The Pause That Refreshes

After a week of epic frustration, it’s been pure luxury to have a day off, reveling in the clarity, aroma, and Proustian recall of early fall. I dug a good variety of the annual herbs, potting and soaking them well in advance of their imminent repair to the dining room where they’ll sit basking in the waning sun shining through the big windows. The only hitch is that the radiator under the windows dries them out fast, so they need a ton of water if they’re going to make it through the winter. This year’s array is much more interesting than last: thyme, rosemary, chives, tarragon, curry, marjoram, za’atar, savory, and lemongrass. It should make for a richer palette for stews and the like. I also uprooted the verbena plant and hung it to dry on the porch so we can capture it for ice creams and such later on. Tomorrow it’s time to make the giant pot of mirepoix and freeze it in individual bags.

Tonight’s dinner was emblematic of the day: a return to autumnal simplicity and gratitude for a bit of rest. The stresses of life right now have not actually lessened- quite the opposite, in fact- but the key is to focus on the stuff one can actually control at any given moment. And that would be dinner.

A good local organic chicken- duly spatchcocked and rubbed with a blend of sea salt, smoked paprika, cumin, garlic, herbs, and pepper- got all roasty-like in the oven while I picked, washed, and spun a mixture of pan di zucchero and curly endive with garlic, lemon juice, brown mustard, and copious olive oil to make a wonderfully bitter-acidic-spicy condiment to the rich bird. There was some leftover sweet potato purée, and a bit of brown rice, so I combined them with an egg yolk, a bit of flour, and the rest of the spice rub to make little cakes which I browned in the (homemade) bacon fat left from breakfast. The bones from the grilled birthday chicken had been lurking in the fridge, so I threw them in a pot with the back from this bird and made a bunch of stock, some of which was lucky enough to form the bulk of a gravy I whipped up with the drippings once the chicken emerged from the oven.

Super-simple and traditional, and sublimely spot-hitting. When I was in Vermont, going through the cellar, I found a bunch of bottles I had all but forgotten about, so I brought them home since they’re all good to go. Tonight’s foray into the mixed case was a 2001 La Jota Petite Sirah; we bought it from the vineyard in May of 2004 on our last trip before Milo was born. (A word of advice to all the guys out there: go on wine-tasting trips with pregnant women. You have a guaranteed designated driver. It’s pure genius.) I don’t buy wine anything like this any more, but it’s nice enough; there’s some interesting spice sandwiched between the ludicrously opulent California fruit and just-softening tannins. Petite Sirah is notoriously dense and decadent, so it’s what I expected, given what I remember from the tasting back then. We have one more; I’ll try it in a few years to see if anything exciting happens to it as it relaxes. A bit too fat for chicken, really, but honestly there’s still some pleasure to be had for me in these behemoths. In a way, it was perfect- heavy on the pleasure, light on the self-awareness. The way weekends were meant to be.

3 comments to The Pause That Refreshes

  • The Spiteful Chef

    I never forget about wine–personal policy. We got a case of different wines from napa for our wedding, and it's all I can do not to just barrel through them all in one sitting. How do I know if they need to soften or relax or whatever? How does one come by this knowledge?

    Spatchcocked is one of my favorite words.

    My captcha is "coutr," which is funny if I read it as "cooter," but less so if I read it as "couture."

  • Zen Chef

    Yay to fresh herbs and dried lemon verbena for winter. Made a panna cotta with it recently and i always have some on hand to make infusions.

    I like how you reserve the bacon fat from breakfast. As always, you don't waste the good stuff! This looks like a damn good dinner to me.

  • peter

    Kristie: Email me the list and I'll tell you when I think it should be opened. As payment, you may send me the bottle that sucks the least.

    M. Zen: I saw that panna cotta. And I am all about saving the good stuff. This was damn good; the classics, zey are classic for a reason, non?

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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