Friday, December 25, 2009

I'm sitting at my father's desk.

To my right are photographs of his mother, his father, his grandfather.

His mom sits cross-legged on a lawn in front of a fence. The year is 1925. She's wearing a dress, but still she sits cross-legged on a lawn. I must take after her. Her head is cocked to one side, she grins, the hat is rakish.

The other photograph shows his dad and his grandfather. They are looking straight ahead, not smiling. They are wearing hunting caps and carry guns. Papaw points his gun to the ground, as he's supposed to. He was a preacher.  Great-Grandfather points his gun out the right side of the frame, reckless. He has a pipe in his mouth. He raised cotton for cash, but otherwise grew vegetables and hunted in the woods.

My father yells in from the other room: "it was a hard life."

Coffee is fragrant, I hear the fire pop--it's fat wood. 

I will go back in now and sit down and plan with my dad the oven sequence for tomorrow. The ham must go in by 6 to accomodate the stollen at 9 to be ready for the family as they arrive at 10, bearing their version of frankincense and myrrh: casserole dishes.

My life is blessed, sitting here at my father's desk, suddenly young and small.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fried Chicken

If I were to use last night's potluck as grist for a scenewriting mill, the soundtrack would be this:

my Arkansas family singing an old gospel song:

I'll meet you in the morning with a "how do you do" and we'll sit down by the river and with rapture auld acquaintance renew...

over which the laughter of friends, the snippets of conversation, and the sizzle of chicken frying could be heard.

The occasion was a "Southern" potluck, right here in Seattle. My home and my home, a gentle collision. There was a theme, represented by fried chicken, biscuits, collards, Red Velvet Cake, and the like. There were variations: the Southern classics inflected by the region in which they were being prepared; the dishes designed to make me twitch (SUGAR! in CORNBREAD!); the fanciful and joyous interpretations of what might be Southern, if that cookbook or this friend had given good direction.

What was JUST like a Southern potluck was the celebration of the simplest of fare. Beans. Greens. Cornmeal. Chicken wings. Sweet Potatoes. And what was not at all like a Southern potluck? My bottle of pepper sauce was as full as when I brought it. I swear, y'all. It would have been DOUSED on beans and greens back home. That bottle would have been empty 5 people into a line at a dinner-on-the-ground. We'll have a do-over. And next time I'll baptize each and every one of you with pepper sauce.

Here is my preparation for fried chicken. It's not crispy--more like tooth-cracking crunchy, so beware if you have dentures.

Fried Chicken

Get a butcher to break down your chicken thusly:

legs, thighs, wings, breasts cut in half, necks separated from body; backs cut in half; giblets.

Day 1, evening: prepare a brine of roughly 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and dissolve salt. Take from stove and throw in a lemon, halved, and a couple of bay leaves.  Let chill overnight.

Day 2, morning: put your chicken in large ziploc bags (I bag it with chicken pieces in one and giblets separate) and ladle in brine. Chill all day.

Day 2, evening: rinse off chicken and drain. In a very large bowl, stir 2-3 T. of Louisiana Hot Sauce or Sriracha (or similar) into 1/2 gallon of buttermilk. Place chicken (innards can now be reunited with the, um, outards) in the buttermilk and stir to coat. Cover and chill overnight.

Day 3, morning: turn the chicken and return to the refrigerator.

Day 3, evening: Toss chicken piece by piece in all-purpose flour and place in clean bags. Let sit for a bit--you're trying to develop almost a paste more than a "batter"--it will be sticky.

Heat fat (about 1/2 inch deep) in a large iron skillet until a speck of flour sizzles immediately in it. I use a ratio of about 60% lard, 30% peanut oil, and 10% bacon drippings. I stand by this combination of fat types, but sure, play around.

While the fat is heating up, take the chicken out and dredge it one more time, this time in White Lily® flour (or another low-gluten flour--you could use pastry flour or cornstarch in a pinch), and shake off excess flour. Lower skin side down into the fat. Watch your heat--as you're adding the chicken, you want to maintain an even fry, so you might have to increase the flame at this stage and then ratchet it back down again.  Do NOT flip the chicken again and again. Let it cook until the bottom is a deep golden brown and THEN turn it. When the other side is done, take it out and drain it skin side up on a rack, salting lightly. Fry the giblets last, and create a diversion so that you can have the gizzard before anyone else notices there is one.

If you want to make gravy, pour off almost all the fat, but keep the brown crispies in the skillet. Add an equal amount of flour and stir well (and continuously). When the flour has turned golden brown, slowly add a couple of cups of whole milk or (gasp) half-and-half or (GASP) cream. Immediately start stirring to smooth out lumps--it'll thicken up pretty quickly, so you need to work fast. Taste for salt and then add a LOT of fresh black pepper just before you pour it up into a bowl. Finally, hope that someone else has made some mashed potatoes or hot biscuits, because you will be in a lather from frying the chicken. Sit down and pass everything around and give thanks for the chickens and for the friends or family who are around your table with you. Worry about the clean-up later.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Twittiquette Manifesto

Here's what I love about the Seattle intersection of Twitter and Foodlovers: there is a real, live community of warm, gifted, funny, discerning, generous, talented, ethical, hospitable, and empathetic people behind the avatars. Not all people are all of those things all of the time, but that's a pretty daunting string of qualities for any one person to embody 24/7, no?

And here's what I worry about: no one really knows yet how to negotiate the parameters and etiquette of online social networking that leads to such community in real life. 

So here's my Own Private Twittiquette Manifesto, which may be adopted or scorned by others. But it will guide my behavior:

1.  If I tweet that I'm with a group of people at a public location, say, a café, I will not be surprised or alarmed if others want to join. That's the risk I run for being public. If I make something sound enticing, who can blame people for being enticed?

2. If someone else tweets that there is a group of people at a public location, say, a café, and I really want to go, I will DM someone in that group and inquire about whether it's a private function. If I don't know anyone in the group well enough to DM them, I will stay at home and enjoy the banter of others.

3. If people are discussing a gathering at someone's home, and I'm not explicitly invited, I assume no invitation. I will accept that there is no way that everyone can go to everything; that people have limited entertainment space; and that I will go to something else at another time.

4. If I'm hosting something, I will try not to tweet about it unless I'm oriented toward openness or prepared to explain my guest policy otherwise.

5. I will never bring extra people along to something at someone's home without explicit permission from the host.

6. But I will be gracious if someone brings someone else to my home--I will not embarrass anyone.

The reality is that this is all murky. In addition to safety (I mean, it goes without saying that I will not meet someone no one's vouched for the first time by handing out my address, right?), my guiding principle is that I want to support community. I also want to be IN community. That doesn't mean I get to go to everything, it doesn't mean I want to be in exclusionary community, it doesn't mean I have enough space to host as many people as I would like.  Murky, see?

But the murkiness and risk of tripping are a small price to pay for being on this community journey, which is mostly a delicious (in every sense of the word) adventure.

For that I give thanks.

What are your thoughts?