In the delightful Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks film, You’ve Got Mail, there is a point at which Meg’s character realizes she’s in a very tough fight — it’s Christmas time and she is desperately trying to save her business, her livelihood. In the middle of this fight, she remains upbeat and casually waves away a nagging feeling of inevitable doom with the classic line, “Meanwhile, I’m putting up more twinkle lights.”
It’s the great diversion. You can’t hurt me if I don’t allow myself to feel the hurt. It’s the self-defense jab that says that even if her enemy ends up winning the round it will go nearly unnoticed if the defeated one refuses to take ownership of the painful loss.
In other words, positive thinking. I’m trying the same thing these days, which is considerably easy, since it’s the Christmas season and I love nothing more than an overabundance of twinkle lights at this time of year. While it may sound like an ignorant dismissal, the change in focus is a way to cope with the ongoing and uncontrollable car wreck that appears to be my life right now.
Lately, I could go crazy trying to decipher the page-long, convoluted online job descriptions that scream so loudly for a rewrite that I can barely hear myself groan as I read them. Some are so badly jumbled, so irritatingly loquacious, that I have to laugh when I think about the poor schmuck who had to come up with this description. In exchange for an hourly pittance — and medical benefits after six months! Yipee! — the job applicant is expected to have Einstein’s brain capacity, the marketing skills of Donald Trump, the success rate of Steve Jobs, and the team-building skills of Starbucks.
LOL. These over-the-top job descriptions are much needed comic relief until I realize I desperately need the job I wouldn’t want in a million years. Hard to be positive about that. Bah humbug. I need a diversion.
Where Meg had her twinkle lights, I’ve got fresh lemons right off my tree and the last of the fresh basil off my windowsill. The culinary versatility and reliability of three absolute year-round staples of my kitchen: lemon, basil, and chicken, puts me in a better mood. Their flexibility and teamwork give me a lift. I love chicken — I think I’ve said that here before — and I love to combine it with many varied flavors that lend themselves deliciously to the sometimes bland and boring chicken breast.
Today, it was a blending of the colors of Christmas, with fresh herbs, dried cranberries and a sprinkling of lemon zest smothering a pat of creamy white goat cheese. The result was a testimony to the perfection and power of complementary flavors, and as I enjoyed the last bite, I made a mental note to ensure the word teamwork is somewhere on my resume.
It is the holiday season — the time for hope and miracles. We are nearing the end of another year, and my heart and soul are holding the hope that the New Year will bring me better days, better opportunities — and a job description I can warm up to.
In the meantime, I’m putting up more twinkle lights . . . and preheating the oven.
TART & ZESTY CHICKEN w/HERBED GOAT CHEESE
The versatility of the lofty lemon goes largely untapped by many cooks who have no idea how it can complement so many different dishes from sweet to savory. Here, a thick pat of plain goat cheese is allowed to frolic in a pile of fresh lemon zest, dried cranberries, chopped smoked almonds, and slivers of fresh herbs, before being tucked in for a nap under the skin of the chicken breast. Experiment with your favorite herbs, or choose pecans instead of almonds. Design the dish to your liking — it’s a great diversion from every-day woes.
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped or cut into slivers
- 1 – 2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage (or thyme, tarragon, rosemary, if you prefer)
- 2 tablespoons chopped smokehouse-flavored almonds
- 2 tablespoons sweetened dried cranberries (such as Craisins), roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
- 2 large, plump, boneless chicken breasts, skin on
- 4 thick slices plain goat cheese (about one 4 oz. log)
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small, shallow bowl or plate. Lightly press each goat cheese slice into the herb mixture, coating all exposed areas of the cheese; set aside.
Gently use your finger to loosen the skin from the chicken breast, making sure not to tear the skin. Tuck two slices of the glammed-up goat cheese next to each other underneath the skin of each chicken breast, gently pulling the skin over the cheese pats to cover as much of the breast as possible.
Drizzle the top of the chicken breasts with olive oil, and sprinkle well with salt and pepper. Squeeze a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice over the chicken. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Remove from oven and tent with foil, allowing the chicken a few minutes to rest. Slice crosswise into thick slices, showing off the creamy-herby goodness in every bite!