People who love to eat are always the best people – Julia Child
Growing up, I used to think every family ate like mine. We had a smokehouse in our backyard, where my dad cured his own bacon and prosciutto. Sausages regularly hung from the roof of the tool shed like stalactites. My mother canned beets and pickles and cherries, and I don’t think I even tasted store-bought jam until I was in my twenties. Other families bring potato salad to picnics; we brought ham hocks and a goulash pot. In my late teens, I often came home late from a night on the town to find my father in the kitchen, baking bread for our Sunday breakfast.
We didn’t live on a farm but in a regular suburban neighbourhood. The people around us seemed to live the same way. The Czechs next door ate just as well, as did the Danes up the street. All of my parents’ fellow Yugoslavian friends were similarly entrenched in food. My dad’s best friend would drive twenty kilometers into the city every Saturday to get the right pork loin at the right butcher shop. He went to Little Italy for San Marzano tomatoes and good olive oil.
Even as children, we got to go to good restaurants. Fancy ones, where I would order escargots and my brother ordered quail. We traveled a lot and were adventurous eaters. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about food. I once wanted to become a chef, but decided that I wanted to be a writer even more.
Given all of this, it has somehow become my greatest misfortune–or perhaps bad karma–to continually be in relationships with men who don’t care about food. Vegans and men with strange food phobias. Men who eat Frankenfoods out of boxes and bags. Muscle building men who live on kale juice and protein shakes. I used to think all men cooked–like my brother and my dad and his friend Walter–until I started dating. Then came a parade of men who didn’t even know how to boil water. That was, until I met Jeff.
Jeff and I went to graduate school together and traveled in the same circles but on the piriphery. When we finally connected, it was all about cooking and food. Jeff worked from home, throughout the day and evening, but found large pockets of time to cook elaborate meals. For our first weekend away together, he rented a million dollar beach house with restaurant quality kitchen appliances and spent two days plying me with the most amazing meals. He made little fingers from toast to dip into my soft boiled eggs and fresh pomegranate martinis with seeds in them. He taught me how to make no-knead bread in a Dutch Oven and how press a steak gently with my fingers to test for doneness. When I informed him that you have to be careful when purchasing olive oil because a lot of it is not the real deal, he was enraged and marched down to the supermarket to confront the manager for duping customers with inferior products at inflated prices.As a couple, we were not to be, but I believe that all people are our teachers and no relationship is for naught. Jeff taught me a lot about food and the presentation of it. Although I had been cooking for a over two decades when we met, I was still pretty much a one-trick pony in the kitchen, with a limited repertoire of similar foods like pastas and shellfish. Because of Jeff, I now regularly make dishes like beouf buirguignon and rosemary and pistachio encrusted lamb chops. I make my own mayonnaise and marinades and dressings. And I do all of these things for myself–for if not for me then for whom?
These days, it’s nothing for me to rub some herbs and oil on a chicken and stick it in the oven to roast slowly on a Sunday afternoon while I read a book or look at photographs. I can eat for a week on this. I thrown in a few heads of garlic to roast for dressing, make chicken salad for my sandwiches. I save the bones for stock and freeze the breast to incorporate into salads and pasta dishes. Why go to the supermarket for rotisserie chicken when you can fill your home with the perfume of a slowly roasting bird and chew on its crackling and crispy skin minutes after it comes out of the oven?
Jeff and I have stayed friends from a distance, reconnecting every once in a while to share recipes and talk about what we’ve been cooking. Recently, we were finally in the same city at the same time to share a meal together. He cooked, of course. Crispy red skinned potatoes with a jumble of grape tomatoes and asparagus. Baby arugula salad with a dressing laced with lavender honey from the Fraser Valley and topped with finely grated Parmesan, and a thick juicy ribeye barbequed to medium rare perfection. It was like old times, complaining about failed relationships and Mexican strawberries over glasses of Cabarnet.
I’m not longer deeply disappointed when I meet a man who is a vegetarian or on a low-carb diet. I know there are more important things to have in common than what you like to eat–lifestyle and values, for example. But it was sure nice to share a meal with someone who loves cooking as much as I do. I’m sure people who love golf feel similarly in the company of other golfers. Perhaps one day another man will come along, who will chop parsley and vegetables with me while we dance in the kitchen, but until then, I’ll be at the helm of my stove, cooking for friends who appreciate a good roasted chicken even though they’d never want to cook one.
1 – 3.5-4 pound (1.6 kilo) chicken, rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Herbs de Provençe
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 head of garlic, top trimmed
1 lemon, halved
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
Fleur de Sel or other coarse salt
Preheat oven to 350F. In a mortar and pestle, grind Herbs de Provençe with black pepper and salt. Combine with 1/4 cup olive oil and minced garlic. Put chicken in a roasting pan breast side up; rub oil mixture on inside and outside of chicken. Stuff half a lemon and head of garlic into the cavity and tie the legs of the chicken together with kitchen twine. Drizzle with any remaining olive oil. Put the chicken in the preheated oven.
Rest potatoes on a board and cut several slits side-by-side about 3/4 way down; place potato on a spoon as a guide if needed. Brush liberally with olive oil and melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Add potatoes slits face up to the roasting pan once the chicken has been roasting for half an hour. Roast the chicken and potatoes for another hour, rotating the pan and basting with the drippings every 20 minutes. The chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer says 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove chicken and potatoes to a platter and let stand ten minutes before carving.