When I first started cooking, raw meat nauseated me. At first, I tried only touching uncooked chicken with forks and soon realized that I was going to have to get my hands dirty. Slimy in fact.
So I dove in and never looked back. And I went through a lot of hand soap just in case.
My cooking started small and simple, chicken breast with McCormick seasonings, steamed vegetables.
I remember the first time I made a big roast for my family. I got up at 4 am to turn on the crockpot and sprinkle a packet of lipton french onion soup mix over top the meat. Then I went back to sleep feeling like a low level super hero and woke up again at 9 to the smells of Sunday dinner on the way.
As I continued to cook, I gained skill and tried new things. Yet, somehow the only chicken I ever worked with was boneless, skinless chicken breast. Thighs, legs and whole birds scared me to no end, I preferred the sanitary comfort of the pre-packaged breasts.
As if the breasts are the only part of a chicken?
Then, one evening, not too long ago, I shared a meal at my friend Jenni’s house and stood in awe as she pulled a whole, perfectly roasted, lemon pepper chicken out of the oven. We were soon gathered around the tabled enjoying it with buttery chunks of roasted onion and mashed potatoes.
It was the best thing I’d ever eaten on a weeknight. I was hooked, I had to learn to roast a chicken on my own to replicate the homey deliciousness I’d enjoyed at Jenni’s table.
So one night that next week I decided to go for it, whole bird anxiety aside I would conquer this personal, mountain. That first bird must have been good because I’ve been in the business of roasting chickens ever since.
There is something honest about working with a whole bird. When you’re massaging butter into bumpy skin and stuffing lemons and garlic into a cavity you can’t deny that this used to be a live neck bobbing, seed picking chicken.
It has dark meat and veiny, bloody, bony parts about it which don’t look anything like the sanitary packaged breasts you’re used to.
It’s a process, roasting a whole bird, it takes planning and thought. It can’t be tossed into the oven on a whim, but it must be prepped and roasted until the oven thermometer says it’s time to dig in.
And after you’ve sliced it apart and picked all the acceptable meat from the bones it you can boil it with onions, carrots and celery and come up with bountiful stock. As you pick through the colander after straining out the stock you can get your fingers dirty once again as you hunt for tender meat which can only be found by sifting through the bones of the bird.
There is nothing quite like taking a chicken full circle: from raw, to roasted, to stock and then picking out simmered morsels just before you toss the whole business in the trash bin.
The other day I was picking a chicken (like one does) and thinking about my people. At some point in the bones and boiled onions it occurred to me that the sort of relationships I want to cultivate can be well summed up in the process of roasting a chicken.
I want to be involved with the whole of people, not just the sanitary parts that look attractive under cellophane.
Because life is made up of dark and white meat, the messy flaws and the laudable talents.
The depth of flavor of living is brought out in the boil and when we go through the heat and are married together like bones and broth.
I don’t want boneless skinless friendship, do you? I want the dark pieces that are mottled with blood, I want to be there on funeral and new baby days, rejoicing and mourning.
I want people who love me in spite of my odd operating manual and I want to do the same in return.
I want to nourish my people, mind, body and soul with roasted chicken and real, bloody, beautiful living.
Last night my daughter snuck out of bed for the 17th time and begged to snuggle with me on the couch. As we laid there, bed time long past, she began to chatter about love of all things:
“Momma I love you, and I always love hugging you. And you know what mom? People who love each other can make bad choice and still love each other because that’s what love is. You just always love.”
And then I cried and kissed every bit of her face because “from the mouths of babes” doesn’t even begin to describe the profound truth she’s found in four years of living.
You take your sanitary living, as for me, I will take the bones.