It started with this girl who had beautiful green eyes–I’ll call her Nora. At fourteen, I felt such delight having struck up a conversation with her in the line for ice cream. She laughed, we chatted with wit, and life could not have been better. Then, disaster: I ordered two scoops of vanilla ice cream. “Wow, you’re pretty boring,” she said. I froze, said nothing, and watched as she started talking with the people behind her in the line. I took my ice cream and walked away.
Days later, I saw Nora in the church parking lot. I walked up to her and told her that vanilla ice cream speaks of the classic, not of the dull, and that its simplicity plays host to an undeniable elegance. I told her that only a bold man possesses the refined sophistication necessary to order vanilla when everyone else wants rocky road. She laughed. “How long did it take you to come up with all that?” Just then, I noticed her father giving me that “what the hell does this boy think he’s doing chatting up my daughter” look. “Get in the car, Nora,” he said. They got into the car and drove away.
Ever since that moment, I have held close to my heart a keen appreciation for the elegance of simplicity. These days, it goes like this–I’ve had a long day at work, and I come home to a whining child and a played-out wife who has been the recipient of such whining during the course of an entire day, a woman fresh from the front lines of battle against dirty diapers and possibly worse. Is that the moment when I should brandish a wry smile and start to prep the duck confit portion of my cassoulet? While I am in fact a man who possesses that kind of culinary chutzpah, I find that it shows itself rarely during the baby and toddler periods of fatherhood. The rest of the time, I call upon simplicity.
This is that kind of meal–more state of mind than recipe, it almost makes itself. In the end, you feel full, but quite good. It has none of the salt, sugar, or fat-induced pains of excess you can get from quick takeout or frozen food. And by the time you factor in driving for the takeout, looking at the menu, getting your family’s order, it probably costs you about the same amount of time.
I start with the chicken–bone-in, skin on chicken thighs. I rub them with dried sage, oregano, basil, and thyme, and throw them in a 425 oven.
While the chicken gets started, I coat a baking dish with spray olive oil, cut potatoes into ¾ inch pieces, and put them in the dish. I hit them again with the spray oil, and season with salt and pepper. I put them in the oven with the chicken, and turn the heat down to 375. I help with the child, change out of my work clothes, take a drink of water, maybe sit down for five minutes.
About 30 minutes after I put the potatoes in, I halve some brussel sprouts and cut up a few carrots. I heat 2 teaspoons of coconut oil in a skillet, and throw in the veg. They’re done in ten minutes, maybe less depending on how much heat I’m using. I hit them with a touch of salt and pepper and pull the potatoes and chicken out of the oven. I take some chicken off the bone and serve. Simple, elegant, easy. You want cassoulet? Give me three vacation days with free child care and hire in a masseuse for my wife. I’ll hit you with cassoulet like you’ve never seen.