Monday, June 2, 2008

One Year Later

Gilly Bear on Steve Gilliard's hospital pillow. photo by Jenonymous Feb 25, 2007.
Gilly Bear on Steve Gilliard's hospital pillow. photo by Jenonymous Feb 25, 2007.

A Food Post for the Stomach and the Heart and the Mind

Hey everyone. This feels strange writing this right now. I tried for the past few weeks to try to think of something meaningful to write. At first I thought of a food piece, and then a political piece, and then a health piece. Then something happened that made me want to do all three. I got inspired over this past Memorial Day weekend. I couldn't help but think about what Gilly would have posted. I put off thinking about the post and kept pushing it to the back of my mind. Then, on Monday—after a four-day weekend—I got a surprise and very much welcome spur-of-the-moment invite to a friend's house to partake in a small family get-together and bbq. I had been out taking pictures at the park; I had been in all weekend sleeping and killing zombies online, and needed the fresh air. Then my cell phone went off, the invite came in, and I found myself running back to my apartment to grab a bottle of decent red and my jacket, then out to the bakery for some dessert, and then on to the subway to the far end of the outer boros.

On the train all I could think about was the Blog-a-Ques that Gilly and I would go to every summer. I thought of the dessert and the wine—would he have approved? We used to bring loads of food with us whenever we got invited to anything, and used to coordinate ahead of time. I remember grilling with him under the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side, the Labor Day before 9/11.

It's 9 PM now. I just got in; I'm typing in my work clothes. I'm going to go change and keep typing. Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is in re-runs on BBC America. Gimmie a minute. I need to change and wash off my makeup and get a drink.

*aaah.* Better. Gilly actually "got" my infatuation with Ramsay; he said that if he ever wrote a book on management he'd buy it and read it. But I digress.

Back to food and memory. So, I was at this BBQ and towards the end of the evening, the hostess (who was familiar with Gilly's body of work) said something to the effect that "Gilly would have never supported Dem candidate X." And suddenly, the evening came into very sharp focus.

"No, we can't say what he would have thought NOW," I said.

And that, dear readers, is Important Point Number One I am trying to make with this post.

As much as we all love and miss him, we have to remember that nobody can say what he WOULD have done or whom he WOULD have supported.


His troubles are over, but so is his active work.THAT is the tragedy here.His voice was silenced prematurely, and we will never know just what a strong voice he may have become, especially in this election.

We'll never read the book he was having me help him with the pitch letter for.

Still, these are selfish thoughts in a way.Gilly also missed out on all of the other things he wanted to do for himself.

I remember, before he went in for that second surgery, the one that he didn't get out of the hospital from, I was trying to give him a pep talk.I wanted him to envision himself as a healthy man, so that he could make real plans for the future and take some real care of himself. We talked about that on the day when I went to give him the bear in the picture.

"So what are you going to do, Gilly, once you get well and get that kidney?"

"I'm getting the money together from somewhere and going to England and seeing Manchester United play their home turf.First thing."

During the two times that I went to Europe while I knew him, he asked me for only one thing—home team footie jerseys from the city I was in.I still have a ManU knockoff from Thailand that Gilly gave me when he went and sprang something like $130 for the real item.

Here was a man who was so erudite, so well educated, so knowledgeable…and he hadn't ever even left the US. Come to think of it, I don't think he ever even went on an airplane. Really. I vaguely seem to remember him saying he'd been on one once ages ago, but that's it.

Imagine what he could have done had he taken that trip, seen a bit of the world?

We'll never know.

Which leads me to Point I am Trying to Make Number Two:


Gilly got the proverbial memo too late; the first bout of open heart surgery just didn't sink in. It's almost impossible to Monday-morning quarterback someone's life when it's over, but I will say that had he pursued a little more exercise, a somewhat better diet, and (CRITICALLY) more aggressively pursued better diagnostic and preventative care, he'd probably still be here. I blame nobody, but the tragedy here is that even a slight improvement of any one of these things would have broken the "perfect storm" that sank him. Throw institutional racism and indifferent healthcare providers into the brew and it gets toxic real fast.

Having said that, Gilly and I both loved to cook, and to eat out together and with others. Somehow, a memorial post wouldn't be complete without a recipe or two. So, herewith, I give you a HEALTHY option that can be prepared in one evening after work, easily. Please enjoy:

Beer Can Chicken

Oven Fries

Garlic SuperSlaw with Garlic Dressing (adopted from the Wings of Life cookbook, alas out of print now)


--One chicken, 3-6 lbs

--Waxy potatos of some sort; small, longish fingerlings are the best (enough for your crew-at least 2 lbs)

--Olive Oil (light grade)

--Spice Rub of your Choice

--Head of Garlic

--One Savoy Cabbage or bag of prepped shredded slaw salad mix

--One Medium Red Onion

--One Smallish Bunch Scallions

--Red Wine Vinegar

--Mayo Brand of your Choice

--Salt, Pepper (kosher salt if you have it)

--Heavy cream, or dairy substitute cream (ie soy cream) or milk

Equip and stuff:

--One can of beer or soda—if you have a tallboy beer can, use that—with the bev still in it

--Shallow jellyroll pan or baking pan

--High-sided pan to prop the chicken up in (or one of those chicken-beercan-cooker-sub thingies)

--Paper towels or clean dishcloths

--Blender (optional)

--Clean sink (really)


When you get home or get back from shopping, the first thing to do is heat up the oven. Put one rack in the middle and one on the bottom. Preheat to between 350 and 375, depending on how big your chicken is (use higher heat for a SMALLER chicken) and how flakey your oven is. You may want to put foil on the higher shelf to aid cleanup as oven-done beercan chicken tends to splatter.

Okay, now prep the slaw cabbage IF you are using the whole Savoy cabbage. Quarter and core the cabbage, and slice into slaw strips. Put the strips into the biggest bowl that you have and sprinkle the strips with kosher salt and toss very well. Cover in plastic and set aside to let it weep out.

Now prep the potatoes. Scrub and quarter the "long way" to make fingers—but don't peel—the potatoes. If they are bigger taters, cut into fat circle slices at least ¼" thick. Take the jellyroll pan and oil it very very well with the light grade olive oil (NOT the heavy stuff or it will scorch and smoke and mess up yer taters). Keep the olive oil out. Now, consider which spice rub you are going to put on the chicken—either a pre-done mix or seasoned salt or your own blend. Put the taters in the pan and add more oil. Now, add what my Mom calls "too much seasoning" and toss—use the same blend you'll use on the chicken if you want. Add more and toss. Add more and toss more. Make sure you also have enough oil as well.

Make sure that the taters have enough room and don't overlap if possible. Put in the lower level of the oven, uncovered.

Now go to work on the rest of the slaw. If you are salting the cabbage, keep letting it do its thing and save this for LAST. If you are using pre-cut slaw mix, start here. slice up the scallions, thin, up to about 3" into the green part (don't use the gross slimy ends of the scallions). Slice the red onion first in half and then into the thinnest crescents that you can.

Now onto the dressing. Only make this right before you're going to assemble the slaw.

Set up your blender. Peel at least 6 cloves of garlic. Proportions are suggested; I use 1/3 cup for each "part" here. Put in 2 parts mayo. Have the pepper grinder ready. Dump in the garlic and give it a whirl. Add in via a few splashes one part red wine vinegar. Whirl like HELL on the highest speed. Add a LOT of black pepper. IF you are NOT salting the cabbage (ie using slaw mix) add a LITTLE salt. If you are salting your cabbage, add NOT ONE GRAIN of salt. Then, pour in one generous splash of cream and whip like hell again.

Hand-toss the slaw mix (or the rinsed cabbage—see below) with the onions and scallions. Pour in the dressing and toss by hand, very thoroughly. Cover tightly and let hang out in your fridge while you work on the rest of dinner.

Remember the potatoes? Good. Don't worry, they are impossible to screw up. Stir them gently and go prep the chicken.

Take the chicken and rinse and dry well. Spray PAM or something on your pan and on your beercan chicken apparatus if you are using one. Season the chicken with lots of whatever you like on it. If you want, rub it down with some of the liquid from the can of your choice first—Gilly like using either Coke or beer—before you put the spice rub on. Now, either pour out half of the can's contents (or drink it) or pour it in the beer can apparatus. Stick the can or apparatus up the open wide end of the chicken, and balance the mess carefully in your pan. If you are using a can, GREASE THE CAN. CAREFULLY put the bird in the center of the upper rack of the oven.

Now, if you are wilting your cabbage, you can let it keep wilting for at least 15 more minutes. Go stir the potatoes again; if you need to, drizzle in a tad more oil. Now make sure your sink is CLEAN, especially if you rinsed the chicken in it. Fill sink with cold water and dump in the cabbage. Stir like a batch of laundry—rinse off that salt! Swish and drain in a colander, or just use a bunch of paper towels to squeeze out the water. Rinse again if need be. The cabbage should be wilted, and will taste salty—hence no salt in the dressing. Assemble salad as above.

Okay, now all you have to do is let the chicken cook. It should take around an hour. Do try to stir the taters at least once more. Towards the end of the cooking process, the oil will darken and thicken and the taters will shrink a bit and get a great crust of spicy goodness. If you need more time on the taters, you can always leave them in the oven for a bit more while the chicken rests.

Chicken is done when your favorite superstitious method for chicken doneness tests positive. I usually use the "if it smells done, it is" test.

If the taters are still in the oven, leave it on, obviously.

VERY VERY CAREFULLY and with GREAT CARE take the teetering chicken out of the oven and put on a stable surface. Use oven mitts.

Don't even think about getting the chicken off the can yet. Gently tent the whole mess with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Get your cutting board or your serving pan ready. Using tongs and a mitt/glove, hold down the can with the gloved hand and use the tongs to pull the chicken off of the can. Or, if you have silicon gloves, use them to lift the chicken off the can. The can will be full of boiling hot liquid; you don't want 3rd-degree scald burns; they suck. Be careful. Put the chicken on your board or your serving tray.

If the taters are still in the oven, they should be over themselves by now. Give a stir, and take them out of the oil and plate.

Give the slaw a deep stir from the bottom. Use tongs to make sure that the onions and scallions are well distributed.



NOTE: The slaw ages well and is even better the next day; make a day in advance. It keeps about a week in the cold part of the fridge. Also, the oven fries make the ABSOLUTE BEST hash browns as leftovers and are also good cold believe it or not.

Hash Browns: Using a smoking-hot cast iron pan, melt down a tad of butter with some olive oil. Brown-crisp a yellow onion. Toss in diced ovenfries and some red bell pepper if you feel fancy. Add a dash of very hot hot sauce and let sizzle down. Serve with eggs or tofu scramble or whatever—would also be a great hot side with fish, etc.


It's almost 11 PM. I need to sleep. Take care, remember, and preserve yourselves so that we can all stay on and fight.

Thank you.