Is it weird for this post to be inspired by a psychotic?
I could have told you that it was inspired by the beauty of Spring and my overflowing herb box, currently bursting with the purple pom poms of chive plants, thyme, rosemary and sage. That would be true. It would also be the politically correct reason to write about a Spring gremolata roasted chicken.
That reason, to me, would be lovely but mundane. So, I'll tell you the other version of the story, which is that I'm mad about our local library, which lets me check out all sorts of books, from a visual explanation by Isaac Asimov about what happens after you flush the toilet (for the three-year-old in the house, of course) to guides on traditional fermentation methods (for me).
About three weeks ago, just because I suddenly thought of it (as in: "Why haven't I ever read that? I never saw the movie either."), I decided to borrow a copy of Susannah Kaysen's Girl Interrupted. I had no expectations, just a few vague images of young Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in my mind, as I ran the bar code under the blue light of the scanner at the self-checkout desk.
I ended up being completely surprised by this book.
Just as a side note, once you have been educated and trained as a mental health clinician and then spend many years actually practicing, there are certain ways of thinking that fortunately or unfortunately become innate to you. I've heard people, teachers in my academic program in fact, refer to this as THINKING PSYCHOLOGICALLY.
You might be talking to someone at a barbecue, someone you've heard things about, and based on those things, along with your actual interaction begin wondering what is really going on with this person. What could his or her diagnosis be? According to the DSM-IV TR (the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual), that is. I suppose this might be the reason why, when I used to tell people who didn't really know me or had just met me, that I was a therapist, they would either start asking me about a "friend" of theirs, or back away silently, while tightly gripping their cheese burgers.
Okay, so this is just to say that I still have a little bit of that thinking psychologically problem going on most of the time, even after not practicing as a clinician for three years now.
But let's get back to Girl, Interrupted, shall we?
The writing is lean, truthful and spot on. Whether Ms. Kaysen is describing a teenage girl having a breakdown after she finally realizes that half her face has been burned off or the suffocating lack of fresh air in inmate rooms, she doesn't flinch. She tells us about being a teen in a terribly alienating place and lonely situation with the clear eyes of time's passage and much empathy.
Even more, she is able to reflect on the entirety of two years spent in a mental institution in the sixties and its long-term effects on her life. Here's one: she couldn't get a telephone line installed in her new apartment and her former psychiatrist had to write a note to the phone company explaining that she was no longer crazy and in fact, reliable. At the same time, she still questions her version of the events. Was this how it really happened? Is her memory faulty? Was she just experiencing a more intense version of adolescence? Does she sound crazy after all?
There is a strange, sad and laugh-out-loud section earlier on in the book about her fellow inmate, Daisy, who only makes temporary, seasonal visits to the ward:
Since I Google nearly everything these days, I couldn't help Googling Daisy. I found women and girls floating within the Internet vespers making suppositions about what was wrong with Daisy, what kind of diagnosis she might've had.
As I was immersed in their questions, I suddenly remembered one of my first supervisors at the psychoanalytic site where I trained telling us that psychotics often don't like to bathe. According to her, this was because they fear that they are washing themselves away, everything disappearing down the drain. Being dirty, having the concrete sensation of smelling one's own odor could hold together a person in psychosis, our unflappable supervisor explained. I remembered thinking about the strangeness of that and trying to understand it.
To me, it seems Daisy's chicken holds a similar function as the concept of a psychotic foregoing showering. Even in the parallel universe that is psychosis, the human instinct is to preserve the self that anchors us to actual reality. Daisy does that through the basics of the body: food, eating and yes, elimination. In a sense, the chicken keeps Daisy intact and alive, held together as some form of a human being.
So for those making claims that food is more than merely food, well. They are quite right. Food is memory, emotional sustenance. Food is what holds us together individually and communally. It reminds us that we are indeed bona fide human beings.
Daisy's Gremolata Roasted Chicken
The question is, did Daisy's mother have some magical method of roasting chickens that made them entirely irresistible and worthy of caresses? Did she smother them in butter or oil? Stuff them with herbs? Unless one of us is able to speak directly to her, I suppose we will never really know. This very simple recipe delivers a crispy-skinned version which I hope Daisy would have liked.
A 3 1/2 to 4 lb. chicken, hopefully organic and free-range
1/2 cup minced Italian parsley
Zest of one lemon, finely minced
3 tablespoons finely minced young garlic, white and light green parts only (or 1-2 cloves garlic)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee
Additional kosher salt and pepper
Additional parsley and young garlic greens, optional
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Rinse chicken. Pat dry and truss if you wish. Season all sides generously with salt and pepper, making sure to season the cavity as well.
Make your gremolata by combining the parsley, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper with clarified butter or ghee. Gently loosen chicken breast skin from the cavity edge using your fingertips. In the pockets you have created, one on each side, stuff with the gremolata.
Quarter the lemon and stuff as many pieces as you can fit into the cavity of the chicken. If there is additional room, add some parsley stems and if you have any, garlic greens are nice as well.
Place chicken legs-first into your hot oven. Allow to roast for 50-60 minutes or until the innermost part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving and serving.