Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Best-Laid Plans

The Plan:

What Really Happened:

Sunday was a nice day. I took the boys to the Children's Museum, the most fun place in Indianapolis for a kid. T splashed in the water and colored hieroglyphics in the mummy tomb. M climbed through the mole hole and worked a crane. We even avoided Burger King in the little food court and ate yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and Jell-O. T fell asleep on the way home.

So I'd been planning to cook a chicken in a clay pot. I'd had the clay pot since my New York, Dean and Deluca-haunting days, but had used it only a handful of times there and not once that I can remember since we've been back in Indy. Have you ever used one? You soak the whole thing, top and bottom, in water for about 15 minutes before putting food in, and then you stick your food in and an hour or so later, pull out this really juicy, flavorful meal. Or so the instructions say. Seemed very slow food.

First, prep wasn't what I was hoping for -- the meditative few moments where I planned to lovingly prepare a sauce of olive oil, paprika, Fine Herbes, and crushed garlic and rub it all over the organic bird. Then pour in some leftover white wine from Saturday night. Then trim some fresh parsley and add it and more garlic to the cavity of the bird. I figured classical music would be softly playing in the background, and I'd have a thoughtful look on my face. Instead, T had just woken up from his nap in a foul mood, and I slapped it all together quickly with him clinging to my leg and crying. I did make the rub, did stick some fresh parsley and a little salt in the cavity of the bird, and did add potatoes, baby carrots, and frozen pearl onions. Then I stuck the heavy thing in the cold oven, turned it to 480 degrees, and waited for our beautiful family meal. I figured if T could turn his attitude around, we could still have the Rockwell evening.

That's when I heard new loud crying that wasn't coming from T. M came in, bawling. After a lot of snuggling and cajoling, he could finally speak enough to say that he'd been running with a push toy, hit a spot bump on the sidewalk, and had flipped over the toy. He had a mark on his chest where he'd hit the handle of the toy. He spent the next 30 minutes spontaneously crying, saying, "It still hurts!" We were sure he'd cracked his sternum, so I called his doctor and then took him to the ER.

He got progressively perkier on the way to the ER, but still insisted that it hurt. The ER was like a scene from the old Clooney show, with a line a mile long, and M was seeming better by the minute. So we went to an Immediate Care place instead, and the doctor felt a little and said nothing was broken. M was disappointed; he'd had his heart set on an x-ray like George gets in Curious George Goes to the Hospital.

We got home, and Phil has subsequently pulled out the chicken, which didn't look as browned to perfection as I'd envisioned. T hadn't eaten any of it, but had had a cracker and a little Yo, Baby! yogurt and then whined to get out of his chair. M, however, sat at the kitchen table, ate with gusto, and said it was the best chicken he'd ever had. He had seconds and asked if we could have it again the next night.

So even if we were sitting under the interrogation lights in the kitchen instead of eating as a family in the dining room, and even if it was 8:00 instead of a normal Midwest family dinner hour, I suppose it was a great meal.

A couple things I'd forgotten about successful clay pot cooking:

  • They require a lot of salt; like double the salt of other recipes. I salted lightly, like I always do, and Phil, M, and I all added more salt to the end product.
  • You can get the crispy brown look I was going for. About 10 minutes before the cooking's done, take it out of the oven and pour off the liquid. Thicken this liquid in a pot with arrowroot. Then cook the last 10 minutes with the top off. I'd forgotten to actually read the instructions after not using the pot for five years.

The book I have for clay pot cooking is a little paperback that's more than 30 years old and was kept in print until the last few years: Clay Pot Cooking by Grover Sales. You can still get it on Amazon Marketplace. Even though it's old and there are more chicken livers in recipes than we probably cook with today, the recipes overall have aged well, and it's a nice introduction to clay pots.

I'm thinking next weekend we might have a roast in the pot, minus the trip to the ER.


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