by Steve Bivans
It was spring.
Ok, let me qualify that. It was ‘spring’ in Minnesota, which is really not the same thing.
You see, in Minnesnowta, ‘spring’ is a nasty thing. And that’s if it actually warms up. If the temp tops freezing, then you get the slush, and eventually mud. Huge puddles of melted, black ice filled with the garbage of 6 months of littering. You name it, someone has thrown it out of their car window, or it was blown out of their overfull garbage can by the gale force winds of January, February, and March.
If Old Man Winter decides to hang around like Cousin Eddie–which is common it seems–then you get to gaze out your window to see gray skies and a frozen landscape, in April, hell, even May. The year before last it was May. Shit, we got a tiny bit of snow last May too. It’s depressing as hell, especially for a Hobbit, like me, from the South Farthing, where the daffodils are in bloom, the grass is already green, and the mercury is already up into the 70s and 80s.
So, it was spring: gray, bleak, snowy, slushy, spring. I was about to go postal, and not in the good way—is there a good way? Cabin fever had long been past, I would say I left it in the dust, but there’s no dust in Minnesnowta in winter, or ‘spring.’ Somewhere back in January sat Cabin Fever. We had moved on to new territories of incarceration—and that’s what it’s like up here in the winter. Oh yeah, we go to work every day, things don’t actually stop because the weather sucks, or nothing would ever get done. No, we don’t sit in our ‘cabin’ all winter, but for most of us–who don’t cross-country ski, or ice fish, or play pond hockey–we spend the majority of our time indoors.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually like winter, just not six or seven fuckin’ months of it. It’s kind of like being in N.C., except in reverse. Down there we get six months of summer—and not the good kind. No, it’s the kind where in May it’s in the 80s, if not 90s already, which quickly transition in to melt-your-face-off 100s, with humidity of 200%. At least there are plenty of ‘skeeters to exsanguinate you, which should drop your body temperature, you’d think, but it doesn’t. Nothing does; you just sweat, and scratch yer ‘skeeter bites till they bleed, or they would if the little vamps hadn’t already drained you of all your fluids. Or instead of scratching, you poke your finger nail into the swollen area, and make little ‘crosses’ in them. Do you do that? I do.
And it stays that way sometimes until almost Halloween, if not longer. Hell, I’ve picked ripe tomatoes off of vines in November! You ain’t gonna find a ‘mater growing up here in Yankeeland in November, that’s for damned sure.
No, I like winter. I love snow, I love cold. I hate sweating, actually. No, it’s not the cold or the snow that drives me postal up here; it’s the lack of sunlight. What’s the official color of MN? Gray. Slate gray, like battleship gray. Just gray. Gray skies, gray snow, gray trees, gray houses—people for some reason love to paint their houses the most depressing colors up here—gray coats, sweaters, hats. Gray. Ugh.
Now, if I were a rich man—and I’m not—I would get on a plane and fly out of here sometime in January or February, and not come back till at least late April, or May. Where would I go? Anywhere with a beach and sand, and don’t forget SUN, and since I’m a Hobbit, lots of kick ass food.
But since I’m always too broke to travel to such places, I just experiment with the food and flavors of the world. So, in my abject poverty, staring out the dirty windows at the bleak excuse for ‘spring’ in Minnesnowta, dreaming of white Mediterranean beaches, fresh olive oil and magnums of wine, I decided that if I couldn’t bring my fat ass to the bonny blue waters of those distant shores, I would bring the shores to ME!
I decided that I wanted to throw a Mediterranean party, once the temperatures came back up outside, but first I needed to come up with some recipes of ‘authentic’ Mediterranean flavors. Since I like spicy stuff, I concentrated on places like Spain and Turkey, even North Africa. First I honed in on Turkey—I don’t know why. Everyone else seems to have had it in their sights: Alexander, the Romans, the Persians, the Seleucids, the Seljuks, the Crusaders and finally, the Ottomans in 1453, when they breached the walls of the great Constantinople with their massive cannonballs and changed its name forever to Istanbul. So why not I? I don’t have any cannons, but I’m pretty mean with a spatula.
So I did what any modern cook would do, when they don’t know jack shit about a particular ethnic cuisine; I did a bit of ‘research’ on Google to get the gist of Turkish cooking! I look up recipes sometimes, but mostly I’m looking for the common ingredients: what kinds of meat do they eat–I’m a carnivore; what spices do they use? The following grilled Turkish chicken dish is what I came up with. It was pretty f’n amazing, as I’m sure y’all will agree. Hey, I don’t believe in false modesty; it’s bullshit, and I ain’t fond of cow excrement. That being said, BON APPETIT! or whatever they say in Istanbul, or was that Constantinople? I guess it’s nobody’s business but the Turks.
Stuff You Need:
300 lbs (6 bags) of white play sand: (optional: DO NOT add to food recipe). If the snow has melted, you can dump it in the yard somewhere, and sink your toes into it. If it’s still snowing, you can either dump it on your front porch—like I did once—or get one of those small, kiddie pools, and put it in there, on your porch, or in your dinning room. Yeah, you get sand on your floors. So what. Just pretend you’re actually at the beach, where sand is everywhere. That’s kind of the point. Make sure to incarcerate your Viking Pirate Kitties or they will leave buried treasure for you to step in.
Ok, the food stuff:
- 1 whole chicken (or 8 pieces, bone in): Get organic, or naturally raised chickens. Regular chickens are raised in nasty ways these days. Get some free range, locally produced chickens. They taste waaaay better anyway. And they’re cheaper than a plane ticket to Istanbul.
- 2 tbsp Aleppo pepper flakes: (You can get it at Penzey’s Spices, or substitute red pepper flakes, though they ain’t the same thing. Aleppo is smokier, and it’s Turkish.)
- 1 cup Greek yogurt (The plain kind. I’m not sure what makes yogurt Greek. I don’t reckon it’s the same thing that makes adult relations that way)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp red wine
- Juice of one small lemon
- garlic- 4 cloves peeled/minced
- tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
- dash sea salt,okay, a couple of healthy dashes
- dash black pepper, very healthy dashes or three, or ten…
- Marinate the chicken: In a bowl, add the Aleppo pepper and about 2 tbsp of water and mix into a paste. Let it sit for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- Then, with kitchen sheers or a very sharp chef’s knife, spatchcock the chicken.
That means to cut along one side of the backbone of the chicken, but I love the word spatchcock because you get to say the word ‘cock’ and get away with it without getting your face slapped or suffering the evil eye of someone’s grandmother.
- Then spread the chicken out like a butterfly in a large casserole dish or cake pan. You’ll need to put it face up, that means with the bird boobs looking up at you, and then spread it out flat in the dish. You’ll have to press down on the breast-bone to break it.
Otherwise it won’t flatten out.
- Pour the marinade over whole chicken (or pieces) to cover, refrigerate for at least 3 hours (24 is better).
- Fire up the charcoal: Yes, you can grill this on a gas grill. It will still be very good, but there is no substitute for the flavor of charcoal,
and I’m talking about real LUMP charcoal, not the briquets that are full of chemicals, fillers and sand, yes, sand. Put the sand on your beach, not in your grill. You’re paying for the weight of that sand, not for something that will actually burn. Get natural lump charcoal, and you’ll thank me later.
- When you dump the hot coals into the grill, make sure that you keep them all on one side of the grill or the other. You want a hot side, and a coolerside with no coals at all. You’re gonna make use of both sides to grill this bird. I do this in my large smoker grill, but any grill can work. it would be best if it has a lid, but it could be done on an open grill, too. It will take longer and require more charcoal, most likely.
- Grill for a short time over high,
direct heat (till browned well), actually you’re gonna get some flames and some blackened char on the chicken. Trust me, this is what ya want.
- After you get some good char on the top and bottom (flip once), then move the flaming bird to the cooler part of the grill for about 45 min to an hour (till interior temp is 160 degrees).
This works best on a large charcoal grill or smoker grill, where you can have indirect heat, though you can make do with any wood/charcoal fire by banking the coals on one side of the grill. I would use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature in the breast (not against the bone). When it reaches 160, remove the bird, let it sit for at least 5 minutes before you pull or cut the pieces apart, then divide as you choose.
- Eat: You can now cut the whole chicken into parts, or eat the whole thing yourself, and let everyone else eat Brussels sprouts or something. But I guess that’s not really practicing good, Hobbit hospitality. Throw the Dwarves a leg or two.