I want to roast vegetables. No, I want to shop for/harvest, clean, chop, oil and salt, then roast vegetables. But it's January in Iowa, and there's not a sprig of homegrown kale, a clove of Mollie's garlic, or even one little lemon sized purple tomato for me to exert my will upon. I have tomato soup. I have the red, thin skinned potatoes from the food coop. I have odds and ends, they just aren't the exact odds and ends I think I need. I wish I had the good sense to build a cold frame before it was cold. I'd have little bits of lettuce, large overgrown nearly woody deep purple kale, a few carrots, and maybe some tender sweet peas. OK, the peas are a long shot. Even in my imagination.
The kids are gone and it's a sunny Monday morning. I've been listening to Van Morrison for three days because I can't stand the silence and I'm not used to all the extra air and space. My house has been rearranged, and even when the rearranging is good, it takes some time for me to learn how to fit back into the new space. This rearrangement is not good, and although we have covered our bases like nice grown up humans will when they feel helpless, I still have a tender spot about the new air and the new silence.
Of course, when you are hurt, you become convinced that the thing that will ease that hurt is the thing you can't have, and right now, I can't have ten pounds of Iowa grown vegetables that need to be broken down and roasted. I already cooked a chicken for the week. It's been boiled with onions and spices, the meat pulled off its bones and the bones returned to the broth with a drop of vinegar. We ate the meat with thin slices of barely cooked carrots (the last of my fall stash) and a length of store bought celery cut paper thin. Zoe had two handfuls of oyster crackers with hers, since the more crackers you add, the less it seems like you are eating soup, and she is a soup hater. Tori declared it to be the best soup she had ever had in her life, which made me think that sometimes it's necessary to coax a thing into being over the course of a day, rather than force it into being in thirty minutes or less. I spent yesterday cleaning and cooking, but mostly I enjoyed the smell of boiling chicken, reducing broth, and when the liquid started to set up like jello as it cooled, I thought, "oh good. I can still do this one thing well." No matter what, it always comes back to the food.
Boil a Chicken
1. Buy a Chicken. Contact a farmer that raises chickens and buy a good organic free range hen. No? Ok, then go to the store and buy a SmartChicken. Never frozen, no hormones/antibiotics, and not as good as the hen from the farmer. But it'll do. No? Then don't eat chicken.
2. Cut an onion in half; any onion will do. Smash a garlic clove like you hate it and want it dead. Rinse and chop a rib of celery. Put them all in the bottom of a pot that's a little bigger than your chicken. Cover them with water and turn the heat up to high under the pot.
3. Add salt, pepper, and some sage if you have it.
4. Address the chicken by salting it liberally. When your water is hot, lay it on the vegetables, legs down. Add water to the pot until it just covers the chicken. Put a lid on the pot, turn the heat to low, and set a timer for one hour.
5. Check your chicken for doneness by wiggling a leg. Just reach into the water with tongs and see if it wiggles. If it does, carefully, and by whatever creative means you come up with, lift the chicken from the water and place it in some kind of deep dish. Tent with foil. Remove as many vegetable bits as you can catch with a slotted spoon and discard them.
6. Put 1/8 of a teaspoon (that's a pinch) of Chinese 5 Spice seasoning into your water and turn the heat up. Boil for 5 minutes, taste and salt if necessary. Turn the heat down to low, replace the lid, and leave the chicken and its broth alone for 30 minutes or so.
7. Pull the skin off of your chicken and feed it to your large dog. If you don't have a large dog, you may want to ponder the merits of obtaining one. Or not. As you remove the meat from the chicken, put it aside in a deep bowl. Eat some as you go. It's good for you. When you come up with a bone, slide it into the barely simmering stock beside you. When you are left with only meat and you have dropped the carcass into your stock pot, add about a tablespoon of white vinegar, replace the lid and let your broth simmer for another half hour or so.
8. Taste the broth. Add salt if necessary. Remove the bones with a slotted spoon and discard.
Store or eat the meat and broth in any formation you choose. As the broth cools it will form a skin of fat. Eat it or don't. Leave it or remove it. I pour the broth over the chicken, cover it all and refrigerate it. In a few hours, the whole thing looks like meat jello. That means you did it right.