15 Jun 2017

the best roasted chicken you’ll ever make

 

Chicken for days.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Candidly, I started to resent putting myself out there so publicly, feeling odd when strangers seemed to think they know me based on what I chose to share online. I won’t return to this space daily or share to the degree of intimacy to which you’d grown accustomed, but I miss sharing the food I love to eat. I missed cooking.

2016 was a year worth shredding. This year, I resolved to wake from my sleeping life. The company that I’d started last year — a marketing collaborative — was starting to grow, and the novel I’d spent three years writing finally crawled its way into the world. For a while, I was comfortably coasting until I became comfortably uncomfortable.

For most of my adult life, food had been a passion of mine. I’d been an enthusiastic home cook and avid baker, and I’d spend weekends browsing bookshelves for the latest culinary tomes. I’d spend hours watching The Food Network when it wasn’t a reality show ratings grab. In 2006, a time before filters and iPhone photo-editing apps, I started snapping photos of the dishes I’d made with a pocket-sized Olympus camera. The photos were laughable — all close-ups and blurry shots under the glare of fluorescent kitchen lighting — but I didn’t care because nothing gave me greater joy than sharing the meals I’d made with others. Over the years, making food and writing about it on my blog had been a refuge, a way to recover from the day’s stresses and the slew of fire-alarm emails that never seemed to abate. I worked in a company where everyone acted like we were curing cancer, but really we were finding new ways to hock our clients’ wares on the internet.

Over the years, the meals I made became more ornate and complex and I invested in fancy cameras, photography and cooking classes because when clients are screaming at you on the phone all day long your stress-relieving hobby becomes a necessary lifeline — the thing that will stop you from stapling things to people’s heads.

Last year, all that hard work was rewarded with a handsome contract to work with an incredible company that sold premium kitchen appliances. Someone was actually paying me to do what I loved — make food, photograph and write about it! Nine months later, it occurred to me that I hadn’t bought a cookbook and I only made food for company. My fridge was anemic and I engaged in a torrid love affair with Postmates, sometimes seeing DoorDash on the sly. The work (make no mistake, professional grade photoshoots–working with stylists, pro-photographers–is HARD, and the mounting stress from it, somehow transformed the thing I loved to something I’d grown to resent. Years ago, someone asked me if I’d ever entertained the idea of going to culinary school or opening a bake shop, and I laughed because I knew the moment you made money from a hobby you loved, you’d strip away all the joy that comes from it. Food was sacrosanct until it wasn’t, and this year I made the difficult decision to let that project go.

Maybe I’m insane for abandoning the only consistent income I’ve had in years, but I love food. I miss it, and the idea that I’d become allergic to it was too much to bear. Not everything you love has to come with a paycheck.

 ______________

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. A lot of my work is dark, relentlessly so, and friends often joke that they couldn’t imagine me writing a book or a short story where someone didn’t die. It’s true, most of my characters meet their end in cruel, unimaginable ways. Nearly all of them are in some state of disrepair. Most carry their pain like armor, shielding them from really connecting with anyone in the world. But I love my broken people. I love writing small, dark experimental books because, like food, it gives me a joy that’s impossible to quantify. Let my marketing strategy work pay the bills while my writing helps me make sense of the world.

I secured an agent in 2006 when I’d finished my first book, The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here. Although my agent represented big, commercial books, I’d always felt that he nourished his creative side by working with me. He was my champion, editor, cheerleader, and truth teller. He was instrumental in helping me revise my second book, Follow Me Into the Dark, but I couldn’t shake the conversations steering me toward commercial books. A few other things didn’t sit right with me, and last month I made the difficult decision to resign my agent.

 _______________

Two break-ups in one month — talk about yanking off the training wheels and driving the bike into a tree. Last month felt like tears and scraped knees. Fear — of not getting a new agent or another paying client — was what tethered me to discomfort. Fear bound me to relationships that weren’t serving me, and the only upside was the consistent knowledge of this discomfort. It’s relatively easy to settle into the things that prevent you from moving forward because what if I’ve traded discomfort for creative and financial ruin? The unknown is also a kind of cancer, one that gnaws away at you until there’s nothing left. Until you start doubting your worth and ability to reclaim the joy you perhaps took for granted.

I’ll be honest — I’m anxious. I’m querying agents after ten years and I worry that I won’t find the right match. I worry that I’ve given up financial security and what if I can’t keep my deal flow going? So far, I’m doing okay–I have an exciting 5-week gig leading the marketing side of the Los Angeles Review of Books/USC Workshop, I have a pretty consistent client based in NY, and I got a fun cat gig that keeps me smiling.

But a part of me, in a smaller voice, says, what if you don’t fail? What if you find an agent who loves your work for what it is rather than what he or she wants it to be? Fear locks all the doors. Stepping into the unknown empowers you to break the doors down and jump, feet-first, to the other side.

Now, on to the chicken!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on, bones in
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, minced
  • 2 springs of rosemary, minced. Add two more for garnish at the end
  • Salt // pepper

DIRECTIONS

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Make sure your chicken is at room temperature and you pat the skin dry. In a large bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, minced rosemary + thyme, salt, and pepper. Toss until all thighs are coated with the mixture. On a large baking sheet, add the chicken, bone side down. Roast for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375 and roast for another 10-15 minutes. Allow your meat to rest on the sheet pan for a few moments before you serve. I made my chicken with roasted potatoes, or you can add chickpeas (tossed in salt and pepper) to your sheet pan when you start cooking the chicken. I LOVE chickpeas and have no shame about adding them to any recipe.

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3 Comments

  1. Betsy wrote:

    This looks delicious! I am glad to hear that you are doing well.

    Posted on 6.19.17 · Reply to comment
  2. Lisa wrote:

    Hello! I was looking around for food loving writers, and I am so happy I found you. Congrats on your books, and I hope that a year after this post, you can now look back and feel that all the decisions you have made were the ones that had to made. I am going to read your memoir now.

    Posted on 4.18.18 · Reply to comment

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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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