a few thoughts on inspiration…

…which is not the same as a plan – y’all know there’s never a plan, right?

Briny, savory, sweet and bathed in garlic, Chicken Marbella is both a festive crowd-pleaser and a perfect comfort food. It’s neither new nor innovative (in fact, it screams 1980) but I faithfully return to these perfectly matched flavors and never change a thing. It should come as no surprise that Chicken Marbella has been in heavy rotation in this house since early 2020.

I’m often inspired by sheer taste memory alone, but sometimes it’s reading an online recipe or seeing a beautifully-styled dish in a movie. Sometimes it’s a seductive waft as I walk by a restaurant (remember those?) or a stunning photo in a magazine. But sometimes inspiration comes as a good old-fashioned craving. This week it happened to be olives. No plan, just gobsmacked desire.

Castelvetrano olives, capers, prunes, thighs and a head of garlic.

When I first started posting my kitchen adventures on social media, friends would ask how I came up with new ideas night after night. For fun I would change it up every time and say it was boredom or hunger or revenge or insomnia or spite or perhaps an unresolved Type A issue.

But we all know there were serious outside forces at work as well. When weeks of pandemic confinement turned into months, it became harder to hide my claustrophobic angst from the 3 grown men in the house, one whom should have been working elsewhere from 7am-7pm. The other two shouldn’t have even been there at all.

So I sat myself down and had a little talk – we are living in a new reality which you cannot control no, no you can’t so find a way to make it work yes, yes you can and leap forward in spite of it because spite is also an inspiration. If Taylor Swift could crank out an entire album during lockdown and Kim Kardashian could pass the baby bar, I could make a damn lasagna or two. And that was the very undignified start of a self-help project which progressed quickly into an actual “thing.” My awesome, delicious new thing.

A few of my challenges inspirations for competitive therapeutic cooking dominance fulfillment:

Now it was clear I had to exercise both mind and body, so I started walking a couple of hours every day. That became a private 2-hour therapy session that cleared my head and allowed me to indulge in my kitchen experiments with little guilt or consequence. By the start of 2021 I was logging 8 miles a day and had an oh-so-sexy farmer’s tan to prove it. But then in September I was harshly reminded that I’m not invincible. My walking days are over, but I’m finally out of the boot and still happy playing in my kitchen. The “therapy” that was accomplished by walking has now become writing this blog. You’re welcome.

If you’ve ever had Plantar Fasciitis you know how ignoring a little soreness quickly rewards you with 10 weeks in a fancy new boot.

But back to those olives…

The recipe by The Barefoot Contessa is an easy update of the wildly popular Silver Palate Cookbook staple. Honestly, there is little I can add or amend. Both are fairly straightforward and nearly foolproof, however I do not butcher whole chickens myself; I’ve always used 8-10 chicken thighs with great success. And to be fair, Chicken Marbella actually does benefit from an overnight marinade. Some might call that planning; I call it disappointment. Other than that, note that it calls for a head, not a clove of garlic, so be prepared for a very garlicky evening as the chicken bakes. Happily this week the garlic covered up the chorizo that covered up the Indian that covered up the Febreze that covered up the tempura. Yes, I’ve become the old lady who swallowed a fly.

For nearly two years we have become victims of wildly deprived senses. This fixes it.

I’m sure we can agree that the pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in all of us. If you feel it’s more the latter, do yourself a favor and find something, literally anything that makes you smile and feed your soul with a little bit of that inspiration. Then go for a walk.

inspiration cheat sheet

  • Hankerings – pay attention, they matter.
  • Visual imagination – sometimes I practically photograph the meal in my mind and work backwards to that end.
  • Competition – I love to see a beautiful, exotic dish that seems beyond my reach. Makes me work harder.
  • A new toy – sometimes there is no substitute for the proper equipment. A stand mixer, an enameled cast iron Dutch oven and an authentic wok have rocked my January.
  • Media – a reference in the New York Times’ daily email usually leads to a Google-iscious research hour with my morning coffee. I may not use the actual recipe, but it often lights the fire.
  • Social media- an Instagram post, more than Facebook or Twitter, is also enough to send me on a quest. And these are imagery-driven urges, having neither tasted nor smelled anything. I guess in my little world it all goes together.
  • Making friends – butchers, produce managers, fellow shoppers and stock people at the local grocery stores and farmers markets always have nuggets to share. Plus, simply not being a bitch is an impossibly low standard.

the rest of the week

One thought on “a few thoughts on inspiration…

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