Last month I escaped to Rivendell Writers Colony. Named for an Elven realm of Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, Rivendell is an idyllic retreat in Sewanee, Tennessee, with astounding natural beauty, disorienting solitude, fluffy comforters, and intermittent wi-fi. A weekend at this haven with my writers’ group was just what I needed to kickstart a long-overdue rewrite of my novel.
That’s what I told my family, right before I peeled out of the driveway, leaving them wondering where Mommy was going with a bottle of Tennessee whiskey and a slow cooker.
Eight to five are quiet hours at Rivendell, so when I arrived at 10 a.m., my friends were toiling with near-monastic focus. I still needed to acclimate to the silence, so I got to work on our dinner. I chopped an onion and some O-scale potatoes, peeled a whole head of garlic, threw it all in the pot and dropped a chicken on top. I rubbed salt on the skin, put the lid on, and set the heat to Low. It was now 10:07 a.m. I could ignore that chicken for up to eight hours.
I know what you’re thinking: “Shouldn’t we truss the chicken? Perhaps with a jaunty corset of ginger-colored Euroflax linen?”
Y’all, we have talked about this kind of thing. We on the Slow Cooker Odyssey are not chicken-trussers. We have other things to do, like knitting with ginger-colored Euroflax linen. And reworking novels.
That said, I still wasn’t ready to start needling out narrative knots from 350 pages of romantic comedy, so I strolled to the scenic bench named for author Walker Percy, who spent childhood summers in the surrounding woods. Mountain lore holds that Percy’s Perch, overlooking a breathtaking bluff, inspires visiting writers. I needed inspiration, so I sat.
I suppose it was a stretch to seek rom-com inspiration from the ghost of the man who wrote Love in the Ruins. But Nora Ephron does not have a bench at Rivendell. In any case, Walker Percy left me sitting alone—like Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle.
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Meanwhile, back at the slow cooker, I found the chicken glistening and garlic-scented but looking a little pasty. That’s the problem with slow cookers: You can’t get a Baywatch glow or crisped amber skin that melts on the tongue like a holy hybrid of stained glass and bacon.
But just like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, you can fake it. All you need is a colorful spice rub and, if possible, a few minutes under the broiler.
Ransacking the Rivendell cupboard, I found a reddish-brown medley of chipotle chili and paprika, which, when massaged onto the skin, made the bird look positively sun-kissed. (Oh, look, there’s some apple butter. And some mustard. I’ll use those too, later.)
The rest of that glorious afternoon on the Cumberland Plateau, I wandered from porch to hammock to pond to bluff, and when the shadows lengthened in Lost Cove below Rivendell, I found my studious companions closing their laptops and opening a bottle of wine on the terrace.
Fruits of Our Labors
They took turns reading aloud the beautiful words they’d written during quiet hours, and when it came my turn to share the fruits of my day’s labor, I unveiled . . . a chicken.
Because, though I had planned on days of diligence at Rivendell, I didn’t hit a lick at a snake once I got there. I’m tempted to blame Walker Percy. And the hammock.
But I can’t blame my Hamilton Beach, because, to the extent that I got any words on paper, it was thanks to a slow-cooked bird with mustard-apple sauce, which was so juicy, easy, and comforting that I wrote the recipe down right here.
Chicken and Potatoes with Mustard-Apple Sauce
1 whole chicken that fits in your slow cooker (giblets removed)
1 pound small potatoes, cut in half
1 onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, whole cloves, peeled
Red-colored spice blend
For the pan sauce:
2 cups of reserved liquid from chicken
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. fruit preserves, such as apple butter, raspberry, cherry, fig
1 tablespoon butter
Lay potatoes, garlic cloves and onion in bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken on top. Salt liberally. Rub with spice mix. Cook on Low for between 6 and 8 hours. Immediately before serving, slather bird with butter and place under broiler (on bottom rack) until skin crisps to a golden brown (about 5 minutes). Carve chicken and serve with potatoes over bed of arugula. Drizzle with pan sauce.
Transfer liquid from slow cooker to a pan and simmer. Add fruit preserves and mustard. Stir and reduce by half. Add butter and stir.