That’s Anne Carson on loss. A quote for the first days of the new year. And if that quotation does not sing to you the kind of swaggering, obvious, the-past-is-the-past, dead, caput; the-future-is-now New Years zeitgeist we’ve all loved and trusted and grown bored with, or worse, wise to, well, you’re welcome.
“I can feel that other day running underneath this one like an old videotape.” My mother has been running through the tapes. Last year she lost a great love, the great love, her mother. There we were in January a year ago. Here we were. “On the 2nd you took a red eye to Chicago. The next day we took her to the hospital.” The year after is the freshest. Next year, we’ll say two Januaries ago, and we’ll feel emptier about it, somehow, maybe. The tape will play in fading colors. But still it will play, on and on.
Yesterday we went to visit her grave. As we were driving away, I noticed I’d lost a glove. So we turned the car around and there it was, my black glove planted in the middle of the street, open handed, beckoning, right about where she was buried. “She wanted to see you one more time,” my mother said.
I’m not in love with these first, these slowest days of the year. Days when every past exaltation, every sadness, every lost glove begins to look cosmically scripted, somehow, a marker on the road to becoming, a clue to destiny. But I can’t talk about destiny here, reader, can’t write about it. It embarrasses me. There is something too yielding, almost untrustably nice, about imagining life as a road paved with signs.
Despite my reservations, I’m sure I will find it hard, in the coming days, not to think of the road trip I’m about to take as the kind of transformational, metaphor-rich life journey, life experience, that tweens of all ages like to imagine road trips to be. Three times I have picked up On the Road. Three times, despite some earnestness, I have laid it down unfinished. Guess I’m not a spirit-quest life-journey kind of girl.
Do you believe me? Sometimes I believe me.
This year taught me that. Other things too. I’ve learned, for instance, how to quickly and cleanly disassemble a chicken. That holding water under my tongue will stop the onion tears. That I can get away with some dirt on mushrooms but not the sand in leeks. To always add a splash of cognac when the recipe calls for wine. How, finally, to cook, and to do it reliably well. That’s just for starters. It’s been that kind of year.
In five days, I will pack up my car and leave, a reliable old American narrative. I’ll stuff my little blue compact’s trunk full of cookware and toilet paper and too many shoes, too many useless beloveds, and drive to Chicago, back to Chicago. To taste the smoked fish over the Calumet river. To feel the bracing cold. To try to build a life there, see what happens. A new year, a journey, a new life. A story we all know, a story with signs, with an end, a destination. Not that I’ll be thinking about that, reader.
Do you believe me? Sometimes I believe me.
Coq au Vin
– 1 large stewing chicken
– 5 slices thick slab bacon
– 3 cups button or baby portabella mushrooms
– 3 small leeks, ends removed, rinsed, chopped
– 3 small yellow onions, sliced
– 2 cups Burgundy wine
– 1/2 cup Cognac
– 2 cups chicken stock
– 2 tbsp tomato paste
– 1 bundle fresh thyme
– 3-4 dry bay leaves, or 1-2 fresh
– 2 tbsp butter
Divide the chicken into ten pieces. First remove the backbone with a sharp knife. Then turn the bird over and make a slit on either side of the cartilaginous breastbone, and remove it by hand. Then, with a sharp chef’s knife or a cleaver, make clean cuts at the wing, the thigh, and the legs. Halve the breasts.
In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove onto a paper towel to drain. Set aside.
Pat the chicken pieces dry. Thoroughly season with salt and pepper. Add a few Tbsp olive oil to the bacon grease and sear chicken, skin-side down, until golden brown. Do this in batches: if you crowd the chicken in the pan, it won’t brown properly. Remove the chicken to a plate, and drain the dutch oven of about half its grease. At this point, the bottom of the pot should be kind of a mess. This is a good thing.
Now caramelize the onions. Over medium heat, slowly brown the onions until they are soft, sweet and pulpy. Then deglaze the pan with red wine and cognac. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits off the bottom and side of the pan.
Add leeks and tomato paste to the onions, cook another 5-10 minutes. Then place dark meat chicken back into the dutch oven, along with thyme bundle, bay leaves, and 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then add the mushrooms, whole or halved.
Simmer for another 10 minutes, then add the chicken breasts. Simmer for another 25 minutes, add butter to thicken. Serve over mashed potatoes, with crumbled bacon.