Roasted Split-Chicken with Balsamic Onions and Sumac

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Just three weeks to go before I start my last-ever year of school! I’m trying to cram as much as I can into the summertime that’s left but, as usual, time seems to speed up when we have a greater need for it. I have managed to get into my first car accident (don’t worry, it barely even qualifies as one), get out into the sun twice more (the legendary paleness lives on), and reorganize our apartment (mainly just the books). I feel pretty accomplished.

As I mentioned, I got rear-ended on my way home from work last week. Since it’s basically bumper-to-bumper all the way home, the guy behind me wasn’t going fast at all and therefore only tapped my bumper. I stalled when he hit me and therefore thought my car had completely died for a whole 30 seconds while, panicking slightly, I tried and failed to restart. Fortunately, no lasting harm was done, and we were able to get out of the middle of the highway in just under five minutes. The whole thing wasn’t ideal, since I already feel like my car could putter out any day now, but it was pretty good as far as accidents go.

I’ve been dealing with a low-back injury for over a year now, and I finally got an MRI. The MRI showed nothing, which is a good thing but also frustrating because I still don’t know what’s going on. I have been trying to give physical therapy a better chance, even though it feels like nothing’s changed. For some weird reason, I always seem to arrive at my PT appointments way too sweaty for the occasion and invariably get questioned about the “hot weather” outside (it hasn’t been super hot lately). Last week my physical therapist actually felt the need to wipe the sweat off my back during the appointment, which was a big morale boost.

Jonji and I also got out into the sun a couple more times in the past couple weeks. Once was for a gym beach workout—fun, but sweat plus sand is a gross combination—and the other was a pool day with our friends, Liz, Eric, Jason, Ted & Alexis, Jeff & Sarah, Matt, and Danielle. We ate burgers and raspberry-vanilla cake (baked by me and, typically, not photographed by me) and laughed by the pool until the sunny spots turned to shade.

This past weekend Debbie, Jonji’s mom, came into town. Jonji had a last-minute surgery to participate in on Saturday (only a few days left of his super-long surgery rotation!), so I went to pick her up from the train station. After getting a bit lost in the mindless and seemingly unplanned LA streets around the station, we finally made it home. We chatted over tea until Jonji got home, which was another three hours later. Debbie’s sister Mary and two of her kids, Kevin and Heather, who were in town as well, joined us for dinner.

The next day I spent most of my time food-shopping. At the Farmer’s Market I collected veggies for pickling (if you’re interested in pickling, check out the book Saving the Season by Kevin West), and then I prepared for dinner. Later on in the evening, all six of us sat down to a pleasant feast of coq au vin with mashed potatoes and salad. I am excited for the day when we actually have enough chairs for a dinner party—Jonji had to sit on Kitty’s scratching post since we were one short.

Speaking of cats, our two are most definitely not friends yet. Babs continues to try to get as close to Kitty as possible, which usually ends in a furry scuffle. I’m just hoping to wake up one day and they’ll be best friends. I may be “optimistic to the point of foolishness,” as Dumbledore would say, but I suppose only time will tell if it will work out.

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This post would be remiss without acknowledging the loss of a very good person. My uncle John, or Johnny-John as most of us called him, passed away last week. He was one of those gentle, kind, and generous people that you meet very rarely. I love this picture of him and Emma, because I think you can see how well he fit into our family. We will all miss him very much.

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In times of loss or stress, I’ve found that certain foods can be extremely comforting. Roasted chicken has always been one of those comfort foods for me. It makes the kitchen extra cozy, and fills the air with a mouth-watering aroma. It’s one of those meals that makes your heart lift a little bit.

Roasting a split chicken is a lot easier than a whole one because you don’t have to worry about parts of the chicken being a little less than cooked. In this recipe, onions underneath the chicken soak up the juices and add a lovely flavor to the dish (if you wanted to add some chopped potatoes underneath as well, I’m sure it would be delicious). I adapted this recipe from one in Eat Good Food, the Bi-Rite cookbook, which introduced me to the lovely pairing of sumac and chicken. I challenge you not to eat all the chicken skin before you serve dinner—something I struggle with every time.

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Roasted Split-Chicken with Balsamic Onions and Sumac
serves 5

1 whole chicken, split in half*
7 cups water
1 cup white wine
5 tbsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp yellow curry powder

2 medium red onions
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

olive oil
2 tsp ground sumac

The night before, make the brine. Combine the water, wine, salt, sugar, and curry powder in a large bowl. Stir until the salt dissolves, then submerge the two halves of the chicken in the brine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the bowl from the fridge half an hour before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Peel and cut the onions into 12 pieces each, keeping the root end mostly intact so you get 12 wedges from each onion. Put them in a 9×13-inch pan or dish. Remove the leaves from two of the thyme sprigs and sprinkle these over the onions, then add the two whole thyme sprigs. Pour the 1 tbsp balsamic over the onions and toss to combine.

Take the chicken out of the brine and dab with a paper towel or two, until pretty dry. Lay the two halves on top of the onions, skin-side up. Rub with a few glugs of olive oil, then sprinkle 1 tsp sumac onto each half.

Bake in the oven for 50–60 minutes, stirring the onions once, until the juices run clear. Enjoy!

*You can ask your butcher to do this for you, but it’s also not hard to do yourself. Using a large, sharp knife or a heavy-duty pair of kitchen scissors (which is what I do), cut along one side of the backbone. Remove the backbone entirely. Turn the chicken over and cut through the center of the breast.

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