The Chef walked into the room and saw me checking Facebook again. He stopped and looked at me, his hands wet with dishwater.
“I’m just…. I have to see.”
He smiled and walked back into the kitchen, shaking his head.
If you write, you are probably a good procrastinator.
I don’t mean the kind of procrastination where you call yourself a writer but don’t actually write anything finished for years on end. That was me in my 20s, when the sum of my writing was a shelf of big black sketchbooks filled in hurried scrawl, one after the other. I don’t regret writing down every feeling — well, okay, maybe I cringe at the solipsism of the day I tried to write down every single stream of thought I had in 12 hours; trust me, nothing was that interesting. Every sentence I wrote pushed me toward better sentences, some of them like a good kick in the back of the knees. However, I look at those journals now and see something once enticing now unpalatable, like black licorice grown sticky in the sun. (When we moved into our home, I shoved all those journals in a big box and labeled them “heavy.” Molly picked up the box and gave me a quizzical face, since the box was physically pretty light. “I must have meant they were emotionally heavy,” I told her, laughing.)
No, I don’t mean the kind of the-thought-of-doing-what-I-want-scares-me-so-I-won’t procrastination. I mean the quotidian, standard-issue procrastination in writing. Write a phrase, go away. New ideas emerge while folding the clean sheets, warm from the dryer, so I drop them onto the bed to rush an entire paragraph onto the clean white page. Think and belabor a sentence to death, and then read a request for a gluten-free, dairy-free loaf of bread. Come back to the hacked-up sentence and immediately see, “I wrote it in passive voice. I don’t even do that. No wonder it’s so flaccid.” Hey, I wonder if Dooce has a new post up yet? Leta turned 5? Score. I can read this and sob, thinking about Little Bean turning five someday and not write for at least 15 minutes.
It sounds a little crazy if you don’t do this. Maybe it is.
One of the most fascinating parts of the past three months, with the Chef at home and the two of us working on the cookbook, has been the chance to learn each other’s minds even more deeply. We work differently, in mighty broad brush strokes of difference. For the past 20 years, he has been on the line, on his feet, on the run. When he worked at Impromptu, he sometimes went 10 hours without once sitting down. My job requires a lot of sitting, staring at a single fixed point on a computer screen. His work is elemental, physical, and rewarding for the direct results. If the Chef sets to chopping an onion, within a few moments he has a mound of evenly sized white cubes, ready to be sautéed. One task leads naturally to the next. All he has to do his put his hands in the food, and he’s off.
But writing is rarely that direct. Creating sentences from the ethers of my mind requires a kind of blank state, a receptivity that allows me to hear the small noises rumbling, an idea forming. I can only listen to music without words, or music I have heard so many times before that the lyrics sound like a low background hum. Words tumble down on the page, in a panting rush, and then I look back at them and erase them all for their flibbertygibbet nature. But those words lead to the next set, the ones that make more sense.
When I taught high school, it was easy to spot the student who had clamped down too hard on the stress of the test before her and blanked out all the answers. Her feet jiggled rapidly, she chewed on the end of her pencil, and her face scrunched up in a scrim of worry. Most of the time, I’d walk close by her, and whisper toward her ear, “Think sideways.”
“What?” she’d startle, struck out of her anxious reverie by my odd sentence.
“Think about something else, and it will all come flooding back. What did you have for breakfast?”
Being such a good student, she would do what I had told her. Face softened into the memory of toast with melted butter and strawberry jam, or a bowl of oatmeal piled high with raisins, she sat for a moment, enjoying it. Inevitably, she’d jump in her chair, point her pencil toward the ceiling, and start writing again.
That’s what writing is like. I just have to remind myself to think about breakfast sometimes.
Sometimes I wish that I could simply bear down and chop at sentences the way the Chef attacks those onions, never sitting down, always on to the next sentence and not looking back. But writing will never work that way. I’m always going to need the distractions, the chance to look sideways, and sadly, the underlying panic that I’m not going to make it this time, or that I don’t have anything left to say. After having completed two books, I’m at home in the process. This is just the way it is.
Besides, if I didn’t need the procrastination, I would never have found Twitter.
Most of you have probably discovered it already, this community of people eager to share their sentiments and pictures, in 140 characters or less. (It’s like those essay exams, all over again, but with less stress.) As Anita phrased it to me in a message the other day, “It’s lovely to have our big watercooler.” Those of us working at home without the hilarity of colleagues in cubicles nearby need that social interaction, somehow. You can follow gossip on politicians, watch how friends construct their days over a series of small messages, and read about people’s dinners. And besides, being forced to limit myself to 140 characters made me even more careful with my word choices. I think Twitter has made me a better writer.
Goodness bless Twitter. Without it, and my twelve favorite websites I check in a round-robin fashion while I am trying to describe the taste of veal stock in a mustard sauce, I would never have completed this book.
The Chef thought, at first, that I was being a little lazy, commenting on friends’ status updates instead of completing the headnote for the latest recipe, immediately. But I think he sees now (and perhaps even more after this essay) how I need to look sideways before I write forward, boldly leaving footprints of words behind me on the page.
If you would like to follow me on Twitter, my name there is glutenfreegirl.
And the Chef is hooked now too. You can follow him on glutenfreechef. In fact, if people are interested, he will do some intermittent time online, answering cooking and food questions for people who ask.
Also, I have created a Gluten-Free Girl page on Facebook. Come on over and join in the conversation. I’m posting daily news items, photographs, recipes I like from other bloggers, funny tid-bits, and places to buy and eat gluten-free food. If you’d like to friend me there, look for Shauna James Ahern.
Roasted chicken with kiwi, blood oranges, and ginger
And Twitter gave us this meal.
A few days ago, when I was sitting on Twitter instead of finishing an essay, fabulous Deb of Smitten Kitchen wrote that she had three blood oranges left over. What should she do with them? Eager to take a break from sitting, I ran into the kitchen, where the Chef was cooking and Little Bean was bouncing in her chair. Bending down to kiss her head, I asked him, “What would you do with three blood oranges?“
He thought for a moment, and then said, “a sauce with duck stock, creme de cassis, kiwis, and the blood oranges. Serve it with duck breast and wild rice.“
I just stared at him. How does he do this?
We didn’t have any duck or creme de cassis, but we had the rest. (He gathered his ideas from what he saw spread out on the kitchen table.) And so, we had this dinner that night.
So can you. I recommend it. It’s just so good.
The Chef calls for a “dark chicken stock” in this recipe, which is simply a chicken stock in which you roast the bones before you blanch them. Feel free to substitute at will.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 onion, fine diced
2 teaspoons garlic, thinly sliced
1 small nub lemongrass (about size of your thumb), smashed
1 1/2 cups Italian black rice
4 cups dark chicken stock
4 whole chicken legs, drumstick and thigh combined
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups dark chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups mixed mushrooms, ideally whatever is at the farmers’ market in this moment
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, fine chopped
2 kiwis, peeled and quartered
4 blood oranges, peeled and supremed
zest of 4 blood oranges
Preheating. Turn on the oven to 500°. Bring 2 cups of the chicken stock to a boil.
Cooking the rice. Pour the sesame oil into the large saucepan. Put in the half the onion, half the garlic, and lemongrass. Stir the vegetables briefly to coat them with the oil, and then cook until the onion and garlic are soft and translucent. Pour in the black rice, followed by the hot chicken stock. Simmer the rice, stirring once in a while, until it is tender, about 20 minutes. If there is any liquid left over, strain it. Set the rice aside on a back burner, covered.
Preparing to cook. Smear each chicken leg with oil. Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper.
Roasting the chicken. Bring a large sauté pan to heat. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the canola oil. When the oil is hot enough to run around the pan, put the chicken legs in the pan and slide it into the oven. After 10 minutes, turn down the temperature of the oven to 425°. Roast the chicken until the internal temperature of the leg, right at the joint, has reached 185°, about 25 minutes. You’ll also be able to tell by the warm roasty smell emanating from the onion, enticing you over.
Remove the chicken from the oven and place the legs on a plate in a warm place, nestled next to the rice.
Making the sauce. Drain the grease from the chicken pan. Pour in the the rice wine vinegar and honey and cook it on medium-high until the liquid has reduced by 1/2 its volume. Pour the chicken stock into the pan. Allow the stock to reduce. When the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes, swirl in the butter.
Sautéeing the mushrooms. Bring a large sauté pan to high heat. Pour in the remaining canola oil. Put the mushrooms into the hot oil. Cook them quickly, stirring occasionally, until they have some color and have wilted a little bit under the heat. Put in the remaining onion and garlic. Cook for a few moments until the onion and garlic are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Throw in the thyme and cook until the herb starts to release its fragrance, about 1 minute. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper.
Mix the mushrooms and rice together.
To serve, make a mound of the mushroom-filled rice on each plate. Perch a chicken leg on top of the rice. Swirl some of the sauce around the plate. Place the fruit in the sauce. Top with the blood orange zest.
Suggestions: you can also make this dish throughout the different seasons. Use figs and pears. Mangoes. Raisins and prunes. Grapefruit segments. Whatever you imagine might be good.