Archive for June 2012

Inherently Hilarious

June 29, 2012

There aren’t a whole lot of cooking techniques that can send the cook into gales of giggles, but spatchcocking is certainly one of them. It’s a straightforward and simple technique: you snip out the backbone of the chicken with some good poultry shears, lean hard on the breastbone to flatten the poor bird, and voila, you can grill a fabulous chicken  with no further ado. But why do we call that spatchcocking?

I’d probably have a hard time pronouncing that with a straight face, if I hadn’t once had, and I swear this is true, a client called Jack Mycock. And if you think apologizing to a dead chicken for submitting her to such an indignity is rough, just try asking the receptionist to put you through to your unfortunately-named client without giggling. But after a while I got used to it, and the long-suffering receptionist had undoubtedly gotten over it long ago, so when it came to discovering spatchcocking I was good to go.

Explanations abound, the Internet being boundless. Wikipedia says you can call it spattlecock, which, to me, sounds even less appetizing, spattle being such a close relative of spittle. There’s a notion that it comes from “dispatch the cock” which doesn’t make a lot of sense, since a) it’s a hen, and b) the creature was dispatched long before being spatched. Apparently there’s also a dish called spitchcock, made with eels, and much as I love eel, this one sound like one to avoid.

In fact, no one seems to know how we got such a silly and difficult word for a cooked chicken, but you can read more than you ever imagined wanting to know at the Naked Whiz (of course someone called the Naked Whiz would have an opinion about spatchcocking) right here.

I suggest practicing saying it in the mirror. A deadpan delivery is probably best. So when your guests ask how you produced this delicious chicken, you can say “oh, it’s grilled, of course, and first I rubbed it with a little olive oil, then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, pimenton, and thyme. But really, the secret of its juiciness and singular appearance is that I, well, I…..spatchcocked  it.” Then, as they snicker and snort, you can innocently ask “What?”

Wishful Thinking

June 23, 2012

Lunch in a sunny café in Ivoire, France

Although we’ll be in Europe briefly this summer: a couple of days in Amsterdam, a couple in Dublin, one in Southampton and several in small Norwegian towns, we won’t be back to France until February. I’m getting very homesick for all the things that French life entails, so I thought I’d start a new series on French Letters, a Wish I Were Here set of photos. So you can wish you were there too.

All On A Summer’s Day

June 22, 2012

We had summer the other day, and it was glorious. Amazingly, it corresponded with the first day of calendar summer, and the solstice. It was so inspiring, seeing the sun, and the blue sky, that before lunchtime

we’d already fired up the smoker and given it its annual baptism by cherry wood smoke, ending up with a succulent platter of smoked chicken. Lunching on freshly smoked chicken and chilled rosé, out on the deck all a-flower, even getting a little sunburn, now that’s summer.

Knowing that summer wouldn’t last, I took advantage of the warm afternoon to make a yeast dough, letting it rise in a sunny spot whilst I drank more rosé and got a little more sunburned. Normally, sunburns are against my religion, but I figure that when summer lasts just a day, what the heck, live dangerously. These cute little chocolate swirls are fun to make, according to me, and fun to eat, according to Shel, and the recipe is here.

As evening fell we lit the grill, opened a fresh bottle of rosé,

and got ready for some nicely charred rib-eyes. The sizzle of steak on the grill, the waft of woodsmoke in the air, the crunch of garden-picked salad greens, a nice French rosé, those are summer’s own delights, however fleeting.

It takes a long time to get dark on the first day of summer, after which, alas, the days start to get shorter. Here, sitting on the deck at 9:15 p.m., we watched the boat traffic,

and caught a glimpse of the Space Needle.

Night came gently to the garden, just before 10:00 p.m., and the next day summer was gone. I’m sure hoping it returns before we head to Greenland and Iceland, where the nights will be short but glaciers and mittens will abound. Still, I’ve heard that you can get a sunburn from the reflections of those ice floes, although I’m pretty sure it will be too cold for rosé up there.

Night Moves

June 15, 2012

We were out late, uncharacteristically late. Considering that it stays light these days until about 10:15, you can see how we were up past our bedtime, that balmy night. And we were in Seattle, a place we visit more often in the daylight hours. We’d just missed the ferry we wanted to be on, had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. We got ready to whine and pout, but hey, it was a beautiful night, soft and almost-warm for once, inviting us out onto the pier. The ferry, coming in at night, always looks to me like a wedding cake.

We looked down into the water but there were no moon jellies; the water must still be too cold. The gulls were circling Ivar’s hopefully, even though most of the French fry-proffering tourists had gone back to their hotels for the night. Shel pulled out his cellphone and snapped these pictures.

The city has just allowed an enormous Ferris wheel to be constructed on the waterfront. 200 feet high with a diameter of 175 feet and 42 gondolas, it’s huge beyond imagining. I expected to hate it, but found it surprisingly lovely in the dark. Maybe it’s like babies being cutest when they’re asleep, I don’t know, but it’s actually not the monstrosity I’d feared.

Staying up late like Big Grownups, yes we can. Normally I’m more like the chickens in my habits, early to bed, early to rise, but this shows me what I’m missing. That play of dark and light that lends to the mysterious near-invisibility of everyday objects an air of the romantic. You’re never getting me on a 200 foot high Ferris wheel, though.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

June 9, 2012

We’ve already had more rain this month than in a whole “normal” month of June, if the weather here can ever be called normal. Although this makes the cats grumpy, not to mention the humans, the plants are exploding with joy. This heaping bowl of kale, spinach, lettuces, and rhubarb are just the tip of the iceberg, albeit the most delicious tip.

Zazou seemingly remains unimpressed by her lushly verdant surroundings, disdains vegetables, and sulks in the house unless there’s no danger that she’ll get her princess paws wet.

The peonies were drooping their heavy heads into the lavender, prompting me to cut an unreasonable number of them to adorn the table. Tomorrow will be our 17th wedding anniversary, and an extravagance of flowers seems called for.

Meanwhile, out on the deck, this cerinthe, which I think is one of the coolest plants ever, even if some nincompoop did nickname it “blue shrimp plant” is at its spooky best.

The lavender is in full bud, but not yet in bloom, so the bees are having to make do with the likes of this purple-leafed dahlia.

Tomorrow is the one day in the five day forecast, and the one day in the past ten days or so, when there’s no rain predicted. I’d like to think it’s all in honor of our anniversary, but I’m more inclined to think that the powers that be are even more tired of grumpy cats than we are, and decided to give us all a break.

But whatever the weather, tomorrow all we’ll be thinking of is how 17 years ago we stood in the garden and said why yes, in fact, we would, until death did us part. That’s seemed perilously close, oh too many times, but today, everything’s coming up roses.

Il M’a Posé Un Lapin

June 4, 2012

This is shaping up to be the Weirdest Day. In the middle of the night the phone rang. That’s never a good thing. The phone’s on my side of the bed, and as I picked it up the glow of the dial pad showed me the clock. WTF?

Me: Hello? (barely croaked out)
Guy: Allo?
Me: Allo?  (is someone speaking French to me in the middle of the night?)
Guy: Do you speak French? (in a heavy French accent)
Me: Oui, mais il est 3h00 du matin. (It’s 3:00 in the morning, said I politely)
Guy: Je vous appelle à cause de…(completely unintelligible) (I’m calling you because…what did he say?  I’m not awake)
Me: Mais il est 3h00 du matin. (What about 3:00 in the morning doesn’t he get?)
Guy: Pardon, je pensais que vous étiez en Angleterre (he thinks I’m in England)
Me: Non, aux Etats-Unis, qui est-ce? (I’m in the US and hey, who ARE you?)
Guy: Je vous rappellerez ce soir. (he’ll call back later, but won’t say who he is)

Ok, now I’m wide awake. Was I dreaming? No, Shel heard it all. Who has our phone number but thinks we live in England? More to the point, who dials a number in the US and thinks he’s dialing England? In the back of my mind I’m thinking “he couldn’t have been French, a French person would have fallen all over himself saying Madame, je suis vraiment désolé et confus de vous avoir dérangée,” I’m just devastated and embarrassed to have bothered you in the middle of the night, that’s what he should have said. Was Mystery Monsieur even intending to call me or was he actually trying to call some wide-awake Brit?

My mind is racing, and I’m not getting back to sleep. I put on my bunny slippers, sit at my computer. Then I sit in the recliner and watch the beginning of the sunrise. It’s 4:45 in the morning. My thoughts are dark, but hilariously, mostly centered on how badly composed my French is when I’m talking in my sleep. Beppo comes to sleep in my lap. Finally I fall asleep and dream of being lost in a mystery museum, where I can’t find Shel, and I get more lost at every turn, racing down the dark rabbit hole of lostness, searching, searching, until at last I twitch myself awake to get ready for a morning interview.

We get to the interview spot and the guy’s not there. I search all around (hmm, this is getting old, all this searching). Il m’a posé un lapin, I finally decide, which means he stood me up, but literally means he put me a rabbit. I’m supposed to interview the guy for a magazine article and he just drops a rabbit on me? Is he a shy little bunny, afraid of publicity?

I hear from Mystery Monsieur again. NOW he’s so désolé, so confus, to have wakened me. He’s calling about an apartment to rent, with all conveniences, but no rabbits allowed. It’s still early afternoon, but I’m worried about what will happen next. Will Interview Guy ever explain himself? Will I ever be able to speak perfect French in my sleep? Where’s the bottle with the Drink Me label?