Do I Have To?

Last Friday I went on a date. Like a real date, with someone I'd actually met in person. So, this is a good thing, right? I'm wondering why I was filled with such dread. Little things kept coming up during the day that made me want to cancel. A fight with S on the phone. The oppressive heat. Too much work. The sneaking suspicion that I'd rather be at home in bed watching episode after episode of Mad Men.

But then S and I made up, I bought a new outfit after frantically texting and emailing everyone I knew for wardrobe advice, and I went on the date. It was fun. Not earth-shattering, but fun. He took me sailing in Boston Harbor. Being incompetent at sailing, I got to just sit around and make sure that I didn't get knocked out by the mast. We sailed by the ICA and Legal Harborside. I saw a part of the city that I love from a completely different view. After the sail we went to dinner. It was one of those places that you're sure will suck (too eclectic a menu and a bar filled with college kids and televisions), but it doesn't matter because you're sitting on a deck by the water. The food was surprisingly good. I got "drunken shrimp and lobster saute," and the shellfish actually tasted fresh. And while the recommended drink sounded dreadful and was served in a plastic cup, it was delicious and did its job to take the edge off.

Then we went back to his very cool place with a pool. And we made out. And that was as far as I wanted to go, which didn't please him, but I didn't care. He's not a bad kisser but not a great one either. He has this amazing, possibly sexy, New Zealand accent, but he mumbles, so while I love the lilt, I have no idea what he's saying half the time. It was pleasant, but we didn't really laugh. He likes good food, but doesn't read fiction. He's smart, financially secure, and available, but is that enough? Like Carrie Bradshaw would say "is a relationship a relationship without the zsa zsa zu?" That feeling of excitement and butterflies is missing in this case.

In a group of women I was with last week, I mentioned some glaring typos in one of his text messages (that couldn't even be explained away with the plague of the iPhone auto-correct). One woman looked me in the eye and said a little too definitively: You are going to end up alone.

Perhaps I will. I think I'd like to date some more, but I'm not wedded to the idea. I like a life of easy laughter and I'm just not seeing it with this guy. One of the best times I've had all summer was with a different (more supportive) group of women, six of us eating and drinking on my deck and laughing for hours. This is what I served:

Fricasseed Chicken with Eggplant and Fresh Tomatoes
Adapted from Marcella's Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan

1 1/2 pounds eggplant
1/2 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 1/2 pounds chicken cut up
1/4 pound pancetta
2T extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, lightly mashed
1/2 c dry white wine
black pepper
1T parsley chopped fine
vegetable oil for frying

1. Wash the eggplant in cold water, cut off the green tops, and slice it into strips about 3 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1 inch thick.

2. Place a colander over a bowl and spread the eggplant strips along the sides of the colander. Sprinkle liberally with salt and let stand for about an hour.

3. Cut the tomatoes into chunks

4. Rinse the chicken and pat thoroughly dry

5. Chop the pancetta very fine.

6. In a saute pan large enough to accomodate all of the chicken pieces (later) without overlapping, put in the olive oil, pancetta, and garlic and turn on the heat to medium high, keeping the pan uncovered.

7. When the garlic becomes colored a pale gold, add the chicken pieces. Brown them well, skin side down first to melt the fat, then on their other side.

8. Add the wine and sprinkle with salt and several grindings of pepper. When the wine has evaporated, add the parsley and the cut up tomatoes. Turn the contents of the pan over once or twice with a wooden spoon, then cover the pan and turn down the heat to medium. Turn the chicken pieces over from time to time.

9. While the chicken cooks, take a frying pan and pour in enough vegetable oil to come 1/2 an inch up the side of the pan. Turn the heat on to high.

10. Drain the eggplant strips thoroughly with kitchen towels. When the oil is hot enough to make the eggplant sizzle, slip as much of it into the pan at one time as will fit without overlapping or crowding. Fry the eggplant on both sides until it becomes colored a rich gold, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a platter covered with paper towels to blot.

11. When the chicken is done (it should be cooked through and feel very tender when pricked with a fork) turn off the heat and tilt the pan to spoon off nearly all the clear fat.

12. Add the fried eggplant, turn on the heat to medium, and cook for 3 - 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Some of the eggplant may dissolve (yum), helping to make the sauce creamier. Transfer to a warm platter with all the pan juices and serve immediately.

* The eggplant may be fried and set aside several hours before cooking the chicken. And, as is usual with a braised dish, the entire thing may be made the day before and reheated gently just before serving.


Eating What I Want

(Note #1: When I mentioned the topic of this blog to a friend, she gasped and said something like, “Are you really going to admit online that you’re happy your daughter is away?” The answer, is "yes." Because Hemingway says to write what is true, right? And, while other single parents may have an ex-husband or two to take care of their kids every once in a while, I do not. So, while S and I generally have a blast, I need the break. I will be happy to get her back in August, but until then, I am going to relish my alone-ness.

Note #2: I wrote this post on Saturday, July 2, which is why the dates are off. And, since then I’ve had the mustard vinaigrette from this chicken recipe on lamb as well, and it was mighty tasty. I highly recommend it.)

So without further ado:

Eating What I Want

An acquaintance in my neighborhood that I see on occasion once said to me: Don’t you agree, Janetta, that it’s easier for couples to socialize than it is for single people?

What was I supposed to say to that?

Oh, yes! Your life is so much better than mine! I sit at home hoping and wishing that someone will please invite my lonely self over.

I think I do okay. I’m way funner than this woman, so maybe no one would invite her anywhere without her husband and she was taking it out on me.

That said, I am spending today completely by myself. Which is okay even for the holiday weekend because I have at least two social activities per day lined up for Sunday and Monday.

How can Janetta have the day all to herself, you may wonder, remembering that I generally have a pesky, needy (frequently wonderful) teenager around. One word for you: camp. This is the moment that I wait for all year (now that I can watch the Sound of Music and the Wizard of Oz any old time I want). This time she’s gone for 6 weeks (barring any catastrophes, but I told her coming home before the scheduled day is out – camp or, in the event of scarlet fever, the hospital, are her only options). This may sound harsh and non-maternal – my apologies to all of you mothers out there who are bereft at even the thought of dropping your kids off at camp for weeks at a time. I wish I were you, but this is the only break I get, so I’m not.

When S was younger and more dependent on me, I would fill every moment of alone time (even a day) with as many activities as possible – so by the end of my mothering hiatus, I was exhausted and didn’t even feel the break. This summer I have 42 whole days, so I’m trying not to do that.

Today I swam and ran and read and now I write. And tonight I’m going to eat what I want. Since I’m solely in charge of the shopping and cooking in my house, you’d think that would happen more often. But it doesn’t. For the next month and a half, I’m going to squeeze in everything I can that S says she won’t eat for whatever crazy reason: lamb (I won’t eat baby animals!), chicken (no rational reason at all, and she’ll eat it in Asian food, just nothing else), anything grilled (You always burn it!). And I’m going to eat every meal I consume at home outside. Something S hates to do for various complicated adolescent reasons (someone might see us!). And I’m going to do other stuff I never get to. Today I had both the Bose and the iHome blasting This American Life throughout the house. I haven’t listened to even one note on Kiss 108 in the two days she’s been gone (god, am I already down to 40 days??). And without someone begging me to buy them something every single second of every single day, I’m going to save money.

But back to the food. This recipe is one of my favorites even though I haven’t made it in many years. It was the cover recipe from the May 1994 Bon Appétit with a feature on French picnics. I generally want to live inside a French picnic, so it’s perfect for me. When I first made this chicken, I was half of a couple, socializing with ease, I suppose. And I still had two years before I would become a mother. I was 29 – I actually went on Outward Bound that same month to try to get my emotional life together before I had a baby. The best laid plans…. I was living in the country and commuting to my job at National Geographic Television during the week. It was a good time. All of the Oprah-worthy scenarios that defined my 30’s and seeped into my 40’s were totally unimaginable. I thought I had it all. Tomorrow I’m going to bring leftovers to the beach where I’m going with a couple and a single friend (who somehow managed to snag an invite despite her marital status). And then I’m driving to another friend’s ocean-side house for a pre-4th barbeque. They invited me on my own, imagine that. And I have two parties on Monday and two consecutive weekends w friends in the Berkshires. So maybe I don’t have it all, but I have what I need. And people do invite me over, and I still have this chicken. And now you do too.

Roast Chicken With Mustard Vinaigrette
from Bon Appétit

For chicken:

  • 1 6- to 7-pound roasting chicken
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 2 fresh sage sprigs
  • 1 cup Mustard Vinaigrette
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

For vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

To make vinaigrette:

Mix mustard and vinegar in bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Mix in shallots and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover, chill. Bring to room temperature, mix before using.)

To make chicken:

Preheat oven to 450°F. Pat chicken dry. Season cavity with salt and pepper. Place shallot, 2 rosemary sprigs and 2 sage sprigs in cavity. Slide hand between chicken skin and meat over breast to form pockets. Spread 2 tablespoons vinaigrette under skin over breast meat. Tie legs together to hold shape; tuck wings under body. Place chicken in roasting pan. Brush 2 tablespoons vinaigrette over chicken. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and sage. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast chicken 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue roasting until juices run clear when chicken is pierced in thickest part of thigh, basting occasionally with pan juices, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Place chicken and herb sprigs on platter. Serve with remaining vinaigrette. I made a side of tabouli salad with tomatoes and artichoke hearts (shown above), but it goes well with anything.