Slowing down

There's something about Detroit that haunts me. Not the way that Windsor haunts me, with the memories of poetry and fiction readings at Phog or Vermouth or the grad lounge, where we used to go before it was torn down, the medical building erected in its place. I remember the laughter. Half-full rock glasses clanging against the wooden tables, the nervous energy of a dozen quirky literature students, their anxieties quelled temporarily by the dreams on their shoulders. Violins played with such spark at the Dominion House by the red-headed son of a famous writer, who talks about geography the way someone might talk about romance, and with the kind of longing you might expect to hear from an unrequited love.

We picked at plates of French fries, dipped them in pools of mayonnaise and cleared our throats with swigs of hard cider. We walked home in the dead of winter, grounds covered in snow. Some say the city has no culture, but I say it's just a different sort of culture. It's not presented in the form of $27 entrees and chic coffee houses, names in fine typography; it's $5 pints of beer and boots stomping against the old, creaky floorboards and browsing antique shops in Walkerville. It's taking the boat out on Canada Day and inviting everyone you know to the twelve-foot bombfire. It's watching your friend's grandmother make homemade relish. Running through the cornfields at eight years old and eating rhubarb straight from the ground, no sugar. It's teaching your children to ice skate when the lake freezes over.

An ex-boyfriend of mine was fascinated by graffiti. We spent our weekends walking around the city taking photographs and analyzing signatures. I was curious at first as to why; I'd never given much thought to it. But it was reflective of the surrounding area and of those who lived there, of their experiences and their history. And if I had to characterize Windsor's culture, I'd say it's like that. I don't know that most people understand it or even pay attention to it. It seems people would rather cover it with white space or erase it and pretend it never happened and have everyone go on living the way they always have. But it's like that to me: anyone can get involved and anyone can have a say, and in that sense it's the People's Culture. Consumerism, capitalism, they have no value there; it's free-flowing beer on a hot day. It's honest expression.

Detroit doesn't haunt me that way because none of my memories were born there. I grew up across the river and consequently have never been Canadian enough for the Canadians nor American enough for a Green Card, and while two years in the Big Smoke have taught me something about real winter and celcius and have me listening to CBC and reading the Globe & Mail with some sort of regularity, I'm still a Windsorite, one who is continually moved and inspired by the broken working places -- like Windsor, like Detroit -- with holes that need patching and an economy in disrepair but a lot of soul. A whole lot of soul.

In a recent Food & Wine article, Phil Cooley, co-owner of Slow's in Detroit, mentioned that "Detroiters are way stronger than most people." I think it's true. I think it's sometimes true of Windsorites. I caught up with an old friend of mine last summer, and over ribs and red wine I mentioned that I was working two jobs; he laughed and said the same. "Around here, people are always asking me why," I said. He smiled and said, "it's because we're from Windsor, it's normal there."

Two years in the Big Smoke and I still think of Windsor as home. I don't yearn for it, but I feel a connection. The kind of thing that keeps you level-headed and mindful of the environment and community and homelessness. I guess all of the things that you'd file under the humanity umbrella.

And this chicken? She can compete with any bird. She's smokey and succulent and absolutely perfect with sweet potato coins roasted gently alongside her. My favourite thing to do with a whole bird is to brine it; I'm convinced of the difference it makes. Brining tenderizes the meat, yes, but it also flavours it fully and intensely. The spice mix created by chef Brian Perrone is also pretty exceptional. It's a bit of a jerk chicken riff -- the cayenne, the allspice -- but smokier. This recipe calls for a smoker, but I roasted mine at 400F for 20 minutes (uncovered) and turned the oven down to 350(covered) for the remainder of the time, about an hour (or longer, depending on size), until the legs come away from the cavity and the juices run clear. In the crazy heat we had this winter. Because I was lusting after chicken.

As three girls I know donned big white dresses this weekend, I went to a small white house party.

Everyone wore white -- except the woman dressed in black, who apparently didn't get the memo. In typical yuppie elitist fashion, the women, glamazons with perfectly toned bodies and designer clothes and long hair, were full on two cherry tomatoes and drank until they fell over and flashed a fake boob on their way down, and I ate smoked meat in the back room in my frumpy black uniform and cleaned up their cigarette butts and somehow felt like less of a woman because I'll never fill out a bikini top or figure out how to use a curling iron or be six feet tall. And that's really how it is here sometimes. And then I let it go, because honestly, there are more important things in life.

Like wine. For instance.

I arrived back at my apartment at 3am, sore and tired. So tired, in fact, that Sunday morning I was halfway through my protein shake before I realized my almond milk had in fact expired. One day I will disappear and someone will come to my rescue only to find me stuck to my bedsheets with "Body just gave up. Cheers, S." stuck to my backside.

But I insisted on this chicken, purchased from a good, reputable butcher. Sunday dinner -- the chicken, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and a fine glass of Chianti -- was perfect, and somehow made the beginning of a new week a little easier to swallow.

Detroit, you really know how to bring a girl to her knees.

Get the recipe here (I roasted a 3lb chicken and halved the recipe to great results.)


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