come and get it

I have seasoned chicken in the oven right now. The smell is amazing and began wafting from the kitchen about 10 minutes after I put it in the 350º box. The smell is of earthy paprika, pungent garlic, and sweet basil. It smells like home, like a weekday dinnertime when a family's house is quiet after a day of harried activities and mouths are watering.

My father gave me this container which describes its contents as "The World’s Best Chicken Rub." He bought it at Food Lion, a place I never go because Ukrop's has spoiled me and I am OK with the overpriced ingredients for my cooking, or lack there of. I don't even know where a Food Lion is around here. I'm sure I've passed one on my travels trough town, but I couldn't tell you where. The seasoning gift was unexpected and handed to me in the Food Lion bag with the receipt still inside. Two containers where purchased, one for me and for my brothers family. I think I was the afterthought, but my dear sweet dad didn't want to leave me out.

The seasoning is described as a "rub" and the directions tell you to brush the seasoning mixed with oil and lemon juice over the chicken. In my kitchen, the brush consists of a plastic bag and there is no lemon juice. A poor single girl's kitchen is usually devoid of fancy cookery, i.e. brushes or fresh citrus. I actually do own a cooking brush, however, I believe I bought it at the dollar store and then only in the hopes that I would someday make delicate puff pastries brushed with butter. I have made none so far.

The brush did make an appearance two weeks ago on Easter weekend when my visiting mother sort of decided I would cook a ham for the family on Saturday night. I didn't know until I was cooking it that this would be my job. I've never cooked a ham before. Luckily, store-bought spiral sliced hams are pre-cooked, you just have to know how to heat them up and glaze them. The glazing scared me and when I asked my mom how to do this she simply said "brown sugar and mustard." "OK," I thought "but how the hell much of either one?" I couldn’t ask her again, she was busy with my little nieces and there was an air of "Have you learned nothing from me?" in her voice. I looked in the cupboard and found a clump of petrified brown sugar and of course there is always mustard in the fridge. I remembered that brown sugar comes back to life with heat so I set the stove to high flame, put the brown sugar and a splash of water in a small pot, squirted about 6 seconds worth of mustard and stirred. The resulting taste test was good; it tasted familiar, like sweet Easter ham.

Two hours into the ham warm-up I pulled it out and brushed on my brown sugary mixture. The glaze was perfect, sweet and tart and just right for a first time try. My parents let me keep the leftovers because I'm poor and because they live 3 hours away. I said thanks, that I'd eat on it all week. I didn't touch it after they left, despite my glaze of glory.

The first few months I lived on my own with no dining hall or catering company to feed me (college dorms and sorority respectively) I bought more food than 3 people could eat in 2 months almost each week. I researched and concocted difficult recipes from Martha Stewart and Junior League cookbooks. I even spent 3 hours on a fancy dinner for a going away party for a friend once. (I've since learned that friends will come over for your grilled cheese as much for your "whole roasted chicken with goat cheese and sage.") Now, I've settled into the typical single girl's fridge. I have a door full of condiments waiting for a salad or bread and meat or even fries, but I have none of those things actually in the fridge to put them upon.

In college, my fridge was stocked for weekends and nights I just didn't want to leave the apartment to go eat with my "sisters." One roommate and I would try to make what we thought were balanced meals. We would go grocery shopping and come home to heat up canned beans, boil a bag of rice, and bake chicken with rosemary in tinfoil for 45 mins. We thought our moms would be proud. We also bought an entire red velvet cake once and after 2 days gave up the polite slicing and plating to simply spear it with a fork as we stood at the kitchen counter in our pajamas and bare feet and chatted about how we had really sunk to a new low.

During the day today I had a brilliant thought of going to the store after work to pick up a fresh lemon to squeeze in the bag with the chicken and over some freshly cooked rice. I never made it to the store and the poor herbed chicken has no side dishes, no friends to share the stomach with. A single girl just doesn't have the time or the energy really for all the fuss, and especially all those dishes. There will probably be no leftovers either (what with the 1 piece of chicken I fixed), my fridge will go another day (or 10) with not much more than fancy mustard and light Italian dressing. But, right now my dinner's calling me.

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