Some advice: If you ever have the urge to print photos for a kid of yours? A retrospective sort of a thing? For their birthday? Do it.
(But maybe give yourself more than, say, 48 hours?)
Do it, even though good sense and sleep and, oh, a steady pulse, advise against it. Even though there are some major-ish hurdles. Even though the project resides at the crossroads between ambitious and ridiculous.
(Because really, aren't those the very best projects? The loveliest cross-streets? At least, from a distance?)
Do it, even though you've not really printed prints since, oh, let's see, the year they were born? Meaning assembly of said book is not a "simple" matter of combing through shoeboxes, but mining hard drives (plural) and slim back-up bricks (plural) and files with very helpful names like CN-3028. Hundreds of them. Thousands? More. Mostly filled with many (as in manymany, as in waaaaaay more than thousands) pictures of mountains and siblings and soup and spring flowers. And, here and there, like gold in a stream, the sweet smiling face you are after.
(A week would be good for this project. Two, even. Heck, three! Ten years is a lot of material.)
Don't do it fancy. Don't drop greenbacks on clever stickers and particular pens and scrapbook-y stuff that adds to the obligation. Don't even cave to those svelte black photo corners that render even blurry shots chic. I love those. Focus, focus.
(Unless, of course, fancy floats your boat. Or you have the time or bandwidth or both. I think the camp into which I fall is pretty clear, here. Drugstore album users of the world, unite!)
Do it for all the ordinary reasons, the ones you expected, the ones you saw coming. For a chance to stop the clock, temporarily. To traffic in nostalgia. To wonder, to marvel. To experience a decade as animated flip book. Flip-flip-flip! '05-'06-'07! This alone is a dazzling thing.
(If you're the sort who already systematically organizes, deletes and otherwise manages your photos, like clockwork? Monthly, perhaps? On each birthday? I bow down. You are my hero. I am not you.)
Do it because it's a pretty great little spur to storytelling, not your strong suit. Because when asked by your kids to tell them a story, your mind tends to veer toward Homer or Stegner... not, apparently, what they were after. If you're, say, an art history major? Visual aids help.
(Maybe, probably, you are better at this? Maybe you inhale days, exhale stories? Entertaining? Engaging? I don't know what? Maybe you own that alchemy? Probably, your photos are in alphabetical-chronological order, also. Sigh. Please teach me your tricks.)
Do it because, along the way, you realize that you survived, that it's all history. Those rich, exhilirating, exhausting long days. Those longer nights. Those four years it took a certain someone to sleep through said nights.
(Now you keep yourself awake, all night, working on certain *ahem* ridiculously ambitious projects. Maybe sleep's just not your thing.)
Do it because, for all those four(!) years(!), what looms larger still is that early on, relentless recognition of this fierce little star, shining so exquisitely brightly. Your very own sun, around which to orbit. A light, too intense to dally in matters as trivial as dark, as ordinary as night.
(Note to new moms: They learn. They really do. Have patience. Be kind. To the both of you. This too shall pass. Mind, he still rises earlier than anyone. But now he can read, and draw, and fry an egg. And that makes all the difference.)
Do it because you soon realize that if nothing else, you've gained a few skills. You know better than flash. And bright sunlight. And crooked horizons. And dim dark rooms.
(And these here are the cream of the crop. Let's *ouch* not discuss the 400MB of blur.)
Do it, also, to notice your lapses. To wit: What's with all the landscape, these days? The hands? Whence the heads? Whence the family photos??
(A few new resolutions, for the new year: more portrait; more faces; more all-together snaps.)
Do it because you want to hand said kid a concrete, 7-pound answer to his question, "But why aren't there any big books about me? Like there are for (insert big sibling)?" Because, "Because you happened in 2005, terrible timing on your part, if you care about prints! That being the year that we, and the world, made the switch to digital. It wasn't you. Really." won't really cut it. Completely true. But, beyond lame. Not to mention inexcusable.
(One more resolution: Print prints, every month. Or at least, build a print file? Ask me, end of February, how that's coming. And wish me luck?)
Do it, if you still have any doubts, because there's this fantastic Twilight Zone aspect to the project. To compile one decade, between two (okay, six) covers? To rewind a life, then build it back up, from the beginning, all over again? This is, pardon my eighties-speak, a trip.
(You, of course, weren't around in the Eighties. You didn't miss much. Trust me.)
Thing is, you've been there on the sidelines all along. Heck, you've been on the field, front and center! Playing every position, offense, defense, umpire! Washing up all those mud-crusty uniforms!
You'd think it would all be initimately familiar, this innocent little jaunt through the past. And it absolutely is. And it absolutely isn't.
It's more like re-reading Agatha Christie, once you know who-dun-it-, and how, and when. It was all so confusing, on the first go, not knowing what to notice, where attention should be paid. You have to stick with it, the dead ends, the pesky questions, the interminable not-knowingness of it all.
(And take a few photos along the way. Horrible lighting, gaggy compositions, and all. Because otherwise, you won't remember a thing. Trust me on this one, too.)
Because there's this mystery unfolding in a kid, it turns out, this question of who they are, how they are, what they're made of. Who they're on their way to becoming. And the answer is there all along, you realize. The clues. The little pointers you miss in the moment.
(I miss. Missed. Am surely still missing. Probably you print prints and tell stories and notice?)
Except, looking back, the clues seem less like subtle, and more like the Las Vegas strip. On a Friday, around 10 p.m. Like, "Ohhh, right, there's the way he was always but always in the kitchen, up on a chair. Whisk in hand. Stirring some pot. Baking his own birthday cake. Gnawing garlic." The same kid who stood, feet on floor, head level with my shoulder, last week, slicing mushrooms and sausage and pulling dough into picture-perfect pizza.
(Among this year's gift? This book.)
And, "Well, gosh, look at that. Outside has been his solace since forever. His joy. His happy place. Trees, dirt, grass, rocks. Staples, from the get-go." Is it any surprise that this kid's best friend (sagely) gifted him a five-pound book about leaves? That his deepest Christmas wish, this year, was for a gift card to the local nursery? That he had his heart set on one and only one thing, for his tenth? A birthday bonsai?
(Also? The Butler did it.)
And on it goes. These threads, obviously present from the beginning, somehow only obvious now. It's like one of those 300-count dot-to-dots. Not the easy ones, 1-20, where you see the circus lion before connecting 1 to 2. No, the vast, ages-8-and-up dot-to-dots, where you can't tell if the end result will look more like an anthill or Apollo 13. And even 117 dots in, you've only really ruled out armadillo. So random, at first, and for so long, really. But eventually, with hard work and perseverence and far more patience than you knew you had? Boom. It's a boy. Suddenly clear. Come into focus. There all along.
And here's the strangest, the wildest, the very best part: for all that hindsight-y clarity? The tapestry taking shape on the other side of the loom? There's this: the dots are still aligning as image. The story's still being written. And oh wow, it is quite a read.
(Maudlin? Me? Never. Translation: there is time, yet, to learn to make one's bed.)
I can't, in good conscience, say this chicken is anywhere near as good. It's hard, after all, to beat a boy of ten. But for a chicken? Oh, man.
Technically speaking, what we're about to discuss is roast chicken. Basic, elemental. Mostly, we all have our ways with such things, our familiar methods, comfy as old jeans. Keep those. They're grand, the methods and the results, both. The best thing, actually, that can come from a kitchen: unthinking, easy, excellent food.
My own way with roast chicken has, for many years, been a riff on the justly-famed Zuni way: salt your bird well, refrigerate awhile, then roast-flip-roast until deeply flavored and crisp-skinned. It's a good way with chicken, one of the best. I use it still, and love it with abandon, as much for its ease as its results.
This isn't that chicken. I now have two ways.
I'm cranking it up because this is everything most same-day roast chickens are not: impossible to ruin, flagrant with flavor, and arguably, even better the next day. It also takes three hours to cook. I see this as one of its greatest assets.
Luisa dubbed it slow-roasted chicken, which is spot on, and so much of why it works. This bird, see, roasts for three hours—three hours!—at a subdued 300 degrees. The net effect is that the bird bastes itself, along the way. The bird gets punch-drunk on its own juices, breast and thigh, both, less cooking than melting. The heat is so gentle, so moderate, there's no ability to burn, no means to dry out. I've pulled this out thirty minutes early, and thirty minutes late, and it's all great. Try that at 425. No, wait, don't. Just, try this.
Try it, too, because it takes serious, heady cues from porchetta, that swoony, herb-ripped Italian pork. As written, this bird is slathered in a quickly-blitzed paste of fennel, fresh rosemary, thyme, salt, a bit of chili, sometimes garlic. None of which would matter much if the bird was in and out in an hour. But after three? Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Every morsel's a study in herbed, garlicky juices. Without marinating. Without basting. Without brining. Without so much as a second glance —just blitz, slather, slide in, and forget. The overall effort is sort of slow-cooker. The only difference being, the end results are golden, and crisp, and well, differentiated.
I suspect the same method would work brilliantly with all manner of flavors—or none at all. Coriander (lots) + cumin (some) + turmeric (a twinge) + fresh ginger (oodles)? Yes, please. Oregano, marjoram, lemon zest: likewise. Or simply salt, a full Tablespoon, and time. Think blueprint. Think what you have. Think about thinking about dinner at three, then forgetting it entirely, until the bell rings.
And if you happen to have a shred left, know this: in the leftover chicken department, this wins by a mile, and then some. Pretty much all chicken I've ever made, ever, is just awful, re-heated. It is wonderful cold, of course, but warmed, it's invariably, unbearably dry. Maybe you have better luck than I? (You über-organized, photo-guru, storytelling-superstar, you!) But if you've ever encountered the Dreaded Day Two Dry Chicken? Well. If I were the sort to use the word "succulent", I would so totally append it here. I'm not. So let's just excise "Dry" forever, and substitute "Dreaded" with "Coveted", yes?
Because the slow-roasting yields white and dark meat so tender, so juicy, it's more braise than roast. Even off the bones, solo, it and you both can appreciate a gentle re-heat. But pulled from the bone? Settled into the golden, heady juices yielded up in the roasting? The juices that didn't burn off, because the heat was so low, they concentrated instead? Juices that spent three hours co-mingling with herbs, aromatics, lemon and bird? Juices ample enough to dribble decadently over your platter, the first night, and intoxicate your leftovers in the warming, the second? Yup. Those. If you have any doubts about this slow-roasted chicken business, just think on those. Then do it. You won't be sorry. You may even make a monthly habit of it.
Slow-Roasted Chicken, Porchetta-Style
adapted from Bon Appétit
The original calls for marjoram and a full teaspoon of hot pepper; I swap in rosemary, and halve the pepper, for younger palates. Sometimes I blitz half the garlic into the herb paste; sometimes it gets a bit dark. Sometimes I stuff it all in the bird. I like it both ways. See, too, the variations, above. In other words: this is all blueprint, with lots of room for latitude. Play.
1 generous roasting chicken (3 1/2-4#)
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. kosher salt
2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. aleppo pepper (or other mild chili)
1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
2 Tbs. fresh rosemary + 4 sprigs
2 Tbs. fresh thyme + 4 sprigs
6 garlic cloves
1 lemon, halved
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Select a heavy pan a nudge bigger than your bird. Cast iron skillets work beautifully, here.
With knife, mortar + pestle, or mini-processor, blitz your olive oil, salt, fennel, peppers, rosemary and thyme, until a chunky paste forms. Spread paste under skin, if desired, and all over top, sides and bottom of bird. Stuff cavity with extra herb sprigs, garlic cloves, and halved lemon. Slide chicken into the preheated oven, and forget all about it, for 3 hours or so.
When you cannot stand the smell any longer, and the skin is golden and crisping and handsome, and joints wiggle at the slightest touch, remove bird and let it rest for 15 minutes. Carve, drizzle with the golden herbed juices, and enjoy.