Confession No. 81 — I’m in my 40s and still haven’t used algebra (Recipe: Meyer Lemon Chicken)

I‘m a writer.

During my career, which has included broadcast news and production; newspaper and magazine reporting; and public relations — I’ve never used formulas or had to deal with coefficients, quadratic functions or polynomials.

Oh, I can count backward from 60 or 30 (seconds) and speak for exactly 15 or 30 (seconds) without using a stopwatch. I can also look at something typewritten and tell you — with a single glance — how many words are there … give or take a few. When an editor tells me he is looking for 15 column inches of copy, I know exactly what he is talking about.

I learned those (adding and subtracting) skills in second grade.

I’m a husband and father
I know that anniversaries come once yearly (or annually, for you language buffs), along with birthdays, Christmas and Halloween. I can count the days with enough proficiency that I’ve yet to miss buying gifts or costumes on time. (Although my buying choices aren’t always looked upon favorably.)

I can look at a thermometer and see that someone might have a 100-degree temperature. In order for them to not have that fever (98.6 degrees, or lower), I might have to administer some pre-measured medication.

I know that school starts by 8 a.m. So, with the knowledge that it takes about 15 minutes to drive from our home to the campus, I know we must depart home no later than 7:45 a.m. — so long as I’m willing to drive the speed limit.

Speaking of driving
I know that our Prius uses about $25 worth of gasoline every two weeks, versus the Armada, which uses about $80 weekly. (That’s a $135 difference, for those who doubt my addition and subtraction skills.) I also figured out recently that it costs about $1,000 for a new set of tires for the beast — versus about $350 for the little hybrid.

And those vehicles cost us a pretty penny, including some funds that went to pay for interest on the loans. Funny thing is, I was never taught about compound interest in any math class. I learned the hard way — as an 18-year-old with a Chase Manhattan Visa and a $5,000 line of credit. Who knew that 1¼ percent interest per month could add up so quickly?

I’m an aspiring food snob
I can measure in ounces, grams, drams and liters. I learned (most of) these skills in fourth grade, if memory serves me, but truth be told — I cheat with measuring cups.

I know that the boiling point of water is 212ºF, but I’ve honestly never observed the progress of the rising temperature over a burner. I’ve just always known that it’s at the boiling point when you see bubbles. Also, I know better than to stare at it, since a watched pot never boils.

I couldn’t tell you the sum of rice grains that are in a raw one-cup serving. Nor could I begin to know how much area an 8-ounce cup of red Kool-Aid would cover on a porous tile floor. I do know, however, that it’s a pain in the ass cleaning either spill.

I’m also a baseball fanatic, gardener, fledgling guitar player and lover of Western movies. So, it should be a given that I can calculate WHIP, ERA and BA; parts per million; quarter notes; and how many shots are left in the bad guy’s six-shooter.

In all of this — my life — there is one mathematical thing missing. I’ve not tried to avoid it, rather the need to use it has just never reared its head. So, almost 30 years later, I ask the same question that I once posed to a first-year teacher.

Will I ever use algebra in the real world?

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February is Meyer Lemon Month at my homestead this year. The tree that grows outside my west bedroom window is loaded with ripened fruit — ready to be picked and enjoyed. While we’ll use the tangy gems to make recipes like the one below, at least 2-3 Meyer Lemons will end up juiced over fresh ‘Lula’ Avocados (the big ones grown in the Rio Grande Valley — that taste like toasted walnut), while another dozen, or so, will be squeezed, measured and frozen.

While you might be looking out your window and seeing a blanket of white stuff, just know that you can grow Meyer Lemons in your neck of the woods. As I mention in my profile, I went off the deep end for a few years and became a purveyor of Meyer Lemon and other citrus trees. We shipped thousands of trees over the years to places like New York, New Hampshire and even Maine. So many people became believers that Family Circle magazine showed up at our east Texas farm to do a feature article. In July 2002, about 11 million copies of the magazine were shipped worldwide, featuring our trees and quotes from yours truly. The Associated Press followed with its own series of articles. — In Thursday’s Food Snob Chronicles, I’ll feature in-depth information about this fruit, another Meyer Lemon recipe and I’ll tell you about the best source in the U.S. for miniature Meyer Lemon trees.

For now, if you can’t get Meyer Lemons at your local produce stand (or from your own tree), substitute 3 parts lemon juice to 1 part orange juice, and you’ll be in the neighborhood of what Meyer Lemons taste like. You can substitute grated rind using the same ratio.

Meyer Lemon Chicken

meyer lemon chicken

Meyer Lemons give this crispy baked chicken an addictive tang.

Meyer Lemon Chicken
Meyer Lemons give this crispy baked chicken an addictive tang.
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 5
  • 5 – Chicken thighs (or 3 split breasts), trimmed with skin on
  • Grated zest and juice from 1 Meyer Lemon, plus 1 Meyer Lemon cut into wedges
  • ¼ cup – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • ⅓ cup – Dry white wine (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 4 – Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp – Dried Thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp – Dried Oregano
  • ½ tsp – Dried Rosemary, crushed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine, Meyer Lemon zest and juice; olive oil; wine; garlic; and dried herbs.
  3. Arrange chicken pieces skin side up in a glass baking dish or roasting pan.
  4. Season lightly with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Pour combined liquid mixture evenly over chicken.
  6. Arrange Meyer Lemon wedges between chicken pieces.
  7. Bake, uncovered, until chicken is done — about 30 minutes.
  8. If a darker brown skin is desired, place under broiler for a minute, or two.
  9. Remove from oven; cover; allow to rest for about 5-10 minutes.



  1. Really liked your blog… check out ours xx

    • Thanks! I’m following your blog and would really appreciate it if you could tell me why in the hell I can’t find the giant (quart-sized) bottles of Matchabelli at my grocery store these days. ;-)

  2. I might have to try this chicken dish. It looks good!

  3. and I thought the chicken piccata w meyer lemons recipe kicked butt – will have to try this one soon, especially as we now have the lemons at our supermarket !

  4. If Chef A adds 3.5 deciliters of truffle oil to 9 fluid ounces of cream-based pasta sauce, and Chef B adds 2 drams of the oil to .7 litres of the same type sauce, how many micro-seconds will elapse before Gordon Ramsay tells them they both suck?

  5. Great post! I remember asking the same question, but about calculus. Now geometry. I found that to be useful.

    PS. You are so lucky to have your own Meyer lemon tree!

    • I needed geometry. Once. I was building compost tumblers and needed to find the center of two differently-sized circles (the barrel ends). So, how did I handle it? I called my dad — who turns 70 today. He said ‘Dang, Adam. You should know how to do this.’ And then he made me learn it. Thank goodness my teen son is a math wiz. ;-)

  6. Math was the only subject I was horrible at, but it’s a necessary evil. As a cook, you use algebra all the time when coming up with ingredient ratios. Try and cut a recipe in half and double it….you’re gonna use algebra. You don’t have to like it, but it’ll happen.

    I’m still envious of that meyer lemon tree. Some day I’ll get my hands on one!

    • Christiane – When I cut a recipe in half, or double, I’m either dividing or multiplying. When it comes to ratios? Maybe I am using some algebraic formula. That said, I might have done a much better job in the class had the teacher used such scenarios. (She couldn’t answer my question, except to say that engineers use algebra.)

  7. Love your story and the recipe.. I always wondered the difference about Meyer lemons… as I have seen so many recipes… I have never seen them around here, but will look out for them when I am grocery shopping this week. Your chicken dish looks wonderful… Oh, and my hubby is wishing he had learnt more about algebra now that he is back to school studying construction management.

    • I’ve seen Meyer Lemons in the market twice. Once was at a Central Market (HEB’s answer to Whole Foods — and a better store, in my opinion); the other time was at a Wal Mart. The Central Market stuff was loose, like most other fruit, whereas the Wal Mart version was packaged by Sunkist in a plastic bag. Good luck! And thank you for your kind words.

  8. I have meyer lemon envy (haven’t found meyer lemons in Sydney), but that doesn’t require algebra either.

    • I know they’re there. (At least I’ve had email contact with a few Australians who were growing Meyer Lemons.) Grow your own! Check out Engall’s Nursery. (While you’re there, get a Kaffir Lime tree too!)

      • We had a kaffir lime tree, until we moved into an apartment without a balcony. Though I can gift a Meyer lemon tree to friends who have a backyard.. Thanks for pointing me to Engall’s!

  9. My son graduated college with a major in Math…and took Math courses I’ve never even heard the names of…and studied imaginary numbers…really??? Great post!

  10. I hated algebra. And geometry. And pre-calculus (I wasn’t smart enough to take full-fledged calculus). I use the basics daily…And I already dread when my son gets past about 4th-grade math. Thank goodness my FIL is a stats professor & my dad’s about 3 hours shy of a masters in Accounting! My husband (who is also lacking in the mathematical department) & I both hope that sort of thing skips a generation & our son will just get math. Assuming I can find Meyer lemons in my grocery store (I’ve been told they’ve shown up on occasion), would this work with boneless skinless breasts? Not that I don’t love the occasional chicken skin, but I’m cheap & just want to use what I have on-hand!

    • Rachel – Our son is the math person around here. I argued with someone recently (when they said that the public school system is broken in Texas) that kids these days are a hell of a lot smarter than we were (especially in math and science — I can still whip my son’s ass when it comes to writing). He passed my math education level by the time he hit 9th grade. — OK, to your question. It will work with boneless skinless breasts, but you’ll need to cut way down on the cooking time and baste more frequently.

  11. Oh my – I don’t even know where to begin. I have a degree in math education and have taught algebra on and off for over 25 years; however, I do hear you and the many others that have asked this question. No, you will never have any use for the quadratic equation, I haven’t found one. However, there is something that people don’t realize when they are learning how to solve for x and how to manipulate formulas. They are learning how to problem-solve! The approach is systemic and helps one to learn a method, a logical sequence to approaching a problem. It improves one’s ability to think logically. This, you apply to your daily life, and as a chef, you’re solving problems and thinking logically all of the time. :) Speaking of logical thinking – creating a new recipe such as this delicious chicken uses not only creative thinking in the concept of the dish, but logical thinking in its creation, direction, and instructions. What a fabulous chicken recipe!

    • Somehow, MJ, I just knew that a math person would read this. (I wasn’t expecting anyone as nice as you to respond.) I cannot dispute that some people are learning how to problem-solve when approaching algebraic equations. But, ‘logical sequence?’ That all depends on who’s trying to solve the problem. There was nothing logical about those sequences to me. (And my teacher was of no help. She was good at algebra, but not a gifted teacher.) I’m no expert in education, but I believe that if you give someone an end (Meyer Lemon Chicken, in this case), they’ll trudge through and figure out the means to arrive there. GT and International Baccalaureate programs are based on such problem-solving techniques, except they also use group settings (as we often use in the real world). Perhaps a group setting in algebra would have been beneficial. Yes?

      • Well thank you very much Adam, but are you saying that math teachers can’t be nice people? LOL I definitely think that algebra can be and should be learned (taught) in a group setting. After teaching for 10 years and getting frustrated with the “testing process”, I diverged from the traditional way of testing to take home tests. Yes, take home tests in a math class, in fact, in all of my classes. Of course I did teach adults at a community college, so it was easy for me to do. I encouraged the students to work together on the tests, but they couldn’t copy. If any two answers were identical, I simply gave each student half credit. :) Anyhoo, the problems were mostly “word problems” OMG!, so the students had to “problem-solve”. Most loved it, but I did have a few ask for an in-class test, because the take homes were too hard. :)

        • No, MJ. Not at all. I am saying that I just didn’t expect my first detractor to be as nice as you. :-) It’s difficult debating a math teacher about why most of us shouldn’t have bothered taking algebra. I can appreciate your position though.

  12. I use algebra at work – you are not missing anything, but maybe you should ckeck out some math metal, for the guitar parts to challenge at least:) and your chicken dish looks delicious. Thanks, Tracey

  13. This is one amazing looking piece of chicken. Next time I get meyers I have to give this a go. I hate math. I try to avoid all blogs that make me do it to leave a comment. It’s just fundamentally wrong on every level.

  14. Since I finished college, I haven’t used any math other than addition outside of tutoring. Interestingly enough, every kid I tutor has had a finance unit that teaches about interest, loans and the cost of living. I’ve noticed that the kids who don’t have bank accounts are the ones who struggle most with the concepts.

    Also, that chicken looks fantastic. I will have to try that out.

  15. Looks damn fine.

  16. I want to grow lemons….and this meal looks great. Higher math is critical to deeper thinking; you’ve used the incidental skills from problem solving…it’s like Latin in some ways, the direct knowledge isn’t where the bennies are :) .

  17. I’ll be 38 in June and have yet to find any need for Alegbra. Addition and subtraction, yes. Of course I’m also the girl who answered “What is the square root of PI?” with “Chocolate” It’s not??!!

  18. I loved this post! I would love a Meyer lemon tree, no such luck here (in UK) though! Luckily a supermarket here has just begun to stock Meyer lemons though so all is not lost! Chicken sounds great, think it will be featuring on my plate soon!

  19. Maths. I quit maths when I was allowed – at the end of grade nine at high school. Year ten saw me mathsless and cheering! Now, saying that. I just WISH that “maths in society” was not dubbed “veggie maths”… becuase now, in hind sight, I can clearly see that that would have been an excellent subject for me to take. You are right! Who on earth needs algebra in real life? Maths in Society would have not taught me about algebra, but rather how to double a recipe, how to calculate compound interest, or how to work out a premium. Useful stuff! These days I can barely remember how to do multiplication let alone long division! Oh well.. isn’t that why we have a smart phone? To use the calculator on it?

  20. I’m with you and strawberryquicksand (above) – no maths for me either. Funny because I starting my first job as an estimator at a printing company. Didn’t take, just like math. But Meyer lemons do take and I look forward to reading the next post!

  21. Joe Reaves says:

    My dad was an engineer, aerospace to be precise. For him calculus and trig, not to mention algebra came second nature to him. So you can probably get the picture that when it came time for me (and my two sisters) to take said math courses, it was not a pleasant experience around our house. I think baby sister is still going through therapy on that one.

    • Yeah. I understand. My dad, when he came home from Vietnam in the early 1960s, enrolled at LeTourneau Technical School (now known as LeTourneau University for those who aren’t familiar). Is he a math wiz? Nah. But he was well-schooled and it was not a pretty sight when he was trying to teach me fractions and such.

  22. I enjoyed your confessions,,your math skills make mine look even more paltry….Beautiful dish!

  23. Darlin, there’s not even a contest b/t algebra and your Meyer Lemon Chicken…hands down, I ain’t usin’ Algebra, but I’ll wear ‘them lemons’ out! Great musings from a deliriously delicious foodie friend!! xo Ally

  24. I’m 33 and I’ve yet to use the calculus I took in high school either…

  25. I’m rubbish at maths, my mind goes a blank and I have to force myself to concentrate, cryptic crossword on the other hand and I have no trouble..
    I’m also very good at building flat pack furniture.. lol

    I can cook

    Chicken looks beautiful, had to google Meyer lemons, you could make lemon curd..

  26. I still use my old abacus,it works for me

  27. Who in the heck needs to know algebra?! That’s what all this new fangled technology we have is for. I got a C- in math 11 and foolishly ELECTED to take math 12. I never attended class and failed with 39%. But lookit me now! I STILL got into university and now I’m a fancy pants law-talking gal. So take that, math. And I’ll take this delicious meyer lemon chicken. Damn, this looks good!

  28. Math! I hear ya Adam. In order to get a passing grade in this final math class I needed, I had to promise the professor that I’d never take another math class in my life (no problem there). I have pretty much total recall for anything that I’ve read – as long as there are no numbers in it. A sentence in a book – can go right to the page…my phone number? Couldn’t tell you even if you threatened to cut off all future great recipes including this one. This is only the second time I’ve heard of Meyer lemons but now I’m on a mission. When you say they can grow up north, do you mean indoors? I would love to have a few if they can handle our winters or just one if it’s indoors (and I know just the spot to put it).

    • Yes, Diane. Indoors and outdoors. Up north. Down east. I’ll reveal more in tomorrow’s Food Snob Chronicles, but I’ll tell you know that I’ve had a block (maybe 200 trees) in below-freezing weather (average was about 17 over the period) for more than 48 hours. All but a few plants lived. Did they look good coming out of it? No. But they recovered and continued to produce. — One of the best endorsements I ever received was from a co-member of the Garden Writer’s Association of America who lived in Vermont (I think). I’d sent her a couple of trees for possible mention in a future book (she’s written numerous gardening books) and she called me one day in the dead of winter to tell me how her bedroom all-of-a-sudden smelled like honeysuckle. Those trees, which had taken a beating during shipping, then went directly indoors (not the best place to recover) were putting out blooms. — So, yes. You can grow it. I’ll help you. :-)

  29. I came on to see my who my one follower is on my hardly used blog, what a delight you are! I enjoyed your post! I’m not a writer, but I’m working on it….and I’m actually a “math” person. I used algebra and geometry to figure out my backyard redo…so I wouldn’t over buy cement. My contractor laughed at me. I also have used calculus since, but that’s just because my kids needed help with their school assignments! Thanks for the laughs!

    • Thank you, Erika, for stopping by. Don’t know why your blog is seldom used.. Looks like you were pretty much going to run the gamut with your subject matter. Hopefully you’ll find a few minutes to get that thing cranked up again. FYI – I always under-buy concrete, so maybe I should consider learning at least that equation.

      • My schedule keeps changing, but now that I can do a blog with my phone, I shall be getting more content out! It’s all a learning curve, but it looks like a good way to express myself. You’re an inspiration!

  30. I knew there was a reason I dropped maths for my final year :D


  31. mdprincing says:

    Well I feel challenged now to utilize my math minor, for something. I got it, algebra and dinner. I will eat how many chicken wings?

    m x h = x

    x= # chicken wings

    Of course I can’t remember how to figure out this equation so I will do it the old fashion way….one chicken wing, two chicken wing……

  32. Confession #whatever …. I flunked algebra. Even with an after school tudor. Needless to say I didn’t take geometry. I bought Meyer lemons so I can make your pasta dish this weekend. This chicken dish looks mighty fine also.

  33. OMG! Your title is what grabbed me! I HATE algebra! Did I say, I HATE algebra! Is the writer right brain, or left brain? I am definitely that one! I also am good at MATH, and have no problems with numbers, but give me algebra and I FREAK! When I was studying psychology in college I had to take algebra. I tried three times!! No luck! When you start putting numbers with letters, my brain says NADA! “We aren’t going there”! Needless to say, I am psychology degreeless and no worse for the wear that I haven’t had a need for algebra!

  34. EVERYONE has used algebra by the time they’re 40, whether they know it or not. No amount of trying to convince yourself that those skills are elementary in nature can take away that fact. It’s just that you’ve become so accustomed to the use of algebra, it actually seems elementary. One example – you have X dollars in your pocket. You need something from the store for a recipe you’re about to make. The main item you’re there to buy is buy one, get one 50% off. Great price, so you decide to stock up on that price and freeze what you don’t use today. How many offers can you get for the amount of dollars you have in your pocket. THAT’S algebra. A Jersey-boy ought to know that! LOL

    I definitely want to try this recipe. It looks like one even my daughter would eat (she’s 27, but still won’t eat anything that she says doesn’t belong together – such as “sweet” and “meat”. She gags when she smells BBQ sauce.) The lemons would keep this from too much sweetness.

    • adamjholland says:

      Well, Wendy, Jersey boys might know that — but I’m a Texas boy. ;-) Your response makes me think that more algebra teachers (or math teachers in general) should teach it in an applied way. When you talk about money, discounts and volume it just makes more sense. I appreciate you stopping by. Now, let’s work on getting your daughter to eat more variety! :-)


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