The glitz and glimmer of the Christmas holiday can easily mesmerize and even distract. Sparkling lights are strung up around our towns, and beautiful trees with decorative and delicate ornaments go up in many of our homes. We become bedazzled by the images being flashed before our eyes in bright holiday commercials and on the billboards all around us, of coziness, of comfort and of warmth; of people laughing, living carefree, spending like there’s no tomorrow, and wanting for nothing. Outside, the nippy cold descends upon us, and the snow falls creating the powdery, winter wonderland that is reminiscent of the Christmases found in the storybooks of our childhood, which we so desperately long to be the reality of today. Yet so many people begin to become absent-minded and frustrated — unkind and unmerciful, even — as this season of supposed remembrance, merriment, kindness and sharing approaches. So many interactions between us quickly turn ill-tempered, and tinged with impatience. Where is the compassion for each other that should be most prevalent, and be the driving force behind this particular season of Christmas? Perhaps, it’s this simple: we forget. Because after all, the lights are so dazzling and beautiful, the “pretty shiny things” so gettable and give-able, and all-the-while, just beneath the surface, we feel the pressure to deliver becoming (almost) unbearable. Sometimes I wonder where the simpler and more heart-felt ways have gone. I miss the innocence of them. But perhaps the essence of those times can be found in a most unlikely place, and give us a little reminder in a most unlikely yet deliciously elegant way.
I’ve always been drawn to the pretty yet slightly melancholy melody of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”. The song’s lyrics have always fascinated me, especially the use of “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme”, and I’d often wondered what the significance of those herbs was. So when I set out to prepare a holiday-inspired recipe for roasted chicken this Christmas, those very herbs (and those very lyrics) drifted into my mind, and I thought about how those fragrantly-green and earthy herbs would be perfect to use for this occasion. Looking into the meaning of those lyrics, I discovered that “Scarborough Fair” was a song actually written back in the 1800’s, at a time when herbs, interestingly enough, were often used to poetically describe “desires” and “states of being” — they represented a spiritual or emotional state, and would be used to express the essence of that state. I discovered that parsley is representative of the removal of bitterness, and ushers merriment in; sage is representative of wisdom and longevity; rosemary of remembrance; and thyme of courage and doing-ness, or activity. I thought that was fascinating; and I considered the possible correlation between those meanings and the very spirit of the Christmas holiday, and how once again, food teaches and reminds us of the deeper meaning of something that we often lose under the thin veneer of what gets added over time. So after contemplating for a while the symbolic meaning of the herbs from the song and how they may give a little extra meaning to this Christmas dish I wanted to use them in, the thought that formulated in mind was this: what a thing of wisdom (sage) it would be for each of us to remember (rosemary) that this precious holiday centers around the spirit of having the courage (thyme) to usher the bitterness out from between us (parsley), and to allow the joy, merriment, love and peace to enter and dwell with us, instead. Food can certainly speak, can’t it? And what a appropriate sentiment, for this special time of year.
While the lights, the glitter, the rushing around and the gift-giving/receiving are what make up so much of what Christmas has become over the years, I’d personally really like to take some time to reflect a little about the deeper meaning behind this holiday — the courage, the love, the merriment, the wisdom and the actions of the One that the day is really about. To be grateful for what is important in life — connectivity, sharing, caring and empathy — and to remember to have those present in abundance during this sparkling and wonder-filled time of year.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
“Scarborough Fair” Roasted Christmas Chicken with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, with Balsamic-Sour Cherry Compote
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• 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, bottom stems trimmed, divided use
• 1 (2/3 ounce) package fresh sage, divided use
• 1 (2/3 ounce) package fresh rosemary, divided use
• 1 (2/3 ounce) package fresh thyme, divided use
• 2 cloves garlic pressed through garlic press, plus a whole head, cut in half, divided use
• Cracked black pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 (4-5 lb) roasting chicken, giblets removed, rinsed and patted dry
• Lemon, cut in half
• Balsamic-Sour Cherry Compote (recipe below)
(The chicken can be prepped a couple of days ahead of time, which allows for the flavors the deepen even more, and kept in the fridge until ready to roast and serve; the Balsamic-Sour Cherry Compote can also be prepped ahead of time and refrigerated, then gently re-heated when ready to serve.)
-Preheat the oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with foil and a wire rack.
-Take about 2 teaspoons worth of each of the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme leaves, and very finely chop them, and then add them to a small bowl; next, add to those the 2 pressed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and the olive oil, and combine the herb mixture with your fingers or a fork; set aside for a moment.
-Next, liberally season the inside of the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, then place the chicken in front of you, breast-side up; gently run your fingers between the skin and the breast meat, being careful to rip the skin (you just want to separate the skin from the breast meat as much as possible); next, take a pinch of the herb mixture, and gently add it in between the skin and the meat, pushing the herbs around to cover as much of the breast meat area as possible; repeat with another pinch of the herb mixture, getting in as much as possible under the skin.
-Then, take any remaining herb mixture you may have, and rub it in all over the outside of the chicken to give it extra aroma; next, bundle all of the remaining herbs in your hand, and set aside about half of that bundle to use as garnish for the finished chicken, and stuff the other half of the bundle of herbs into the cavity of the chicken, along with the two lemon halves and one half of the garlic head (you may need to stuff it in fairly tightly); season the outside of the chicken with a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
-Place the chicken on the wire rack set over the foil-lined baking sheet, and roast for about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 ½ hours, or until the internal temperature registers 160° when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (you can cover the chicken with foil during roasting to prevent it from burning if it’s becoming too dark); then, allow the chicken to rest for about 15 minutes.
-Pull the herbs out of the roasted chicken, along with the lemon and garlic half, and stuff the cavity with the reserved half of the bundle of herbs for a fresh presentation (you can even add a couple of fresh slices of lemon in, if desired).
-Carve the chicken at the table, if desired, and serve with warm Balsamic-Sour Cherry Compote on the side.
Balsamic-Sour Cherry Compote ingredients:
• 1 (14.5 ounce) can natural, tart red cherries packed in water
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
• 2 teaspoons corn starch
-Pour the entire contents of the can of cherries, including their water, into a sauce pan; add in the remaining ingredients, and whisk them together to fully combine.
-Place the sauce pan over high heat, and once the mixture comes to the boil, reduce the heat to low, or medium-low, and gently simmer the compote for 15 minutes, until thickened.
-Allow to cool slightly, but serve warm.