More Dispatches from the Summer Kitchen (Composed Upon Discovering There’s No New Material in the Queue for Friday)



Rock Island, IL

I can’t tell whether my Sweet Precious has read the piece on marital jokes when she announces her preference for Poco Picatta tonight and then just sort of vanishes.

No matter. This is a dish as popular at the table as in the mis en place—always a pleasure and not at all difficult, especially if you’re cooking through the first disc of the Very Best of the Eagles and planning to eat through the second one, which I determine at once I am.

And, you know, the queen of hearts is always your best bet.

The chicken comes from a good old boy down at the Saturday farmers’ market who sells me eggs and whole fryers and who can really flirt with the women, especially the ones with the moon in their eyes. His birds put the suck in succulent and take the lent right out of it. Even the restaurant chefs up and down the river know enough to buy from him.

Rather than pound the chicken breasts into airy thinness, as some culinary spastics do, I prefer to slice them lengthwise into thin botulismic slabs of future energy. I then dry them with paper towel, salt them like there’s no tomorrow, besmirch them with paprika, and roll them in flour. Meantime, two pots of water heat up, one for the sweet corn and one for the fettuccine, while in a small sauce pan chopped garlic and pine nuts improve the aroma in the kitchen in their slow self-sacrificial effort to soften themselves for my dining pleasure. Behind them, in a large sauce pan, a cube of butter rides on its own melting and becomes one flesh with a small puddle of olive oil. This concupiscence is what I’ll sauté the sliced chicken in.

Is the olive oil local? No. The olive oil isn’t local. But I found out a long time ago what olive oil can do to your soul.

On the cutting board sun-dried tomatoes and fresh oregano from the back yard await chopping. The folks at Nostalgia Farms dry tomatoes and sell them at the market, but if you want any you either have to place an order ahead of time or get to the Saturday market at dawn’s early crack. Otherwise, they’re already gone. I myself prefer early arrival. Saves talking on the phone or using that accursed e-mail.

We’re not in a fast, obviously, so there’s also a libation going: tonight a Bombay Sapphire martini with a lemon twist. (Only a madman, said David Brower, would put an olive in a martini and displace three cubic centimeters of gin. Proof that conservationists are victims of grace too.)

The chicken goes in a little ahead of the corn and pasta, which take about the same amount of time. I’ll need a little extra time once the fowl is done to make the glaze. So in goes the chicken. About the time I turn it, in go the corn and fettuccine.

When the chicken is done–but first another sip; ah, that’s beautifu!–I put it on a plate in the oven to keep it warm. That noise you hear is a half-cup of white wine—real cheap stuff—sizzling in the large sauce pan and going to work on the bits of chicken and flour, now good and stuck to the pan. I scrape them loose with a spatula and pour in the juice squeezed not one minute ago from a lemon, also not local. Then, as the glaze thickens, another cube of butter miraculously appears in the pan. I’m taking this sauce to the limit—one more time. When I’m satisfied with its viscosity I’ll drizzle it over the chicken, now sprinkled with capers.

The timer announces that the boils are done. The corn goes into a covered serving dish. The pasta goes first to the colander and then to another serving dish, there to mingle promiscuously with the sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, garlic, pine nuts, and grated parmesan.

Behold! A certain someone has heard the timer and reappeared. Damn me but she’s a moving violation! Learned early how to open doors with just a smile.

The salad, having been prepared ahead of time, waits patiently. I put everything on the table, also prepped ahead of time, gather the chirren (Recalcitrance, Mendacity, and Belligerence), and we listen to them fight over who gets to call down the blessing. Fighting over prayer! No wonder the right words never come.

Even She Who Must Be Obeyed allows that the food is good. If I am not deceived, all’s forgiven. No lyin’ eyes, hers. She may get the worst but she also gets the best of my love. And lo! I seem to detect up ahead in the distance a shimmering light! A midnight flyer! Time and the fatigue of The Three Incorrigibles will tell. O let it be fatigue in earnest—not one of these nights but this night, this night of oil and garlic and textures al dente and the unparalleled sapphiric botanicals penetrating the splendid nuance of the noble juniper berry.

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