If a piece of furniture could have a passport, ours would be a frequent flyer. Our table has moved with us to five countries and weathered numerous house moves.
Ironically, it’s provided my family with all sorts of necessary therapy to ease our globetrotting life. It’s given us a gathering point and safe haven, rooting us and strengthening our family traditions, while connecting us to new friends and our adopted cultures. When I am asked where I feel is my home, I say it’s wherever my kitchen table is.
We purchased our farm-style table more than 20 years ago in Ain, France, near the western border of Switzerland, where we lived at the time. It was the first piece of furniture my husband and I purchased together, and quite possibly the best. Rustic and massively constructed from reclaimed oak, it reflected the charm and character of our 18th-century Swiss farmhouse while providing a sturdy nucleus for a family and social life that revolved around food, friends and entertaining. It was warm and intimate enough for two and expansive enough to seat 12. It was a place for morning coffee, girlfriend chats, home office needs and lively dinner parties. When our children entered the picture, it provided a sturdy and forgiving canvas for homework, crafts and tea parties — nicks, scrapes and spills welcome.
Today our table resides in California, where it continues to be the center of our family and social life. The last move we made was local, an invisible blip on the world map. But even then, we did not stray from our usual moving-in ritual, a tradition born from practice: The kitchen table was the first piece of furniture put in place. Then, amidst the unpacking and the boxes, I prepared a simple and comforting roast chicken dinner — a nourishing, timeless and reassuring meal that we shared at our table.
There is nothing more comforting than the aroma of a chicken roasting. Cooking a whole bird is quite simple, and can be done in an oven or on a grill. For a complete and nearly effortless meal, arrange the chicken on top of chopped root vegetables in the pan, and let the bird baste the veggies with its juices. While your dinner roasts, you can go about any other tasks at hand, such as unpacking a new house.
Simple Roast Chicken
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
- 1 (4-pound) whole chicken, giblets removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large garlic cloves, smashed but still intact (optional)
- Handful of fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the chicken outside and inside the cavity with paper towels. Rub the chicken skin all over with olive oil. Generously season the chicken outside and inside the cavity with salt and black pepper. Add the garlic and thyme or rosemary sprigs to the cavity.
2. Place the chicken in a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan. Roast in the oven, or grill over indirect medium-high heat with the lid closed, until the juices run clear when a knife is inserted in the thigh and the temperature registers 165 degrees without touching the bone, about 1 1/4 hours.
3. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 15 minutes. Carve the chicken and serve with any juices.
4. Optional: To include vegetables, start with 1 1/2 pounds of your favorite sturdy vegetables in the pan, such as onions, carrots, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Cut the vegetables in wedges or large chunks and toss with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and black pepper. Spread in the skillet (or grill pan), then nestle the chicken in the center of the vegetables. Stir the vegetables once or twice while roasting to coat with the pan juices.
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories. More recipes can be found at chicago.suntimes.com/taste.