Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chicken Feet

So I'm in the grocery store the other day, and I noticed something strange: next to the chicken hearts, there was a whole rack of chicken feet. I showed them to my wife, who made a blech face and told me to quit fooling around in the poultry case.

I was curious, though. I'm at least a moderately serious home cook, but I was stumped by the chicken feet. What do people do with chicken feet? There didn't look to be hardly any meat on them on at all, and they're not even a little pretty. Can you fry the little buggers? Make soup with them? 

But it got me thinking. I live in a very ethnically diverse, semi-urbanized area. The Brazilians who live all around me love the grilled chickens hearts, and I'm guessing the chicken feet are Caribbean or at least South American. And then I started thinking about all the mysterious homes in my immediate neighborhood, places were someone can show up with a package of chicken feet and it doesn't even raise an eyebrow. What's going on behind all those doors? How do these people live? Besides shopping at my grocery store, where do they eat? Where do they worship? Dance and sing? Hang out? What do they read? How do they experience living in my neighborhood, with its mix of rich and poor, urban and suburban, ethnic markets and Starbucks?

I've always been an intensely curious person, which I think makes my job easier. I'm working on an 3,000-word article right now on avocados. Sounds awful, I know, but the truth is I'm actually kind of curious about avocados. Lord knows, I love the pulpy little guys, and I know my neighbor grows enormous avocados. There must be a story there. I'm going to try to find it.

And that's really what writing is about to me: there are so many amazing stories out there, and each one matters to the people involved in it. For a lot of people, writing is strictly about themselves. And I guess that's fine. I mean, it certainly worked for Elizabeth Gilbert, who produced a whole love letter to herself and sold ten gazillion copies of it. But for me, writing has always been about digging in someone else's garden. I can't tell you how exciting it is when I'm in the middle of an interview and I realize there's a good story there.

In fact, this has been a problem ... for anyone who knows me, you'll know it's been a challenge for me to open up on paper. I was trained to be a conduit for other people, to keep myself hidden. This doesn't work in fiction. But that's a different post.

For now, I'm still wondering about the chicken feet. And no doubt, at some point in the near future, I'll look it up. And if it sounds good, you can bet we'll be eating chicken-feet-whatever around here one night ... 


spyscribbler said...

I know you didn't mean it in a particular good way, but I think that's a beautiful way to describe Eat, Pray, Love. We so often skip the "love myself" part, and spending time caring and loving oneself is special, too. You end up with more to give the world. (Look how much her book resonated with people. Funny, that.)

LurkerMonkey said...

This is true ... It's no real secret that I think Gilbert erred on the side of loving herself a little too much, but it's definitely a balance that everyone has to strike. I think part of the reason people responded to her book in the way they did is because, for many, it was refreshing to see someone—especially a woman—lavish herself with attention. And I don't mean that in a snarky way at all ...

Zoe Winters said...

creepy rituals?

LurkerMonkey said...

I can only hope ...

lainey bancroft said...

12 chicken feet, declawed and skinned
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
3 slices ginger
3 green onions
1 tablespoon barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
star anise
1 piece orange rind
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pint water
Combine all ingredients and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

No, I absolutely have NOT tried this. If you handed me chicken feet, I think I'd be much more inclined to think up a creepy ritual than plan a dinner party.

(there, see? I'm opening up. One small chicken step at a time.)

Great post Lurker--or do you prefer Monkey?

Jude Hardin said...

Dancing never scared me.

Erica Orloff said...

Hey Monkey Man:
As the granddaughter of Russian-born people on one side, and Slovacs on the other, I grew up eating WEIRD sh*t and watching even weirder sh*t being consumed. My grandmother's favorite food was pig's feet. FEET. Of. A. Pig.

Then there was a soup we trotted out each Christmas, with mushrooms the Polish grocer imported from Poland, which was then mixed with sauerkraut juice until it was darker than oil and smellier than a cesspool. Yum.

I could go on, but I'll spare you. Then I married my ex-husband, whose family ate baby lamb heads.


LurkerMonkey said...


That's awesome! Thanks! Asian ... I should have known.

p.s. I'm not too particular on the name. You pick.

LurkerMonkey said...


Baby lambs head?! I'll eat pretty much everything and anything ... but I think I'd draw the line there. Unless, of course, there was A LOT of wine involved.

Erica Orloff said...

Monkey Man:
The eyeballs were supposedly the best part. I, myself, did not partake. The sight of people eating jawbones with teeth on them was enough to make me retch. That I went through with the marriage at that time shows how truly delusional I was.