Cooking Up a New Plan
(Recipe and more photos for Saffron Chicken follow!)
In cinematic fashion, I am running down a corridor at a downtown convention center to get to my first session of the conference. It feels more like an airplane hangar, and I am overwhelmed with making my connection on time. Although I do not know it then, I am also taxiing down the corridor of my life, which is about to take an unexpected detour.
Lois Lowry is supposed to speak, and I will not miss it for all the free books in the world. I promised my students I will report back; we have just finished reading two of her novels. I slip into a seat at the front of the room, the podium an arm’s length away–I’m all too eager for her wisdom.
Then I hear the announcement: Lois Lowry has fallen and she can’t get up, but she will be okay. Instead, we will hear from Laurie Halse Anderson. I’m crestfallen, but only momentarily. Laurie glides onto the stage in a flowery dress, her strong arms grasp the microphone, and the white streak in her hair falls over her eyes. She begins to speak, her words the song that will become my soundtrack, the motif that will play in the background of my scenes for the next few weeks. I am hovering above the room watching a movie of my life.
She asks the audience, a small army of English teachers, “How many of you are working on a book?” Everyone raises their hand. Everyone.
I am with my people, I think, I am one of them. In my mind, I freeze the frame of this moment.
Then, she asks: “How many of you wish you had time to finish that book?” All hands go up again, including my own.
I no longer want to be one of them. I vow to make more time to write.
She compliments teachers. She tells us that teachers birth readers and writers. That we will never know the total effect we have had on our students because years go by, and the work we have done is cumulative.
I picture us, no longer a small army of teachers, now marching in our red robes and bonnets to perform our duties, to populate the world with readers and writers, being farmed out like handmaids to make other people’s dreams come true.
She also tells us that books save lives. I’m saving lives! I imagine myself kneeling with defibrillator paddles in hand, positioned over a student’s heart, yelling: CLEAR! Except when I look down, they’re not paddles, they are books, and when I look closer, the face is my own: the person I am reviving is me. The soundtrack skids to halt as the needle scratches the record.
The next three days of the conference are tinged with sadness. The vibrant colors of the film take on a sepia tone, and my life plans seem out of date. Sadness turns to anger: Why can’t I make more time to write? Anger turns to motivation: I will make more time to write!
And I do. I write and write and write.
For me, writing and cooking are connected. Both are process oriented and take patience if one wants to improve. Aside from this food blog, the characters in my stories often have a scene or two where they, warrior-like, wield Santoku knives when they feel powerless, and disrobe beets of their dingy exterior to reveal a jewel-like interior.
I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve been cooking a lot. And saving up recipes to share with you.
Here is one of my new favorites. This makes a great dinner for company, and it is just as good for a weeknight meal. Did I mention you can prep it ahead? Well, you can. And that makes all the difference when you need time to pursue other passions. You can let it marinate in the fridge for maximum flavor for a day or two. Or you can cook it right away.
Saffron Chicken with Onions
- 2 to 2 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (I use this brand and it often goes on sale. It comes in 20 ounce packages and I use two: Just BARE Chicken.)
- 1 or 2 sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced (Use 2 if you love onions and 1 if you only like them. You can use any kind of onion you have on hand.)
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (It doesn’t make it spicy, just gives it flavor, but you can omit it if you want. Or double it if you want a little kick.)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (It seems like a lot, but I promise it is just right. It has a lot of work to do.)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon saffron (leave it fluffy and don’t pack it into the spoon), or one big pinch if you find it hard to measure (I get mine at Trader Joe’s)
- ¼ cup lemon juice (One or two juicy lemons should do it)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Combine all ingredients on a large baking sheet and arrange in a single layer with onions around and on top of the chicken. (If you are making it ahead, just cover it with foil. Or you can marinate it in a large Ziploc bag and just dump it out onto the baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer when you are ready to cook it).
- Bake at 400℉ for 35 to 40 minutes until the edges of onions and chicken just begin to brown. Serve over rice.*You can halve this recipe. You can also double or triple it.
** You can use boneless skinless chicken breast, if you prefer. But reduce the cooking time to 30-35 minutes.