed their growth spurt during adolescence.  But I’ve rocked the no-knead artisan bread from Flinn’s book (no, I’m not being paid to promote the book. Yes, at this point I should be. I’m ridiculous), and I’ll take that as my proof that I’ve done pretty well at changing our food spending/using/discarding habits.  Not the sandwich bread yet, though. That thing means war.

But back to the meat. I’m trying–unsteadily, waveringly–to use meat (though honestly, only really chicken and the rare beef for stew) more in our family meals. You know I was a vegetarian for 20 years. I did it for what I felt were ethical reasons, and, really, because the idea of eating animal muscle was about the grossest thing I could imagine, other than lima beans.  But I have a family now. Two children and a tall, strapping (does he sound hopelessly attractive? Because he totally is) husband, and frankly, tofu doesn’t go very far. And I’ve changed. Yes, if I go out to eat, most likely I’m going to order a meatless item off the menu. And I can’t tell you the last time I’ve eaten a hot dog (1987?).  That’s just what I prefer. But I’ve also given up a lot of my control freak tendencies (honest, I have) when it comes to being a vegetarian (imagine me saying that with a high-society British accent, if you know any Brits who actually only eat plants).  I don’t have to stick to some unspoken rule about what’s right and what’s good. I don’t have the energy for it anymore.  Also, I’ve lightened the heck up in general. So, chicken, I will cook. I’m holding off on the other stuff, though.  I’m not quite to the pot roast stage yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Do I enjoy seeing the young woman behind the poultry counter at the farmers market cleaving parts off of recently deceased animals? No.  Do I like pulling a bleeding, headless thing out of a bag, only to discover it still has the stubs of a few feathers stuck in it? Ah, gross. But I will admit that talking to the woman from the farm that raised my family’s meal–knowing firsthand that this bird came from her land to go to my table (nevermind how it gets there, okay? I know how it gets there) changes the way I handle it. The chicken I cooked tonight wasn’t a random, factory-processed creature in a vacuum-sealed bag I casually pick up on my rounds of the grocery store. Nothing against that poor bird, the one I originally, way back in 8th grade, was really protesting. But this one, from our farmers market, forces me to treat it with, well, respect.

Nothing about this chicken will be wasted, because I am very conscious that this was an animal.  Saoirse helped me mix up the seasoning–just a riff off of one of Flinn’s recipes, with a little cilantro, coconut milk, sesame oil, lime juice, curry powder–and watched me apply it. She was so interested, and kept checking on the oven to watch it cook.  She thinks nothing of poultry hanging out featherless and naked in our oven. She just thinks it’s dinner, and why doesn’t it come in “finger” form like the restaurants?  Tomorrow, I will use the bones to make stock, which is time-intensive, but also easy. We will have soup, and quesadillas, and sandwiches from it. That one chicken will stretch into three or four meals.  And my own qualms aside, that’s a lot more than a block of tofu and some soba noodles will do for me.

In a few years, will I have a reversal? Possibly, absolutely. My friend Bajeerah abstains from meat for religious reasons, and over the years, we’ve shared tips on veggie meals, meat substitutes. I still think about SuTao Cafe, a vegan restaurant outside of Philly, to which she introduced me. That place was perfect for people like us.  I think about her when I’m shoving butter and herbs under a chicken’s gross, bumpy skin.  I feel guilty, like I’ve betrayed some code. But I’m not making myself stick to a label anymore. I’m tired of it. I’m not a vegetarian. I’m not a “flexitarian.” I’m just a woman who likes to eat and provide good food for her family (can I say that without sounding all 1950s-ish?).

After dinner tonight, David was upstairs painting a cabinet in our master bathroom (because selling a house is fun!) while I broke the rest of that poor chicken down into three categories: stock, meat, and dog (as in, the dog gets all the gross stuff. Luca eats well on roast-chicken night). All of a sudden, our daughters gathered around my legs at the counter, begging. “I want a bite!” they kept saying, and I began feeding them bits, like they were baby birds and I was fattening them up for the winter (do birds do that? I think I’m mixing up my animal species. All this bird talk has me confused). They loved it, especially the dark meat that still had some of the curry seasoning on it.  I was shocked, feeling a strange mixture of horror (ewwww! Meeeeaaaat!) and pride (yippee! I made it! They like it! Wheee!). I don’t know what those kids ate for their actual dinners, but they made a massive dent in the leftovers.

And that’s all I need for now. They’re happy, I’m happy. Granted, tomorrow night’s dinner is going to be, like, pasta with tomato sauce (you think I do meatballs?  I tried them once, and practically needed an oxygen mask. Ground meat is squishy), but as I said: no rules. No labels. It’s all in the balance, and keeping life simple. That and I make pretty good chicken noodle soup. A little tip for you, though: make sure to line a roasting pan with aluminum foil whenever you roast something, because otherwise that pan is a you-know-what to wash. The stupid meat juices get all stuck and are impossible to scrub out. Which makes me think that maybe tofu isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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