Some days I find myself going along in a bit of a daze, going through the motions of the day and night while thinking about the details of each task but never looking up, not noticing or thinking about the bigger picture. Then something comes along and wakes me up from my fog. That happened the day Sarah Jessica Parker liked my skillet roast chicken.
This happened, of course, in our virtual world, but one that so closely intertwines with our reality some days that they seem to blur. It all started when my husband and I had friends over one Saturday night for dinner and I was craving roast chicken but bored with the way I always make it. So I turned to the Interwebs for inspiration and found Mark Bittman’s recipe for skillet roast chicken. Those who know me—and more likely, those who have just met me—know about my obsession with my cast-iron skillet. “You can toast bread in it! You can char veggies in it! You can make perfect pizza in it!” Apparently, you can also roast a whole chicken in it. Brilliant. So I stuffed a Meyer lemon in the chicken’s cavity (this is California, after all) along with a few cloves of peeled garlic, covered it with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh herb sprigs, and a few thin slices of Meyer lemon, heated my skillet for about 20 minutes at 500F degrees, threw my prepared chicken onto the piping-hot skillet and basta! Straight to the oven it went to cook to a dark golden and crispy brown. I let it rest for 15 minutes (side note: my chef friend Andy in London lets his chicken rest for an hour, and since then I became a huge believer that red meat is not the only meat that benefits from resting time, when the juices that are stirred up during cooking can be reabsorbed back into the meat), then hacked into it with kitchen sheers, and it was perfect. Crispy skin, juicy meat, and bright and flavorful all around.
The next day, I took to Instagram to post said chicken. Later than most “look what I’m doing at this very moment!” posts on the ‘Gram, but sometimes that happens. (Just because I cooked it yesterday doesn’t make it any less delicious or shareable, in my humble opinion at least.) I can often be found rambling on about having a hashtag strategy or using hashtags and other tagging elements of Instagram to build and grow a brand on social media—to my clients, to friends, to anyone who will listen—but this time I actually remembered my own advice and tagged Mark Bittman in my post. A few days later when I was waiting to board a flight from Seattle to San Francisco, Instagram told me that not only had Mark Bittman liked my post, but he had also commented, “Just beautiful.” I admittedly became a little short of breath. Pathetic maybe, but genuinely excited definitely. I smiled the entire flight. But, it gets better.
A few days later, when I was casually minding my Instagram business, it told me that Mark had re-grammed my chicken! (Mom – that means he copied the picture on my account and put it on his account, too.) He has more than 52,000 followers, so his declaration of “So beautiful! Rg @whatisinmypurse” was monumental for my little Instagram account that count. Some new people found me, a lot of people saw my chicken, and I felt (for the first time in a very, very long time) successful. Silly, maybe. Getting exciting over an acclaimed photo of a chicken on an app is perhaps a bit trite, but as a recovering corporate executive turned aspiring food stylist, cookbook editor, and food writer, it was a big deal. That’s when one of the biggest differences between my old life and new life became more clear—the measurement of success is completely different. It was much more objective in my old life. In a corporation, when you are running teams and running projects, the proof is in the numbers: Profit and loss, year-over-year increases, revenue growth percentages, etc. etc. In a creative field like the one I’m in now, the proof is in the pudding, quite literally. Does it look good? Does it taste good? Are the directions clear? Is the photo inspiring? So comparing the two, or more commonly, trying to apply objective KPIs to a subjective medium is quite near impossible. But that’s what I was doing! That was the world I came from and that was the world I knew. It slowly started to sink in that I might actually know what I’m doing in this new life. But, it gets better.
A few days later, something sparked me to check on Mark’s post, mostly (let’s be honest) to see how many people had liked it. And then there it was: “liked by sarahjessicaparker” and below that, her comment, “Want now!” I almost fell over. (OK, I actually did fall over.) I have admired Sarah Jessica Parker since Girls Just Want to Have Fun came out, and then became a huge fan of hers from the beginning of the Sex and the City days–and still am. And then, she liked my chicken. I told a few people whom I thought would appreciate this cycle of events, and received a battery of congratulatory hoorays and cheers and awesome kudos from friends. But it took a little bit of time to really sink in. Through whatever webs in the social sphere that connected my chicken to SJP, the fact is that it happened, she saw it, she liked it, and she said so. Granted, she might have scanned the caption quickly and not realized that Mark didn’t cook this exact chicken. Who knows. What matters to me is that I cooked a chicken that made her take pause, piqued her interest, and lead her to take action. So I can finally say to myself, I cooked an f—ing awesome-looking chicken. I cook a lot of other awesome-looking (and tasting) dishes, but I rarely give myself credit for it. My husband can attest to this first hand. (As an aside, his response to SJP’s comment is perhaps the sweetest part of this whole story.) I should have been saying this to myself all along. But sometimes it takes someone without any bias, who is completely removed from the situation, to turn on the light bulb. It snapped me out of my fog.
So where do I go from here? For starters, I’ll be cooking chickens in my cast-iron skillet moving forward. And I will continue to sing its praises to anyone who will listen. (The latest innocent victims were a lovely couple we met at a wedding in NJ a few weeks ago.) And I will try to remind myself that I’m good at what I’m doing, and even if there are no daily, weekly, or monthly reports that tell me so, I can tell myself so. Why am I sharing this story with the rest of the world? Because I suspect that there are many of us who don’t give ourselves enough credit, who feel badly saying we are good at something, who feel that it’s obnoxious to cheerlead for yourself because society or specific people in our lives have made us feel that way. Or we’ve made ourselves feel that way. Whatever the reason, I’m promising myself to give myself more credit for my achievements and celebrate my successes. In fact, I might do just that tonight with a big piece of cake—and a skillet roast chicken.
Skillet Roast Chicken
Adapted from Mark Bittman
1 whole chicken (about 3 to 4 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 lemons (preferably Meyer)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
About 6 sprigs fresh thyme (or other hearty herb, such as rosemary or oregano)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put a large cast-iron skillet on a low rack in the oven and heat the oven to 500F degrees.
Prick one lemon with a fork or paring knife all over. Place it in the cavity of the chicken, along with the garlic cloves and 3 herb sprigs. Cut the other lemon into slices about ¼-inch thick, and set aside. Rub the chicken all over with the oil and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.
When the oven and skillet are hot (about 20 minutes), carefully put the chicken on the skillet, breast side up. Place the lemon slices and remaining herb sprigs on top of the chicken.
Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350F degrees. Continue to roast until the chicken is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh reads 155 to 165 degrees, about an hour total depending on your oven. Occasionally use a large spoon to spoon the drippings over the chicken during cooking (this will make the skin even crispier).
Remove the skillet from the oven and tip the pan to let the juices flow from the chicken’s cavity into the pan. Spoon the juices over the top of the chicken. Transfer the chicken to a platter, cover with foil, and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Carve and serve.
(I like to serve this chicken with oven-roasted new potatoes and a big seasonal salad.)