Nature v. Nurture

This seems to be a never ending, always debated, and almost hackneyed topic in most freshman humanities courses. What really shapes the development on an organism – its innate/inborn nature? Or those external environmental factors in which it is nurtured? I will admit that I am a child of excess – born into prosperous times, driven by the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, bred in a privileged and ambitious academic environment, and taught that the moon and stars are merely the lower limit of my potential. What I wanted, what I worked for, what I dreamed of – I got. This wasn’t just correlation – there was a clear causal pathway. Yet just a few years later and toward the end of this generation, the mentality seems different. The world became a lot less stable. Hard times, more strife, less prosperity, fewer opportunities. That ‘can-do’ attitude and ambition are now curbed by realism and some apprehension to jumping too far or deviating from the comfort zone. It’s created a generation of inertia. Immobilized by fear. In a way it seems counter productive. Perhaps it is even self-destructive. Others would say its self-preservation.

And yet those same environmental factors have also molded a resilient generation, tempered in hard times and taught to be mindful and careful. A generation that assesses the risks and benefits of each and every decision. A generation that was reminded of the scarcity of resources and realized that real limitations do exist. It toughened their skins, gave them character, and made them more accountable for their own failures and successes. That same generation can surprise you. Recently, while selfishly ruminating my next vacation and plotting my next step-up in the world, I was reminded that there were people directly in my line of sight who could probably benefit from such resources. I was reminded of my excess, and took the hint to be (yes I admit it) more mindful.


Chicken and Preserved Lemons
Source: Food Network
I recently purchased a heavy ceramic dutch oven at (surprisingly) Costco (thanks Nicole for the rec)! It’s a fraction of the price of a Le Creuset or a Staub, but so far, it’s been working REALLY well, and I absolutely love it. I broke it in by making a chicken and preserved lemon dish, reminiscent of my visits to Cafe Mogador in the East Village. The chicken is tender and savory through the bone. The tartness of the lemon in combination with the warm spices – smells like heaven. I made some modifications to the original recipe – you’ll love the changes, I promise.

Ingredients
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sweet or hot paprika
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp whole cloves [I used ground]
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron
1-2 tbs of harissa (depends on your comfort with heat)
1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) free-range chicken, cut into 10 pieces [I used 8 pieces of thigh meat]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 preserved lemons, flesh removed and peel julienned
1/2 cup cracked green olives, rough chopped
1 cup chicken stock

Directions
Toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and cloves until they start to smoke. Remove from the heat and grind as needed. Place all spices, garlic, ginger, cilantro, bay leaves, saffron, harissa, and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large bowl, mixing well to form a paste. To the bowl, add the chicken, rubbing the marinade all over the chicken pieces (including under the skin). Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

The Marinade
Marinade

Preheat oven to 350*F.

After 2hours or overnight, remove the chicken from the marinade, saving the marinade for later use. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 1-2 tbs of olive oil. Place chicken pieces, skin side down first, and brown the chicken. Flip as needed to brown the other side – about 5 minutes total time. To the pot, add onions and allow to sweat and brown. Then add the preserved lemon peek, olives, reserved marinade, and chicken stock. Cover and bring liquid up to a boil.

Once at a boiling point, carefully slide the dutch oven into the preheated oven, and allow to cook/simmer until the chicken is cooked through, tender, and brown in color – about 30-40 minutes. I find that this cooking method yields a more tender and beautiful chicken that just doing it on the stove. Once done, taste the juices and adjust seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, and sugar. I like to skim off any excess fat at this point as well. Serve chicken with couscous, pilaf or some nice flat bread, making sure to spoon as much of that sauce over as possible. An extra squeeze of harissa here doesn’t hurt either.

Plated

Saffron pilaf with dried cranberries, chopped nuts, fresh parsley and cilantro.

Rice

Pot

Today’s environment did not birth children of excess – but rather, children of caution and consideration. This over ambitious, A-type, ends-justify-the-means girl needs to remember and appreciate that.
AnhD

PS. On a final note, I wanted to share that I have given a lot more thought to future wedding and life planning. I was just in NYC this weekend, and made it a point to stop at Kleinfeld and a few other salons. Did I “say yes to the dress”? Details to come, or you can follow my Pinterest account. Thanks for reading!

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