Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Approach your summer vacation with caution. Your list of things to do could keep you busy and on the move, but it's Saturday afternoon, the sun is shining, and the hammock beckons. In the kitchen sink, a hormone-free, free-range chicken has thawed overnight. It's a good country chicken, its neck still intact, a few wet feathers still clinging to its pale flesh. An extra wing is stuffed in the cavity—great luck since you've just discovered from one of your favorite cookbook authors that a substance secreted from the wing joint adds a gelatinous quality to the broth.
Wash the chicken with cold tap water and throw it in a big stew pot with an onion, a few cloves of smashed garlic, a sprig of limp celery, a couple carrots, some flat-leaf parsley from the garden and enough cold water to cover. Season with a fistful of kosher salt, black peppercorns, a few whole cloves and a sprinkle of dried thyme. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a slow simmer.
Hammock. It's an active verb for a deliciously passive exercise, as in "Don't bug me; I'm hammocking." Crawl in the hammock and forget about the chicken for an hour and a half. Surround yourself with the bare necessities—a glass of sweet tea, a magazine or two, your novel, a pillow, a light blanket in case the wind whips up. Leave the telephone inside. Dissolve into your book and its rich descriptions of hills, trees, rivers, music, wine and lovemaking. Pause to consider what to do with the chicken once it's cooked and off the bones. Chicken and dumplings, elaborately prepared with a hand-rolled dough, the rich broth turned milky with a last-minute addition of butter and cream. Stare high up into the treetops overhead and listen to the little boy next door as he pedals back and forth, up and down the sidewalk, just beyond the fence that shields you from the world. No, a Sunday dinner chicken curry, spicy but sweetened with coconut milk. Nests of condiments—cilantro leaves, chopped peanuts, golden raisins, green onions served in blue-and-white Chinese porcelain bowls on the side. Take a nap and wake up to the warm scent of chicken and celery, wafting out the kitchen window.
Go in and taste the broth, golden now with suspended bubbles of clear fat. Add salt to taste. Strain the broth into a large container, cover and refrigerate. Leave the chicken to cool in the colander and resume hammocking. Finish your book just as the sun sets and the air begins to turn blue. Cuddle beneath your blanket as the birds fly high overhead and the next-door neighbor calls in her boy. Plan your grocery list for the curry—cauliflower, potatoes, peas or something else green. You'll shop in the morning.
Pull the warm chicken off the collapsing bones. Don't forget the slivers of dark meat beneath the skin on the back. Eat the neckbone meat at the kitchen sink. Cover and refrigerate the meat and settle in for an evening of videos and DVDs, the ones you've been meaning to see. Eat pie and ice cream for dinner. Consider the pile of papers on the floor next to you. Go to bed and start a new book.
Wake up and ride your bike to the grocery store. It's another golden day. Your garden is about to erupt in bloom. You can only carry a few groceries in your saddlebags. The Sunday New York Times takes up a lot of room. Gather the items for the curry and pedal home, past Sunday morning neighbors watering their lawns. Eat pie for breakfast. Drink coffee and return to the hammock to read the Times. Fall asleep and wake up to the sight of your sleepworn son—crusty-eyed, wild-haired and hungry. While he showers, fix lunch. Toast slices of Wonder bread. Slather them with Hellman's mayo and pile them high with tender slices of cooked chicken. Eat one standing up, then sit down for another. Wash down with cold milk served in a wine glass. The curry will wait. The broth will keep. You'll have chicken sandwiches for dinner, too. The afternoon is for hammocking.