When I first met Chelsea at World Journalism Institute, I was struck by her smile first.
She has the kind of smile that stretches wide across her face yet looks so effortless and joyful, her cheeks rosy like a giant ripe apple. I mentally jotted down a reminder to talk to this tiny girl who stood a (big) head shorter than me.
I first had the chance to engage in a full conversation with her at an Irish bar. We were the only two people in our group to order the traditional Irish breakfast at an Irish bar. Over shriveled sausages and over-poached eggs, we talked about our family, where we grew up in, what we’re passionate about…and somehow to conversation steered into love.
“I’ve fallen in love two times,” Chelsea told me. “Neither ended well.”
The first time, she was so scared that she barely talked to the boy, even though she sat next to him in class. And then she went off to college, met a guy while working kitchen line, and decided, right then and there, that she was going to fall madly in love with him. And this time, no more pussy sneak glances with silent lovesick smiles. This time, she was going to pursue him as ferociously as she felt her heart felt for him.
That’s the kind of girl Chelsea is. She’s one tight bundle of fire. She doesn’t giggle; she laughs out loud with her head thrown back, all gleaming teeth bared. She doesn’t just write; she storms and paces and harrumphs like a beast minutes before being released into the open circus.
It’s been a week since we’ve lived together in the Olasky house. We spend about 18 hours a day together, from our morning walks to our midnight talks about everything from writing to family. I’m reconfirming how absolutely different we are.
Chelsea wants to get hitched as soon as possible. She wants to have a husband who will protect her and care for her. She plans to have six kids who will gather round her elongated dining table each night, probably in a cottage deep within rural New York. They will say grace over a platter of handsome roast chicken, probably strangled and plucked by Chelsea’s bare hands. Sushi and curry is a foreign food to her that she’ll never truly enjoy because she’d rather eat her favorite comfort dish, spaghetti. She’s a homebody who feels uncomfortable traveling or being away from her family.
I, on the other hand, have scoffed the idea of marriage 10 years ago and still haven’t changed my mind. I shudder at the thought of being dependent on someone, especially a man. I’ll consider my life unfulfilled if I didn’t get to visit every continent in the world before I die. I want to live by myself in an apartment in a major city. And I’d rather go to an ethnic hole-in-the-wall eatery and chow down a big bowl of spicy beef noodles— no way am I gonna share that with six grubby kids!
So yeah. We are night and day apart in our desires and ambitions. But we are both extroverted writers/drama queens who have somehow, by the humorous grace of God, been placed under the same roof and hosted by the same couple who has showered such generous hospitality to us.
Friday night, Chelsea and I decided to give a little something back. We decided to make a spectacular dinner for the Olaksys.
Here we are—two domestic goddesses, one domestic in a maternal sense, the other domestic in the modern foodie sense.
Chelsea decided to bake her family’s favorite country white bread, while I took charge of the entree. But throughout the three hours spent in the kitchen, we worked like a well-oiled team.
I chopped while she measured. I slathered butter while she melted hers. I washed up her measuring cups while she washed off my knives. I helped her reach for the higher up stuff, and it was too high even for me, she got a ladder. As I said, we were two domestic goddesses, working in divine tandem. Hallelujah.
My entree was roast chicken and roast root vegetables.
Chelsea helped me truss up the chicken. Mrs. Olasky provided the rope. We decided to name him Mr. Twizzlers in order to honor his last moment of dignity before being stuffed with produce.
What I did to this chicken was just wash it, dry it, then stuff it with chopped lime, onions, whole garlic and dried thyme. And then I slathered it with butter and coated it with coarse salt, black pepper and more dried thyme.
For the vegetables, I just chopped and sliced some multi-colored fingerling potatoes (blue, red, gold), sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, onions and whole garlic.
I coated them with some extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, then dumped them into a huge roasting pan with a sprig of fresh rosemary.
All I had to do after that was place Mr. Twizzlers on top on a wire rack, and slide the whole monster into a 425 degree temperature oven. Let the chicken drippings do all the work in developing that savory, golden-roast flavor into the vegetables.
Unfortunately, we didn’t really understand that the digital oven the Olaskys had operated on a “start” button, not a “bake” button, so by the time Mr. Twizzlers was ready to be popped into the oven, the oven was still stone-cold. Aiyah!
It was getting past dinnertime and I could see that our dining guests were getting hungry. Chelsea then had the brilliant idea of whipping up some impromptu appetizers.
Above is her chopping up some spinach.
From what I spied, she was sauteeing some smoked mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, rosemary and red bell peppers in butter and cream. Then she stirred in the spinach, and finally slathered the creamy mixture on top of crackers.
Look at that!! So gourmet. Just enough heft to tide the Olaksys over for another hour or so.
Once the oven was stuffed with chicken and vegetables, Chelsea and I got hard to work with the bread. Well, Chelsea was; I just danced around the kitchen to Cee Lo’s “Forget You.”
Chelsea has a generous hand. She made a humongous portion of bread!!!
She nipped off a big portion of dough and flopped it over a dusted surface.
Then she kneaded the heck out of it.
What she did was roll it out into this flat, oblong canvas, then slather it with ricotta cheese, top it with fresh basil and sliced tomatoes, cover that with more mozzarella cheese, and then braid it up.
I think the dough looks like it’s hugging itself!
The oven was already full, with only a small space left in the top portion, which meant we had to wait till the chicken completed cooking until we could slide the bread in. Time for more improvisation.
Since a basketball-sized dough was leftover, I rolled it out really flat and decided to turn it into a focaccia of sorts. Mrs. Olasky (Susan) had a beautiful cast iron skillet, so I oiled it and pressed the flattened dough into the skillet and flipped it so that it was well-oiled on both sides.
Then I poked dimples all over the dough like a bird pecking for a worm. I pricked in fresh rosemary into each dimple and also threw some cured olives and bell peppers on top that I found in the fridge. A crackled of black pepper over, and in you go into the top oven!
About an hour more later, the main entree was done.
Oh my God. Look at these gorgeous root vegetables!! They were cooked perfectly. Glistening with chicken drippings. What better fat can you ask? Waste not!
I couldn’t stop staring at them. They smelled so wonderful, and they looked even more regal sitting in Susan’s handmade pottery bowl.
Half an hour later Chelsea and my focaccia was done, too.
Finally! Time for dinner!
Just look at how simplistically beautiful the dining table looks! Susan set the table while we were busy cooking.
And the centerpiece, Mr. Twizzlers:
Dismembered and disemboweled. I tried to slice it up nicely but I kind of hacked it up instead. Sorry, Mr. Twizzlers. But rest in peace, because we enjoyed eating you. You were delicious.
So was Chelsea’s bread. Right after I eased out the chicken and focaccia, Chelsea and I glazed the bread with beaten egg. In popped Chelsea’s stuffed pizza-inspired bread, and out it popped all golden with sizzles of melting cheese.
Oooh. You don’t even really need anything with the bread. Just eat it, because it’s good by itself. So good.
The focaccia was lovely, too. It wasn’t a real focaccia, of course, but I loved how the skillet gave it a nice crunchy crust yet kept the innards all warm and fluffy.
I totally forgot to show the insides of Chelsea’s pizza-like bread though, because I got very engrossed in our dinner conversation.
We chatted about everything from why some Jews hate Christmas (Dr. Olasky is a Russian-Jew) to traveling cross-country to my dad’s ministry in China.
It was a dining table full of grace. A meal prepared by two domestic goddesses of very different kinds. Honored by Mr. Twizzler’s juicy flesh and the Olaskys’ prayer of thanksgiving.
It was so much fun to cook with Chelsea. At one point Chelsea spread her arms out dramatically, threw her head back and exclaimed, “Don’t you want to just cook like this for your husband and kids all day?”
To which I just responded with this Look. Eh…Not really.
But I did love our kitchen teamwork and camaraderie. This kind of dinner is going to happen again. Tonight, in fact, we’re making bouef bourguignon for dinner.