Sometime in January, I started a list in my music files called “Inspiration 2012.” I imagined it being a sort of year-long anthem for life, with songs landing on the list every few days, but so far, there are only two: “Shake it Off,” by Florence + The Machine, and “Don’t Carry It All,” by The Decemberists. They’re very different songs, about very different things, but they both send me a very simple, portable, digestible message. They say let go.
The first, sung by a woman who tends to perform dressed much more modestly than the average pop-ish beltress, is the one you’ll find me singing in the car with the windows down. There’s a line in there that’s always gotten me, deep down inside, behind the heart, between the shoulder blades. She says, “it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off.” She’s right, you know, and I think she gets righter the louder I sing. And it’s her voice that’s followed me around these last few (busy) weeks. I can’t say who the devil is—not because I’m being cagey, but because I really don’t feel like I know—but he’s there, clinging. He needs to cut his fingernails.
I haven’t been very still lately. We spent a week in March in Whistler, for our anniversary, skiing with old friends. We flew immediately back east, to celebrate the life of a dear, close family member I’m still not sure how to miss and love and cherish properly. We came home for a few days, then I went back east again, for a conference in New York. There was drinking and eating and learning and exploring and cursing myself for being so bad at New York, but there wasn’t much sleeping.
Then a certain little boy turned three, and there were turtle cupcakes and a Thomas the Train cake and parties and family. Then there was a za’atar-crusted chicken for Passover, and there was Easter breakfast, and now it’s Monday. And as much as I’d like to think I have the power to stop it, I know Tuesday is coming. I’ve felt like I’m fluttering, darting around in a way that feels fabulous and mostly fun but not entirely human.
This week needs to be calmer. This week, I think I just need to shake it all off and start over. Every time my mind wanders, to Pike Place Market Recipes (which comes out in—eek!—just over a month), or to starting Benlysta infusions in a few weeks, or to Graham, or to passing loved ones, or to my sister moving away from Seattle, the song will come back. Maybe these are my devils–not devils, any of them, but things I carry with me all the time these days.
There’s an important distinction here, I think. Shaking off does not equal forgetting. It’s not ignoring, or procrastinating. It’s simply a setting down. An equalizing. It’s looking at your own life as it sits beside you, sipping coffee, rather than carrying it around like oversized luggage. (I don’t know about you, but when I pack for a trip, I stuff every single bag too full, every time.)
It’s looking life in the eye, and listening to what it has to tell you.
It’s letting someone else’s life inspire you, rather than letting it bury you in sadness.
So here’s what’s coming on Hogwash: a look at what’s outside of me, so I can stay inside for a few weeks. A glimpse at Pike Place Market Recipes, and the recipes in it that I’m most excited about—starting with the roast chicken I made for Passover (yogurt sauce and all, Kosher schmosher), one of my favorites (and one of the simplest) in the book.
Come to think of it, roasting chicken is the culinary embodiment of the shake it off policy. It’s starting from scratch. It’s the easiest thing to do—olive oil, salt, and za’atar, smeared with bare hands in the sunlight and roasted in a hot oven—but it’s somehow completely grounding.
And ahhh. Grounded. That’s just what I want to feel.
Although walking into The Souk, on the north end of the Pike Place Market, may be intimidating for those less familiar with Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African foods, it’s actually a haven for ingredients for quick, creative dinners. On its shelves you’ll find za’atar, a dried herb and spice mixture often made with thyme, oregano, savory, dried sumac, salt, and sesame seeds—you may find it lends itself well to other dishes you make regularly, like roasted potatoes. You’ll also find harissa, a North African chili sauce, which lends gentle heat to the ultra-simple yogurt sauce that accompanies the chicken here.
Active time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Equipment: Kitchen string, for tying legs
1 (5-pound) whole chicken, patted dry with paper towels
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons za’atar
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 to 3 teaspoons harissa
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Rub all parts of the chicken with the oil. Place on a roasting rack set over a roasting pan. Blend the salt and za’atar together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the entire chicken with the spice mixture. Fold the wings behind the chicken’s back, tie the legs together, and sprinkle any remaining spice on any bare spots.
Roast the chicken for about 1 hour, or until the breast meat measures 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is dark golden brown before the meat is done, slide a baking sheet onto an oven rack above the chicken.
Meanwhile, stir the yogurt and harissa together in a small bowl, and let sit at room temperature while the chicken roasts.
When the chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve hot, with the yogurt sauce.