A Pleasant Pheasant

A belated Merry Christmas to the blogosphere!  I hope Santa was good to one and all.  And if not, I know where he’s been hiding…

This week, I have made every attempt to put (most of) my neuroses aside in exchange for a happy holiday season, and thus far, I have succeeded.  So before New Year’s rears its glitter-studded head, and with it arrives all of the usual contemplation and critical self-assessment, I thought I’d share a proud and recent realization:

I, Bridget O’Malley, can cook a pheasant.

This Christmas, it was just me, my husband, and our dog — an intimate gathering that encouraged me to try a little something new.  Having already managed a 20-pound turkey for a larger Thanksgiving feast, I knew I was pushing my luck, but here’s how I got it done.

Recipe For A Delicious Christmas Pheasant

Ingredients

  1. One 2.84 lb. pheasant
  2. An orange
  3. Stock from a lesser bird like chicken
  4. Bacon
  5. Salt, pepper, and sage
  6. If you remember nothing else, remember butter.

Method

First off, wake up at the crack of dawn to Google “How To Cook A Pheasant.”

(Confession: I did not wake up at dawn, but my husband did, the result of which is this beautiful shot of the Chicago skyline.  I did, however, conduct the aforementioned Google search).

When your search produces confusing and intimidating results, call your handsome chef brother-in-law in London and ask him how to cook a pheasant.

(Thanks for answering my call, brother-in-law).

He will rattle off a long list of instructions, some of them realistic (“Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.”) and some of them wildly beyond your capabilities (“Don’t forget to remove the wishbone.”).  For the most part, it will sound possible.  At this point, you will feel confident enough to go through with it.

Wash the pheasant, awkwardly apologizing for what is about to happen.  Rub butter and spices underneath its skin.  If you are feeling crafty, stick an orange in it.  Heat oil in a pan and brown the bird on all sides.  Place bacon strips over it.  Pour some broth in the bottom of the pan.  Cook it in an oven for roughly 35 minutes, basting every so often.  When you take it out, it will look something like this:

Do not be surprised.  Your husband, or someone else who has actually eaten pheasant before, will assure you that’s how it should look.

Throw the bacon out and wrap the bird upside down in foil.  Let it sit for ten minutes.  In the meantime, take the following precautions.

  • Set the table with crystal and china to create a pleasing ambiance that will elevate the result. (For us, it was all of the wedding presents we had never before used).
  • Pour good wine to help make however it turned out all the better.  (For us, it was a 2008 Margaux).
  • Plate up some trusty side dishes to hedge your bet that something on the plate will be edible.  (For us, it was roasted fingerling potatoes, brussels sprouts, and the almighty stuffing).

Remove the pheasant from the foil, carve it, and take your seat at the table, masking any uncertainty with a cautiously optimistic smile.

Voila.  A delightfully pleasant pheasant, from my table to yours.

— Bridget

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Lost Souls and Fishbowls

It is spring of 2001, also known as the year I lived in Europe. We are in Italy with our professor for what is essentially the world’s greatest field trip. One morning, in Rome, we wake up early to catch a bus to Vatican City. We line up outside the doors of the Vatican and await instructions from our professor. They are as follows: When the doors open, we pay our admission and make a mad dash, ignoring every sculpture or painting along the way, directly to the Sistine Chapel. If we get there fast enough, he promises, we will have a moment alone, in the chapel, all to ourselves.

Now, I don’t necessarily go in for all that religious mumbo jumbo, and I wasn’t desperate for an A on my Renaissance art essay, but I do love a healthy competition, so I take my professor’s advice to heart. Upon entrance to the museum, we race along the corridors, following signs to the Cappella Sistina. The running, mixed with the almost-intentionally confusing sign placement, blended with anticipation and a hint of absurdity, makes us laugh, somewhat ashamed of the pure joy in what we are doing. As we near the chapel entrance, I find that several of us are singing – Pink Floyd, for some reason. I don’t ask questions – it just feels right, in the same way that it feels right to stop when we enter the chapel.

Inside, we exchange our song for silence, our unity for solitude, and we wander the hushed room, our necks craned upward. Standing beneath the most perfect space between two objects, I see my entire existence in the nothingness between man’s outstretched hand and God’s… It is a memory that I can close my eyes today and see as vividly, and I am so grateful for my professor’s encouragement to go out and get ourselves that moment. In many ways, I see life as a series of such unique moments — I spend my life racing down corridors towards the next great thing, laughing and singing and struggling to catch my breath.

A Zig and A Zag

As I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend was spent in Los Angeles and included a trip to the Getty on a sunny afternoon (also known as “every day in LA“). During our visit, we took the garden tour, and perhaps I was particularly prone to drinking the Kool-Aid that day, but several of the tour stories stuck with me… including this one about the garden walk pictured above. The idea behind it is like so: the artist was tasked with creating a garden walk that was accessible to everyone. The walk is set on a fairly steep incline, so a straight path would have been too treacherous for many who dared traverse it. Instead, the artist designed a transecting path that softened the blow of the hill and at the same time created something special – a unique perspective and singular experience at every turning point. (Man, I hope I did my docent right with that synopsis).

I didn’t have to think long to uncover the metaphor in that. Very often I wish things were easier – I wish that life was more simple, that my direction was clear, that the secret of success was straightforward and accessible. At the same time… if you get there too fast, you done gone and missed the beauty all around you. An indirect path enables realization at every turn and forces you to slow down and take your surroundings for what they’re worth. I want very badly to trust my docent in that sacred truth, and I will myself to recall that garden walk when I sense I am lost along the way.

— Bridget

Long Weekend: Los Angeles

Apologies for the lapse in communication, but there was good reason for it. After a crazy week at work, Brendan and I packed up and headed to sunny Southern California for a long weekend… We figured it would be a timely escape from the holiday stress and the Chicago cold (As it turns out, our plan was perfect, as Chicago got snow yesterday for the first time this winter). While we’re here until tomorrow, I wanted to check in to describe our first day in L.A.

On our first day, we woke up early and drove to Hollywood with my college roommate, who works out here and does ridiculous things like meeting with network and studio executives on Friday mornings. She dropped us deadbeats at the Roosevelt Hotel, where we had a phenomenal breakfast at the Twenty-Five Degrees bar. Afterwards, we wandered up and down Hollywood Boulevard, people-watching and snapping photos and reading the names on the Walk of Fame (which for some reason reminded me vaguely of a cemetery). We indulged our tourist status, shopped in the stores at Hollywood and Highland, and killed time until my roommate had wrapped up her too-cool meetings. She picked us back up and we headed west, stopping at Pinches Tacos across from the Chateau Marmont for our second meal of the day. (One theme of this and any trip we take is that there is an exorbitant amount of eating and drinking – I write this post from the terrace of our hotel, where we are currently having brunch).

Back in the car, we drove through Beverly Hills on our way back to the west side and the Getty Center in Brentwood (by far one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve ever been to, and the subject of future posts – wait for it!). We spent the rest of the afternoon there, watched the sunset, then headed back to her place for wine and takeout Thai. All in all, it was a solid first day in L.A.

Today – brunch, a drive to Santa Monica, a boat parade in Marina del Rey, and a holiday party at my friend’s beachside apartment. Fingers crossed we make our early flight home tomorrow, preferably with enough time for In-N-Out on the way to LAX…

— Bridget

The Genuine Article

Today I read an article about a scandal in the art world related to the concept of authenticity (read it yourself here).  My initial reaction was to think that it had all the makings of a fantastic novel – Thomas Crown Affair meets Sherlock Holmes.  I entertained visions of shifty exchanges in dark alleys, lavish lifestyles supported by false pretenses, private jets transporting forged masterpieces and an unfortunate collector swirling his brandy in front of his most recent acquisition.  It was all very Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan to me, until I considered a deeper layer of meaning.

As a writer (well, and also as a human), I should think more often than I do about individuality.  So much of life is spent following trends or imitating so as to profit personally in some sort of way, be it financially, politically or socially.  More than that — I have always believed in the interconnectedness of life, that every new thing is influenced by what is around it or what came before it.  For those reasons, I assume that ingenuity is rare, but at the same time I sense that it is all around me if I only make an effort to see it.  It shows itself when an individual stays true to his or her interpretation of the world.

Getting back to the story at hand — I struggle to pass judgment on what is worse: imitating the masters and passing your work off as theirs, or stealing the design and passing it off as your own.  At times I’d say most of us are at risk of one or the other, when we lose sight of our own self-worth.  I value all of the people in my life whose actions or qualities assure me that originality is alive and kicking.

— Bridget

A Toast to Uncle Dutch

It is only fitting that Uncle Dutch makes an appearance here… Dutch Henry was my great-uncle, but we first became acquainted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, in the archives, where old photographs of baseball players live on forever. This was back in the good old days when a “family vacation” meant hours of sweating and melting crayons in the way-back of the powder blue station wagon, followed by an exorbitant amount of time spent on a remote Middle America campground, which of course led to terrifying encounters with wildlife, questionable plumbing, and neighbors with mullets and country music collections. Even back then, Uncle Dutch could sense my eagerness to see other worlds.

He followed me back home to Ohio, where he weathered the storm of my prepubescence, glancing over my shoulder as I scribbled furiously in wire-bound notebooks, writing cheap Little House on the Prairie knockoffs and fan letters to New Kids on the Block. He watched me through the dark days of high school when men’s corduroys and flannels seemed like perfectly good wardrobe choices, especially if accessorized with a seat in a coffeehouse. When I got my first boyfriend, he shook his head in dismay, shrugged his shoulders, and suggested that I might be better off focusing on college applications and straight A’s. He was in the first box that I packed to Baltimore.

There he is, in my college dorm room, enjoying prime real estate in the common area, beside a poster of France, a Kandinsky print, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Ricky Martin. The girls took to him naturally, toasting him regularly, and including him in the background of big-night-out pictures, when tube tops and black pants reigned supreme. The year I studied abroad, he tipped his hat to Customs and joined me in a cobblestoned Belgian town.

After graduation, Uncle Dutch felt the same unrest as I did about the prospects of a life without structure. Following a brief free fall, we headed to Michigan, using the pretense of a budding relationship. Uncle Dutch knew, even if I didn’t at the time, that this was a step away from my childhood, into the life of a grown-up, and the lesson was not one of love but of self-reliance and freedom.

A few years later, when Uncle Dutch saw the sparkle on the cityscape of Chicago, he knew we were finally getting somewhere. Did he imagine my initiation into Corporate America, my handsome Irish husband, my new fondness for sushi and my adorable puppy? Did he know all along that life is an evolution? Or did he feel us coming full-circle — to a place that holds terrifying encounters with wildlife, questionable plumbing, and neighbors with mullets and country music collections?

Whatever he may have known then, and still know now, and keep secret, here’s to you, Uncle Dutch, and to a life of new beginnings.

— Bridget