Thursday, October 30, 2008

Roasted Chicken Welcomes Fog

Fall is by far my favorite time of year. In fact, this past July, when my activities consisted of barbecues, picnics, beach days and fireworks, I secretly wished that I was curled up by the (environmentally incorrect) fireplace, sipping hot tea and planning my holiday baking schedule.

I waited patiently for months for fall to arrive, swearing off sunburns with SPF 40 and praying that it would not get warmer. Now, it is almost November and I think the sun is playing tricks on me. A snowstorm is sweeping down the East Coast. Even in Paris it is in the 30s, but what was Long Beach's high today? 83 degrees. Yesterday? 92.

You can only imagine how happy I was when, driving home from work this evening, I could see a thick blanket of fog rolling in from the water, almost like a ceiling closing in on land.

The temperature had hardly fallen, and it was still well over 70 in the empty house, but I wasted no time welcoming the chill by roasting a chicken.

This is my favorite way to roast a chicken. I stumbled across the recipe this time last year in Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris, no doubt rescued from the depths of a very scary-looking closet in our dining room soon after we moved into this house. Somehow, every time I make it, I figure out a way to stuff even more lemons inside, and this time I used two large onions instead of one just because I felt like it.

Lemon Chicken with Croutons

1 five-pound roasting chicken
1 large yellow onion, sliced

Olive oil
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
2 lemons, quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

6 cups bread cubes (1 baguette)
Olive oil

Kosher salt

Ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss chopped onion with a little olive oil and spread in a small roasting pan. Wash chicken inside and out, pat dry and place on top of the onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper inside and out. Place lemons inside the cavity and brush the outside with butter.

Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. The key to tender and juicy meat is letting the chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes after it is done. Don't worry if the onions look burnt. They add tons of great flavor!

While the chicken is roasting, toss bread cubes with olive oil until evenly coated. Toss with salt and pepper to taste. Then, add oil to a sauté pan and heat until very hot. When oil is almost smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and add bread cubes. Toss them frequently.

Once browned, place croutons on a serving platter. Carve chicken and place meat and juices over croutons.

Serves 4

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stranger to the Rai-- I mean, Stephen Schwartz

One evening, shortly after my arrival in Paris, my French host mother jovially broke out in song at the dinner table. "I'll bet your family in California never sings at dinner," Mme. Benichou gushed after finishing her ditty. Oh, if only she knew.

I was five years old when I was first exposed to Stephen Schwartz. It was 1989. My mother had a perm and I was likely dressed in neon colors. It was May 1st and I was seated next to my dad on a scratchy orange seat in Servite Theatre. We were there to see Pippin, the very first musical in the very first season of Tri-School Theatre, the program Mom founded earlier that school year. I don't remember much about that night and, to be honest, I couldn't tell you what Pippin was about, but I was enthralled with the song "Corner of the Sky."

The ballad gripped me. I sat on my knees in my seat, leaning forward and slightly to the right so as to see around the giant man in front of me and watched as one much older and wiser (probably 16) sang about wanting something more. I was convinced by the end that I needed my own corner of the sky.

Since then, I have had some other run-ins with Schwartz. At 12, I found myself masquerading as a peacock ascending Noah's Arc in Children of Eden. Four years later saw me as a hippie follower of Jesus in a Woodstock-esque rendition of Godspell. Last March, I was relieved to be a member of the audience of Wicked at Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.

All of these formative experiences, and others, have brought two truths to light: 1. My mom knows how to put on a damn good show, and 2. through no fault of my own, I know Stephen Schwartz better than many. I like him, too, which always helps.

That's why, when Mom called a few weeks ago to tell me that Schwartz was in town and she bought tickets to see his "intimate cabaret" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, I was pretty thrilled. The evening promised a superlative performance. I dug out my black velvet heels and off we went to Samueli Theater, prepared for the opportunity of a lifetime.

The cabaret was, indeed, a treat for the ears. I feel lucky any time I have the opportunity to hear an artist perform his or her own work, whether it be a poet or an author doing a reading, or a musician at a piano playing his original score. I love the insight into the artistic process, and Schwartz wasted no time explaining how "The Wizard and I," from Wicked, came to be. He played three drastically different versions of the song and explained why they didn't make the cut. The trick was, he said, to make the audience wait for the obvious. In this case, the crowd would expect to hear Idina Menzel belt, so he wrote the song to start out slowly and build until she gives them what they want.

Crowd pleasing seemed to be a theme for the evening. Schwartz admitted to disappointment when musicians don't play their "obligatory hits" when they perform. So, with the help of Liz Callaway, Scott Coulter and Debbie Gravitte, he covered a lot of ground thanks to tightly woven medleys fitting everything from "Day by Day" to "Colors of the Wind" into one long and entertaining number. To my own disappointment, not much from Children of Eden was featured and Debbie Gravitte's execution of "Defying Gravity" was downright dark, not at all the spectacular, soaring anthem that ends act one of Wicked. Callaway made up for any shortfalls, though, with her stirring performance of "Meadowlark," adding to the "vocal pyrotechnics" of the show.

The most memorable scene, however, came after the standing ovation and encore. Stephen Schwartz and friends finished the night in the lobby, selling their own music and signing autographs at tables buried behind a small but disorderly crowd. Mom and I gathered our courage and worked our way up to the front, only to be found speechless in front of Liz Callaway. She sat patiently unwrapping the CD that we bought from her so she could sign it. Awkward and adoring, Mom faltered, trying to tell her what a huge fan she is. I followed, stammering and explaining just why we might be fans ("She sang 'Meadowlark' at her own cabaret" I blurted out, referring to my mother). Callaway's gracious response endeared her in our hearts forever.

By the time we got to Schwartz, we had regrouped. Mom reclaimed our dignity with shoptalk about Children of Eden and I claimed my newly autographed program with a word or two expressing my admiration.

Moral of that story: Have a plan before you find yourself in front of talented people whom you admire.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Seattle Sunday

Last week, I failed to mention that one of my very favorite things to do is spend a Sunday in Seattle poking around the Fremont Market. Would you believe that, the other day, the stars aligned and I was able to do just that with one of my very favorite people, my friend Alison?

It was a gorgeous day and everyone knew it. The Burke-Gilman Trail was teeming with bikers, rollerbladers, dog-walkers, runners, skateboarders and hippie-ish wanderers dressed in oddly-striped leggings, and colorful skirts (we were in Fremont, after all).

Alison needed some "new" furniture for her apartment and I tagged along, remembering my own Fremont find--a rather large, unnecessarily heavy whitewashed desk with lots of drawer space that saw me through the writing of my thesis over a year ago. Over the summer, that desk made its way down Interstate 5 with some boxes and a mattress, which were then stacked unceremoniously in my parents garage. They remain there waiting for a new life, but I digress.

This was Alison's day to find furnishings. We strolled North 34th Street, avoiding clip-board carrying campaigners wearing goofy glasses and hats, and tasting samples of Golden Delicious and Gala apples and the last peaches of summer from Wenatchee. We passed orchid growers, Venus fly traps and the recycled furniture vendor from whom I bought a dresser to match my desk. I could hear his faint European accent as we walked by and I remembered him telling me "not to worry" in a dreamy voice when he dropped off my buy a few years ago. I had locked myself out of my apartment with the dresser in the hallway and the $10 that I owed him on the wrong side of the door (with my cell phone and keys).

Alison examined boxes and chests, tables and cabinets looking for adequate storage and a certain je ne sais quoi to add to her Capital Hill studio. In the flea market portion of the bazaar, inside a dimly-lit parking garage, we both poured over "deluxe junk" and haggled over the price of a nifty baroque picture frame with mesh in place of the picture to display jewelry.

We finished the bargain-hunting portion of the day by making a deal with one enthusiastic vendor for a pair of matching aqua-green oak pieces for less than their sticker prices. Soon we drove off toward Ballard in search of the Ballard farmers' market with Alison's car full of good finds.

We never did find the Ballard market. I'm pretty sure we missed it. We may have budgeted our money well in Fremont, but we didn't do the same for time. That's okay, though, because it was the perfect day to visit the Ballard Locks after a hearty bowl of clam chowder. Alison had never seen this nautical wonder and I was happy to re-acquaint myself with how it works (the Ballard lock system allows all kinds of boats to pass from the fresh-water Lake Washington ship canal to the salt-water Puget Sound).

We saw all kinds of boats waiting to pass--power boats out for a day cruise, sailboats, cargo ships and commercial fishing boats returning with catch from Alaska. We watched wistfully as kids rolled down the grassy slopes on either side of the canal--arms, legs and hair flying.

Then, it was time to leave. We crossed back over the foot-bridge where I snapped this Dantesque photo of our pedestrian shadows projected on the seawall below us.

That was my well-spent Seattle Sunday.