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Kindred Spirits and Roast Chicken

January 24, 2011

I never find it easy to say what my favourite this or my favourite that is. But if you were to ask me what my favourite book is, I wouldn’t skip a beat:  it’s Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The whole series of Anne books –there are eight of them – have been a part of my life since I was 11 years old when my mom brought them home for me. I have reread them almost every year since then. Mom actually defected from Poland with her Polish copy of Anne of Green Gables. How’s that for devoted?

If you’re not acquainted, then let me introduce Anne Shirley to you. She’s a red headed orphan who is sent to Green Gables by mistake when an older bachelor brother and spinster sister adopt a boy to help out on the family farm.  She’s supposed to be a boy, which she’s not, but she wins them over and she ends up staying at Green Gables.  That’s where the story begins. The rest of the novels follow Anne’s life, her friendships, her falling in love, and her life with her family.  It’s a story of a good life created and then held together by hope and perseverance that started out with devastating hurdles and little expectation.

When you love a character this much you can’t but imagine them being real. And if Anne were real, I would hope that we would be friends, or, as she would say, kindred spirits.

What’s so satisfying about reading books that you love and have read countless times, is that each time you read them you cherish even more the passages that you almost know by heart.  But you also find details that float to the surface, that maybe aren’t entirely new to you but they mean something new this time you’re reading them.

Right now I’m reading the second book in the series – Anne of Avonlea. Anne is about 17, has graduated from college and is teaching at the Avonlea School.  She hangs out a lot with Diana – kindred spirit and eternal best friend and also has a large group of friends that adore her or are a bit jealous of her (or a bit of both).

This time around, reading the book, I’m noticing that Diana and Anne are really into the domestic arts. They are both capable in the kitchen and love to entertain. Anne brings flowers into every room and knows how to set a charming table. And she can slaughter her own chickens.  Anne would call her and Diane domestic heroines. ‘Heroines’ has an air of tragedy around it that Anne would find romantic.

This story is one of my favourites from Anne of Avonlea.

Anne is changing the feather beds, wearing housework clothes and freckle cream on her nose since no one is home. Ding-dong. Someone’s at the door.  Anne thinks it’s the butcher, who is supposed to make a delivery that afternoon. She opens the door  – and surprise – she finds her fancy friend, Priscilla, with her wealthy aunt and her aunt’s wealthy friend who is an authoress and married to an Earl. Why these people are traipsing around rural Prince Edward Island is not known.

Anne is a huge fan of the authoress’ novels that feature heroines (romantic and tragic) who “rise to the occasion” in the face of catastrophe. Just like Anne at this very moment who answered the door covered in feathers wearing a kerchief and an old and too short dress, freckle cream on her nose, and with no proper food in the house.

She ushers them into the parlor and acts like of course she expected them to drop by. Anne goes into the kitchen and lucky her, Diana has just popped her head in the back door. Anne tells her of the situation, they hatch a plan to rustle up a luncheon to feed their distinguished guests. Diana ends up grabbing a poached chicken back from her place and rushes it back over to Green Gables. Anne grabs some fresh baked bread, preserves, and cheese. Tea is made and the table is laid out with fresh flowers from the garden. The ladies love the cozy and effortless kitchen picnic luncheon. Total success!

I love the idea that the meal doesn’t have to be planned – that it can be effortlessly thrown together (as long as you have something to anchor it with). Diana luckily had the poached chicken. But this could equally work well with planning on making just the bird and then buying bread, cheeses, and serving with your favourite preserves or chutneys.  Perhaps add some fresh fruit to go with the cheese or a crisp green salad. No need for a parade of overly thought out and labored side dishes.  Make it a picnic indoors  – relaxed, cozy and easy.

A roast chicken with a simple preparation is my go-to for having people over and works as a great anchor. Taking a plump golden bird with crisp skin out of the oven might look like you’ve pulled out the stops, but after the initial preparation, it’s hands off for the most part. Just let it roast and then retrieve once it’s done.

This is a basic roast chicken recipe. I like to use lemon and fresh herbs. But this can be done even more simply with just olive oil or butter and salt and pepper.

Roast Chicken

1 3 to 4 pound chicken

Lemon zest – from one lemon
Minced thyme – from a small handful of branches
Whole Thyme – small handful
Butter – about ¼ cup, softened
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Season the cavity of the bird with salt and pepper. Place the whole thyme branches into the cavity along with quartered lemon. Truss the chicken.

Combine lemon zest and minced thyme with the butter. Rub the herb butter under the skin of the breasts, sliding your hand in between the flesh and the skin. Then rub the herbed butter over the whole chicken. Season the whole bird generously with the salt and pepper. I always salt the skin more than I think I need to and then I find it tastes perfect. It might seem like a bit too much but it isn’t.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes. For a four-pound bird, I would roast for 1 hour 20 minutes. If the skin is starting to move past ‘golden’, cover with aluminum foil so it doesn’t burn.   But then make sure to take off the aluminum foil at least 20 minutes before the end so the skin has a chance to crisp up nicely. At the 1 hour ten minute mark mark, start checking the done-ness level. Jiggle the leg to see if it’s loose. You can also pierce the bird between the leg and thigh and if the juices run clear the bird is done. But a meat thermometer is a pretty much fail-safe way of checking for doneness.

You can remove the chicken from the oven once the meat thermometer reaches 180 F.

Pulling a golden, roasted bird out of the oven (no matter what size or the occasion) always makes me feel Accomplished.

Back to the bird – place it on a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.  To carve the bird, here’s a great tutorial:

Set the table and remember the flowers. Lay out your cheeses, bread, fruit, and spoon out your preserves and chutneys into little bowls. Place your platter of roast chicken in the center. Open a bottle of wine and enjoy this picnic with your kindred spirits.

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