the comfort of roast chicken


roast chicken, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

It has been a hard week.

My smashed-up ankle, which I downplayed at first, for myself, for all of you reading, has occupied most of my last ten days. The pain has throbbed through me, exhausted me, and it just wouldn’t go away. At first, I thought, “Am I really that much of a weenie? It’s just a sprained ankle.” But it turns out, it’s more than just a sprained ankle. It’s a saga.

On Wednesday, one of the doctors at the clinic I visited on Friday called to say that the radiologist’s report had finally come back on my x-rays. They suspected a chipped heel bone. I may have literally broken off a chunk of my heel and it’s floating around in there. Her advice: “Don’t walk. At all.” Oh. So did five days of hobbling, slowly, around the apartment, and to the bus stop, give me this much pain?

That afternoon, when I went in for a physical therapy appointment——after a friend drove me to school to turn in some work, and then I walked three blocks to the bus stop, enduring a bumpy bus ride, then walking three blocks to the PT’s office——my foot was ice cold. I mean, literally. The entire foot was so cold that there was no color. It had been growing colder and colder for the past couple of days. The PTs were so alarmed, especially after they did a couple of tests, that they sent me back to the doctor’s in a taxi. They were sure I had a blood clot. Oh.

The doctor did some tests. She wasn’t sure it was a blood clot, but she wanted to be sure. So they put me in a taxi and made me go to the hospital where I had a vascular ultrasound. Thankfully, no blood clot. But since I was there, why not more x-rays? Slowly, painfully, I hobbled down the David-Lynchian-basement hallway, florescent lights flickering on and off as I passed, to wait for x-rays. All this for a girl who’d been told to not walk that morning.

By the end of the evening, I was standing outside of the hospital in the pitch black, watching the rain slam down, leaning against a garbage can so I wouldn’t have to put pressure on my foot, waiting for my friend Meri to pick me up. That wasn’t a good moment.

Luckily, Meri came by and made me laugh. Our friends Anne and Rick came by with homemade jambalaya, mustard greens with pine nuts and golden raisins, and fresh, gluten-free cornbread. Yum. We laughed, a lot. My foot still throbbed, but at least I was finally laying down.
Why didn’t anyone give me crutches? I don’t honestly know.

Back to the doctor’s the next day. Rain slamming down onto the concrete outside, and I had to bum a ride off my downstairs neighbor, who was in the middle of moving. You see, I drive a stick shift car, and there’s no pressing on the clutch with this swollen left foot. So I was stranded all week, feeling lousy. I spent more time on the street—slashed by rain, waiting for buses and trying to hop on my right foot so I wouldn’t have to put my left foot down on the ground—than I’d care to remember.

But at least I finally had a diagnosis. Turns out that I have an avulsion fracture on the calcaneous. Translation? The ligament along my left ankle bone was driven so far off its course by the blow that it (get this) tore off part of the heel bone with it. Yikes. But at least I have an answer now.

And finally, a little lessening of the pain. The next day, my dad took the day off work to drive up to Seattle, and drive me around. Ah, dads can be so good. My Pop. He’s such a good guy. And finally, with him to take care of me, I could just fall back and relax. Luckily, I had landed an appointment with a sports injury clinic at one of the best hospitals in the city. After a week of waiting, I walked out of the clinic with a clear diagnosis, a path to healing, and a big black boot cast. Three weeks in that, then three weeks of physical therapy, and I should be on my way. No surgery. No more wondering. No more week of ankle-throbbing hell.

This has all been rather distressing, even though I’ve tried to be cheerful. I’m just glad to have some answers now. And with this sturdy boot cast, I can stand in the kitchen for longer and longer. Now, I can go back to cooking.

In the midst of this, there have been so many bright spots. Anne and Rick’s homemade jambalya, and their company. Meri returning home from Asia. Dear Molly bringing me green cauliflower, then carmelizing it while we talked. Light falling through the living room window. Roast potatoes. Reading everyone else’s food blogs. Discovering the consuming joys of Arrested Development on dvd. Succumbing to the process and just letting life happen.

And the life saver for me? Jamie Oliver.

Now I know that some of you are groaning right now. Him? A television cook? Well, before you disdain the television personality, I’d like to remind you how deeply influential and utterly fantastic was Julia Child. And still is today. (I’ve been reading the summer/autumn issue of Gastronomie for weeks, which is entirely devoted to memories of and essays on dear Miss Julia. Now that was a woman. And The French Chef is on its way to me now, via Netflix.) She set the standard high. I agree with so many persnickety people out there: most television chefs are simply ho-hum. I’m not naming names. We all have our lists. But I know is that Jamie Oliver is definitely not on that list for me.

Last weekend, when I really couldn’t do anything but lay on the couch, with my leg propped up on five pillow, I watched about twenty episodes of Jamie Oliver’s cooking show, Oliver’s Twist. I never intended to watch that many half-hour cooking shows, when I couldn’t move well and certainly couldn’t cook. But I was mesmerized. I’m not kidding. This bloke had me under his spell.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I never thought I’d learn more about how to cook from a British guy. The two times I lived in Great Britain didn’t make me a gourmand. But the UK is changing, and London is now considered one of the best restaurant cities in the world. And besides that fact, Jamie Oliver clearly takes the best of what he learns from around the world and brings it into his well-let kitchen.

I watched him cook Moroccan soup, talk of Japanese innovations, and lavish details from his Italian training. He clearly loves food. He clear has a wonderfully heightened palate. And he loves to share what he loves with the world. I can understand that.

But the best part of the show was watching him celebrate the people who sell him food. One episode showed him making a lunch in celebration of his fishmonger. Another was a tour of the English cheese shop where he buys his Stinking Bishop, and then a lunch he made for the woman who runs the shop, and her daughters. There were butchers, spice sellers, sommeliers, mentor chefs, and even an Elvis Presley imitator. I love a man who pays homage who make his life what it is. What I like most about him is that he respects people. He ended every conversation with, “Much love.” He has a big chuckle, a spontaneous smile, and a winning way. He’s genuine. He’s real. He truly loves what he’s doing. And it’s almost impossible to not like him, even if I didn’t want to at first.

I have a food crush on Jamie Oliver. He’s a good bloke, this one.

The only problem with watching these cooking shows when I was in hobbled-up pain was that they made me hungry. And every ten minutes, I found myself wanting to run to the kitchen and duplicate the recipe I’d just seen. But I couldn’t. So I took mental notes instead. They’ll be coming out in recipes for weeks.

One of the things that drives some people crazy about watching Jamie Oliver cook is his lack of specificity. He tosses in handfuls of herbs, throws in “knobs” of butter, guesses, then dips his finger into the sauce, then pinches in a bit more. Some people like to know exact measurements. But the truth is? This is how the best cook. This is how we cook when we trust ourselves. Like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters and Julia Child, I insist on the best ingredients. I’m not as good as them, but I’m learning. When I first started cooking seriously again, after the celiac diagnosis, gluten-free this time, I followed recipes to the letter. I wanted to learn from better cooks than me. And I wanted to leave behind exact recipes for you. But cooking is an art, like writing. And it’s never going to be exact. Thank goodness. And now, after four months of cooking almost every night, I’m starting to toss in handfuls of herbs, then pinching in more. Food tastes better when you trust yourself. Jamie reminded me of this again.

So as soon as I can stand, I’m going to start making my own flavored sea salts. Experimenting with seafood soups. Making beautiful roast vegetables.
Finding more exquisite cheeses. And tossing in bits of this, bobs of that. After all this constriction, I can’t wait for the freedom.

Much love, Jamie.

GORGEOUS ROASTED CHICKEN, A LA JAMIE OLIVER

°Boil about a dozen potatoes. I like Yukon Golds. Throw a whole lemon into the boiling water with them. Trust me.
°Put your roasting pan in a pre-heated, 400° oven.
°Take out a whole roasting chicken. I prefer to have the giblets removed.
°Dunk ten or twelve skewers of rosemary into the boiling water for a moment. Shake off the water, then strip the skewers of the rosemary needles. Dunking them in the boiling water releases the oils in the rosemary, yielding more taste. Don’t believe me (or Jamie Oliver, who taught it to me)? Try it.
°With the mortar and pestle, bash up the rosemary, a whole head of garlic, the zest of two lemons, and sea salt. Grind it all up until you have a gorgeous, green-yellow paste. Add olive oil and stir it about. Coat the chicken with this mixture. Take a whiff of this.
° Settle the chicken down into the hot roasting pan. Before you put it back in the oven, retrieve the water-engorged lemon. According to Jamie Oliver, boiling the lemon like this leaves the juices simmering inside of it. Most of us put a cold lemon in the chicken, which means the juices don’t start to pervade the chicken meat until the last half hour of cooking. Putting in a hot lemon means the juices release immediately, and the heat of the lemon starts to cook the chicken immediately too. So, stuff the chicken with the hot lemon, and a few more skewers of rosemary. Put this into the oven and cook for half an hour.
°After half an hour, pull out the roasting pan. Take the partially cooked chicken out of the pan and put it on the plate, temporarily. Throw the boiled potatoes onto the bottom of the roasting pan. Be sure to swirl them in the juices that have already formed. Make a divot in the pile of potatoes, then put the chicken back in it. Return the pan to the oven for an additional hour.

At the end of this, you should have the juiciest, easiest roast chicken you have ever made. And the potatoes will be golden brown and soft. Tuck in.

15 comments on “the comfort of roast chicken

  1. ilva

    Shauna, I really sorry to hear aboout your ankle, I know what a bore it is to be confined to immobility like that…anyway, thanks for posting this recipe, sounds really great! This is how the Beretta family will eat their next chickenQ

  2. cin

    Crutches WOULD have been a good idea, wouldn’t they? Anyway, hope that you recover speediyl and are able to get back to cooking soon!

  3. Ruth

    Shauna, what a truly horrible saga!!! I guess each of the doctors,therapists, etc., you saw through this ordeal assumed (and you know what they say about assuming things)you already had crutches.

    As for Jamie, I love him too, nobody has such a great joy not only of the food “easy peasie” but of the purveyors as well. And his recipes are so spectacularly simple.

    Speaking of cooking, I just wrote a post about some fabulous magazines I spent yesterday afternoon reading. I mentioned you and your site because there was a great gluten-free article and it, naturally made me think of you.

    Feel better and chill

  4. Luisa

    You poor thing — what a terrible few weeks you’ve had! Nothing better than cheering yourself up with food tv, though, when you’re feeling blue. And the tips about the hot lemon and blanched rosemary are fantastic, thank you! Here’s hoping you feel better very very soon.

  5. Tricia

    Oh my, I’m nearly drooling at the thought of how good that chicken must have tasted — and I’m inspired to try it some time.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your ankle incident. Avulsion fracture on the calcaneous? Ouch! Reading how you had to hobble about after being told to stay off your foot reminds me of an experience we had last year. My youngest son broke his leg when he was about 19 months old. The doctors kept telling me “keep him off his leg” with no specific details on HOW one can do this with a very determined toddler. When I’d ask for ideas, “should I just strap him into a high chair for all day or what?”, they’d shrug as though to say “just because I’m a pediatric orthopedic specialist doesn’t mean I actually know anything about children”… He was walking w/in 2 days of getting the cast. I was neurotic for 2 weeks, worried he would never heal, until a resident finally explained to me why they had said that, and reassured me his bone had healed enough that it was no longer an issue.

    So anyway, I’m so glad you finally got that boot thing to simplify your life and minimize the pain. I hope your healing proceeds quickly now and you are able to flash dazzling beautiful ankles in no time :^)

  6. stef

    dear shauna, i am sorry that the ankle has been causing you much distress. i am glad, however, to hear that despite the pain and throbbing, you have those who love you around you to take care of you and bring your spirits up again :)

    take care!

  7. Jessica D

    Hey Shauna,

    I empathize both about the smashed ankle and The Food Network! I embarrassingly and ill-advisedly did *something* to my ankle over a month ago, jumping up to playfully tap someone on the tush, and, teetering on touch-down, managed to land on my right ankle, which had at this point collided with the pavement at a painful 90 degree rotation off its regulation position. I hobbled painfully and far too much on it for a week, icing and gulping ibuprofen. Then I was off traveling on it for three weeks with a heavy backpack. I know, dumb. Even dumber: I never got it checked out. So here I am in SF turning ankle circles when I remember and hoping that my home-brand of phys. therapy will eventually work its magic. Maybe a dose of Jaime Oliver (I agree with you about UK cuisine; less exceptional specimens should just be pronounced phoenetically as ‘uck’) and and some of that GF cornbread would do the trick ; )

    My dad just found out last year that he’s celiac. I forwarded him your link.

    Heal quick!

  8. Tammy

    Hey Shauna:
    So sorry you have not been well. Have not been on your site for a few weeks. Feel better and take care of yourself!!! I gain about 3 pounds every time I visit your blog!!! Jamie Oliver is one of my favourites as well!!!

  9. marshamlow

    I hope that you are feeling better soon. Are you able to drive with this new cast? The chicken looks and sounds devine, I can’t wait to try it.

  10. Shauna

    Ilva–

    Thanks so much, my dear. And oh, you must tell me about the chicken when you make it!

    Cin–

    Isn’t that always the way? If I knew now what I didn’t know when this happened.…
    Thanks for stopping by.

    Ruth–

    Thank you for thinking of me. And for mentioning me in your lovely post about the holiday food magazine reading. I have most of them on my front entryway table as well, and I can’t wait to read them all.

    Luisa–

    It has been lousy, I have to say. But reading all these comments is definitely making my ankle heal.

    Stef–

    Thank you, my dear. I agree–it’s the people I love who heal me most. After making meals for everyone for months, it has been lovely to watch people trooping into my house with gorgeous meals.
    Now, if only we can find a way to meet, you and I!

  11. Shauna

    Jessica D–

    I’m so happy that your dad could benefit from my site! That makes me happy. However, I’m concerned about your ankle. Not kidding, you should still have it checked out. You could easily have done what I did, and the horror stories I have heard are making me bossy: go to the doctor!

    Tammy–

    Thanks for coming back. However, I’m sorry to hear that looking at these photographs makes you gain weight! I’ll try to make them healthier. And you have a good little blog going there yourself, my dear. (Your cousin’s kids ARE cute.)

    Marshamlow–

    Thank you. I hope the chicken goes well for you when you make it. Unfortunately, I still can’t really drive with this cast. It feels a tad too dangerous, because I don’t have control. But I do have a good friend who is picking me up for school in the mornings.

  12. Anonymous

    Just discovered your site by accident; I was looking for info on chipped ankles.

    I look forward to catching up. It’s sort of like discovering a great TV series that has been around for a while or a book and it is part of a series.

    Anyway, I am also a teacher, I have this weird passion for pomegranites (blame Dr. Perricone and the fact he says my skin will never age if I consume it assidously). Also, I was amused that you love some polenta brand that is from Argentina in as much as I am from there. But, I do gluten. As a matter of fact, I am spending the summer perfecting my handling of dough.

  13. jfrue610

    wow — i made this last nite and it was delicious. definitely the juiciest chicken i have ever made. my husband and mother in law LOVED it.

  14. Katie

    Shauna –

    Thank you for this fabulous recipe! I cooked a whole chicken for the first time last night and it turned out marvelously. (I did misread the instructions so we had a fend for yourself night last night and ate the wonderful chicken and potatoes tonight.) This has given me the confidence to try your more specialized GF recipes now. Thanks for all you do!

  15. Bryce

    I made this last night and it’s probably my best roast chicken to date. I actually ate some of the skin, I never eat the skin on chicken. Thank you for the recipe, I will be back for more.