Printed word rituals + sandwich contemplation

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Little by little, shelf by shelf, my house is filling up with magazines. Piles of dogeared, coffee-stained New Yorkers and Atlantics, whole shelves crammed with food and fashion magazines of varying age and condition, and the prized bookbound Kinfolk issues neatly stacked under the coffee table.

There are plenty of books, too, though their numbers have leveled off considerably since I caved and got a Kindle.

My true printed love has always been magazines. Less fleeting than daily news with feature stories that can live far beyond the day or week of their release, though most are easily enough consumed in several minutes. Some stay with you–reflections from the survivor of a strange or cruel trial imbue a weird funk that you can’t shake. A powerful descriptor thrusts an everyday city street, meal or facial feature into the spotlight of an otherwise mundane routine.

Words can of course be as powerful on a screen, but print comes with a mini ritual that forces the reader to engage in a way that dragging a finger over a screen can’t replicate. Turning a page or creasing a newspaper, slipping an old train stub in between pages to serve as a makeshift bookmark. Such printed word rituals were on my mind this week after I watched an older man methodically read his newspaper on the crowded subway. Deft folds between spreads to keep the paper’s real estate to a minimum. A quick, clean rrrrip to remove the stock numbers page of the business section, which he then folded and tucked in his jacket pocket for later. Surpassing the entire “life” section with a “flip” after pinching the snubbed portion between his fingers and thumb.

As everyone else on the train stared down at their smartphones, it was impossible to tell who was reading something aside from that man with his paper.

All this print nostalgia has very little to do with this chicken sandwich, which I made for Sean one evening before meeting a friend for dinner. But like a New Yorker review I just read of Tina Fey’s new Netflix sitcom, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” I contemplated each layer of this sandwich probably way longer than I should have.

To be fair, it is pretty damn complex for a chicken sandwich. The chicken is laced with citrus and warming Indian spices; blistered shishito peppers lend a grassy, smoky flavor brightened by a squirt of fresh lemon juice; the feta adds sharp saltiness; and fresh cilantro heightens the grassy, citrus flavors that permeate this dinner-worthy sandwich.

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Blistered shishito and chicken sandwich
serves 1

Ingredients

    1 chicken breast
    1 lemon, divided
    Extra virgin olive oil
    1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
    1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and pepper
    3 or 4 whole shishito peppers
    1 small shallot
    8-inch piece of crusty bread (ciabatta or a bolillo roll works well)
    Mayonnaise
    2 ounces feta cheese
    1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
    1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Method: Put the chicken breast in a quart-size freezer bag with the juice of half the lemon, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the garam masala, cayenne, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Close the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken until evenly coated. Marinate for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the shishitos, shallot and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, tossing frequently, until the peppers are blistered on all sides and the shallots are caramelized, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the other half of the lemon over the vegetables, remove them from the heat and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.

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Remove the chicken from the marinade bag, and slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss it with a bit more salt and pepper. (As you can see, I marinaded three chicken breasts at once–so tripled the marinade amount–because this chicken is effing good in/on everything.)

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Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the chicken when the oil slides easily around the pan. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes until just done. Remove, and set aside.

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To build the sandwich, slice the bread in half, and tear out a little of the inside if it seems too bready. Spread each side with a bit of mayo.

Slice the shishitos in half and remove the stems if you prefer. Layer on the chicken, feta, shishitos, shallots, spinach and cilantro leaves.

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Close and shovel in mouth immediately.

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Pasta and procrastination

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Any of you who’s ever had to write anything for someone else–whether that’s an article, essay, proposal or even an uncomfortable email–knows a little something about procrastination. I think it’s because no matter how often you do it, writing is hard. And turns out, it’s even harder when you do it for yourself.

As a freelance writer who’s also trying to write a cookbook, I’ve become a procrastination queen. Especially when it comes to working on the book–I find literally any excuse not to. This past week, I switched out all the metal hangers in the house for plastic ones, I bathed the dog by myself (no small feat), cleaned the sliding doors, made bread and cleaned out the freezer.

Most recently, I biked to an inconveniently located Trader Joe’s to buy groceries. I wasn’t even sure what I needed when I got there besides olive oil (which I then forgot to buy). So I began wandering around, trying to mentally build that night’s dinner in my head. Twenty minutes later, I left with three types of cheese; some apples; a package of Thai chile and lime almonds (they looked tasty!); boneless, skinless chicken thighs; garlic; an onion; and a package of pappardelle noodles.

It took me a good 30 procrastinatory minutes to figure out how I was going to put chicken thighs and pappardelle noodles together. Luckily, I always have tomato puree and white wine at home.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get back to chapter one. Oh wait, there’s that arugula in the fridge I’ve been wanting to use up for pesto.

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Pappardelle with tomato-braised chicken thighs
serves 2

      Canola oil, as needed
      3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
      Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
      Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
      1 medium onion, diced
      1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
      3 cloves garlic, minced
      1/4 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio works)
      1 28-ounce container tomato puree
      8 ounces pappardelle noodles
      3-4 ounces shaved Parmesan (I use a vegetable peeler)
      A few tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Method: Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat a cast iron or other large, oven-safe skillet on the stove over medium-high.

Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. When the skillet is hot, add the oil and chicken thighs. Sear for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Remove and set on a plate.

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Wipe some of the grease out of the skillet if desired. Add some olive oil, the onion, red pepper flake, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Saute the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.

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Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to lift up any brown bits, then stir in the tomato puree and a bit more salt and pepper to taste.

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Nestle the chicken thighs back into the sauce–along with any chicken juice that was left on the plate.

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Cover the skillet with a lid or aluminum foil, and slide into the oven. Braise for about 18 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. (To check, pull out the biggest thigh and stick an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part. It should read 165F.)

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously for the pasta.

Take out the skillet and place it on the stove over low heat. Pull out the chicken thighs and place them on a large cutting board. Slice into large, bite-size chunks and slide them back into the sauce to stay warm.

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Cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. With tongs, add it to the sauce and toss until combined. Add about half the shaved Parmesan and parsley, tossing to combine.

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To serve, heap the pasta into large bowls. Top with the remaining Parmesan, parsley and a few grinds of black pepper.