roast chicken

Voulez-vous Manger Avec Moi Ce Soir, Monsieur le Empereur?: Chicken Dinner Napoleon-Style

The world of food is one of limitless potential for creativity and innovation, yet it’s common to find that any given person’s favorite dish is a simple one, though they may harbor a weakness for pot au feu or Puebla mole. Napoleon, for example, fancied himself the predestined emperor of the world, and so could have eaten any number of delicacies at any time of the day or night. But no, his favorite dish, at least according to The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, was a simple roast chicken. “[He] had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock. What a kitchen that was, with birds in every state of undress; some still cold and slung over hooks, some turning slowly on the spit, but most in wasted piles because the Emperor was busy” (3). I have to agree with him on this even if I’m not quite on board with the whole world domination schtick. For this dinner, I made roast chicken the main course and focus of the meal, and then took advantage of some artistic liberties to fill in the rest. Luckily for me, I was not preparing this meal in a soggy, miserable army camp on the banks of the English Channel like poor Henri, but instead was in one of my favorite places in the world: my grandmother’s house on the California Central Coast, in Cambria. But hey, you gotta give a girl points for effort.

It was one of those serendipitous weekends when things just come together on their own. My grandmother called me to say she and her boyfriend would be going up to Cambria for the weekend and couldn’t I come to? It happened that I could (there aren’t many things I wouldn’t move around in order to go to Cambria with her). Then, even more luckily, my dad was able to come up as well. I figured one of my book dinners would be a fun way to celebrate being able to come together so spur of the moment-like, even though so much of The Passion is about being separated from the places and people you love. But one big theme in this novel is taking advantage of the present as its the only point in time you have any control over whatsoever.

It’s hard to remember that this day will never come again. That the time is now and the place is here and that there are no second chances at a single moment (19).

I only recently learned how to make roast chicken from my new chef roommate, so for once I was able to make something without a recipe. It’s amazingly simple. Just salt it, put some thyme on it, tie it up like some Sadeian submissive, and roast for 45 minutes.

DSC_0001While that was in the oven, I prepared the side dish of sweet potatoes and fennel, sprinkled with olive oil, salt & pepper, and herbs de provence. I love this dish. It’s so freakin’ easy and the fennel and sweet potatoes complement each other so well. It’s instant comfort food.

DSC_0015While I did that, my dad (one perk of making dinner for others is sometimes they help!) blanched and peeled peaches from Cambria’s Farmer’s Market for a cobbler. Like I mentioned, roast chicken was the only thing actually mentioned in The Passion but I figured that sticking with simple, country fare with basic ingredients was still appropriate.

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One of the things I love most about making food with fresh ingredients is the naturally vivid colors of certain ingredients like sweet potatoes or peaches. At a loss for certain ingredients generally found in cobbler crust, my dad substituted granola from the local Corner Bakery. It’s one of my favorite granolas because it has macadamia and pine nuts in it, and it made an excellent topping.

DSC_0062Finally, it was time to eat. We all sat down, opened a bottle of Venetian wine, and got to it. There weren’t many instances in the novel where characters got to sit down and enjoy a meal with good company. Henri sure didn’t get to partake in the delicious chickens he roasted for Napoleon, whose appetite never waned even in the vast frozen wastelands of Russia. Even in such desolation however, Henri never lost sight of the overall goodness and beauty of life, an attitude which unfortunately makes him more of a martyr than anything else. I’ll end this entry on a happy note, though the ending of the novel was somewhere between sadness and contentment. I read this book twice, almost immediately, and loved it both times. I’m looking forward to doing more Jeanette Winterson books on this blog.

Our ancestors. Our belonging. The future is foretold from the past and the future is only possible because of the past. Without past and future, the present is partial. All time is eternally present and so all time is ours. There is no sense in forgetting and every sense in dreaming. Thus the present is made rich. Thus the present is made whole (62).

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DSC_0071P. S. Just so you understand the context when I say I had the pleasure of cooking this meal in my favorite place in the world, just check out the view from the kitchen… I mean, really.

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