It’s not necessarily that it’s all that cold outside. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I pulled off an absolutely adorable sleeveless minidress with open-toed stilettos to dinner the other night…
It’s just that last week it rained. No, it poured. And pouring rain, because it is the only thing that forces us to wear sleeves, closed-toe shoes, dare I say boots? Yes I dare, so there “boots,” and stay indoors in this otherwise paradise city, finally made it, no really finally, it finally finally made the season actually really feel like… fall!
Except that it’s calendarily the dead of winter.
And if last weekend felt like fall, then this weekend was a bright, sunshiny, Indian summer with temperatures clocking in at 90 degrees.
Ok, I exaggerate. 85 degrees.
Ok, seriously, even when I’m not exaggerating, Mother Nature seems to be trying to make a point with a January high of 77 degrees, though I’m not sure what that point is. I get that LA is the Eternal Sunshine if You Don’t Mind, but back-to-back bursts of sequentially reversed fall then summer in the middle of winter means that I have to wear a bikini and Uggs while oven-braising a cherry-nectarine stew.
Do you see why I might seem a little schizophrenic lately? No? Oh, just you wait and see us.
I hate doing this, bringing up the weather, because I have this thing — a psychotic, contradicting contradictory philosophy — when it comes to talking about the weather. I’m not talking about TheWeather, about which I have a very clear sense, and for which I permanently suffer residence in LA. TheWeather is and always should be: clear skies, full sunshine, 74 degrees, gentle breeze. Little, fluffy, clouds optional.
I am talking about Talking About the Weather (“the act of”), because talking about the weather in LA is like remarking that the sky is blue.
(Wow, that worked out a little too well, yes?)
It’s obvious. It’s cliche. It’s predictable – and if the weather in LA is predictable, talking about it is even more so because weather still can vary unpredictably from 65 degrees to 85 degrees, but talking about the weather is something you do no matter what the temperature.
Weather is, uh, the weather equivalent of traffic. Or parking. Or detoxing.
The thing is, I also don’t want to talk about the weather because it’s exactly what my Dad trainwashed us to do when we were little kids. Dad warned us that we should never, never, no not ever, engage in conversations about politics, religion or sex, and that we should only ever talk about weather because it is the only truly neutral topic that won’t get you fired. Or arrested. Or, you know, to make it relevant to me as a 4-year-old, kicked out of kindergarten. And while on the outside I am the ever-obedient first-born daughter frightened into smiling silence, on the inside, I want to be fearlessly rebelliously George Michael and talk about sex! Religion! Gossip and any number of other traditionally taboo topics.
So this is that contradictory contradiction, i.e. frustratingly consistent, thing. I don’t want to talk about the weather and…I don’t want to talk about the weather.
(I also don’t want to talk politics, but that’s because that shit bores me to tears, Daddy issues or not.)
But I have to talk about the weather because I only wrote one substantial summer post last year and this weather? I’m taking this as Mother Nature’s giving me a second chance to catch up with myself.
(Ooooh, so that’s her point.)
My sole post last summer was about watermelon, which is always the first thing that explodes into my mind when I think of summer. Literally, explodes because haven’t you ever played slippery watermelon?
The post was basically a memory of childhood summers in San Antonio, when I first took to snapping the tips off all the cut watermelon slices rendering perfect pink triangles into jagged-topped trapezoids. My memories of Texas summers are like the summers themselves: bright, hot, colorful, loud, and fun because it wasn’t just summer, it was summer vacation, totally separate and different from the rest of the year, in school. My memory of my later childhood years isn’t quite as vivid. I spent middle school summer vacations in Michigan and Ohio, where summer was a distinguishable season because outside the sky was different, the sun was different, the temperature was hot, but those those three calendar months began to fade into the rest of the year.
During summer, I went to summer school.
And studied for the psat.
And went to computer camp.
And these days during “summer?”
I work on my computer in a temperature-controlled home-office a minimum of 12 hours a day, almost never experiencing the sunlight except for the sliver of blue sky I can see between the oversize whiteboards hanging in the only place that can accommodate their size, over my windows.
Summer doesn’t really exist when you have no vacation and seasonless seasons.
Which explains why cooking a very warm, wintry Coq au Vin for the first time ever during last summer made sense to no one me. Who stands at the stove for hours cooking every component of a dish separately, then keeps the stove on, not only slow braising an entire chicken in a pot of red wine and stock, but energy inefficiently heating a house that has the air conditioning running to counteract the “sweltering” 80 degree August temperatures outside?!
And it made perfect sense to me to make Coq au Vin again. Same weather, different recipe. And though this time it it’s still not temperaturally appropriate, it is seasonally appropriate.
Winter-Summer Coq au Vin
adapted from a recipe by Julia Child
½ cup lardons
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 3-pound chicken cut into parts, very thoroughly patted dry with paper towels
¼ cup Cognac
2 cups red wine
2 cups brown chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, smashed
salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1 tablespoon tomato paste
2-4 tablespoons olive oil for cooking onions and mushrooms
16 to 20 small white onions, peeled
1 pound fresh mushrooms, trimmed, washed, and halved (or quartered)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened
fresh chopped parsley
Sauté lardons in 2 tablespoons oil in a large pan with high sides or heavy-bottomed casserole until lightly browned. Remove lardons to a separate plate and leave fat in pan.
Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
Heat fat in pan to moderately hot, add chicken, not crowding pan; turn frequently to brown on all sides. Pour in the Cognac, bring to a simmer, then ignite Cognac with a match. Let flame a minute, swirling pan to burn off alcohol. Extinguish with pan cover.
Pour the red wine into the pan and add just enough stock to completely cover the chicken pieces. Add cooked lardons, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic (and tomato paste if you’re using it). Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover pan, and simmer slowly for about 30 minutes or until the chicken meat is tender.
While the chicken is cooking, heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat.
Wipe out pan. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for several minutes until lightly browned. Add water to halfway up onions. Cover pan and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until onions are tender when pierce with a knife.
When the chicken is done cooking, remove from the pan to a platter, leaving the cooking liquid in the pan. Increase heat to high and boil the cooking until approximately 2 cups of liquid remains.
In a small bowl, blend the 3 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons softened butter into a smooth paste. Whisk the flour/butter mixture into the approximately 2 cups hot cooking liquid. Simmer and stir for a minute or two until the sauce has thickened.
Add the chicken back to the casserole along with the browned mushrooms and onions. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and thyme.