Sheer Delight: Better Than They Oughta Be Fried Green Tomato Arepas

Fried green tomato arepa with pimento cheese. #FreshParsleyOptional

The Child and I visited my grandmother last week, the one who steals fruit from her assisted living facility. Busy summers and basic malaise have kept us away since the second week in June, but putting off a visit to a 98-year-old person is no good idea. Plus, The Child and I need to feel like we are on the road from time to time; our best conversations happen while the tires eat the miles, even if it’s just a short two-hour jaunt to rural Pennsylvania.

When we pulled up, she was sitting in the sun outside the entrance to the main building. Three young men were spreading mulch in the flower beds, and the day was that kind of almost-fall day where the sky is such a crystalline shade of blue that the trees are outlined in black.

She didn’t recognize my (new to me) car when we pulled in, so when Sicily and I walked up to her and said hello, she looked up with a blank face before she recognized who we were and a look of what can only be described as sheer delight spread across her features.  She said, “I was waiting for someone, and here you are!”

We should all be greeted with such an unabashed and open display of pleasure.

I have an unexpectedly close relationship with my grandmother, as does The Child. Through letters I have learned what her life has been, and in person I get to know this person in whom I see so much of myself. She takes joy in seeing her great-grandchildren and has vowed to live until they are all safely ensconced in college; because of this, we do not share The Child’s plans for a gap year, and we are selective about the information we share in general. She likes to know we are happy and recovered from “Dane’s incident,” “that unfortunate time” when he died in a car accident. We talk about the weather, and food, and she worries about the stock market.

Our visit was short, as it usually is. My grandmother is spry and quick still, but tired in the way that people approaching 100 can be, I suppose, after a long walk outside and a rest in the sun. On the way back to her room, we stopped in the residents’ garden plot to look at the produce, and I ended up with a bellyful of sun-sweet cherry tomatoes and a bag full of green tomatoes for later.

I haven’t had fried green tomatoes in a dog’s age. The last time was in a diner in the south, someplace below the fall line in southern Georgia. I have few fond memories of our 13 years living in that place, but southern food is one of them. It’s a foodway that uses scraps and makes do, and it seems to mesh perfectly with my grandmother’s Depression era philosophy:

Make do;

Do without;

Use it up;

Wear it out.

These recipes are a mash of that sensibility plus new-to-me flavors and foods. I have been mildly obsessed with arepas since White Envelope came to town, and enjoying smoky foods is also new to me. I advise adding any or all of these condiments and toppings liberally to each arepa. You can certainly mix and match. The recipe for Mushroom Bacon is not my own, so I am linking it here.

Fried green tomato arepa with mushroom bacon and chipotle mayonnaise.

For the record, I don’t believe in calling non-meat things a meat name, but this is how the original person wrote the recipe, so I am going with that. It is delicious but does not in any way resemble bacon. I chopped it up after it was all done, and that was the easiest to eat.

There is also the basic recipe for arepas themselves, plus Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I have gone back and forth as to whether or not to include my Pimento Cheese recipe and have decided, at the very last minute, to hold that back. You can use a store-bought variety, or use your own recipe. That shizz deserves its own post, and it’s worth the wait. #Trust

Bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato arepa with chipotle mayonnaise.

I am pretty sure that when you present your people with any of these combinations they will gaze up at you with sheer delight as well.

Arepas With Assorted Delicious FIllings, Not The Least Of Which Is Fried Green Tomatoes and Chipotle Mayo with Bacon 

If you want to try all of these recipes, make them in the following order: Chipotle Mayonnaise (the night before, even), Pimento Cheese (if making your own), Mushroom Bacon, Arepas, and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

As with everything, adjust amounts to taste, but here’s the basic formula. Make this the night before.

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (or sour cream – whatever is in the ‘fridge)

3 teaspoons lime juice

3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon stone ground prepared mustard

Method

Mix all ingredients together (I use a Mason jar – no clean up). Store in ‘fridge and use on damn near everything.

Arepas (makes 8 arepas)

Ingredients

2 cups masarepa (see Recipe Notes)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cup warm water

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix masarepa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add warm water and mix until smooth. Use 1/3 cup measure to divide dough into eight balls and shape into disks that are 1/2″ thick and about 3″ wide.

Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working four at a time, fry the arepas on each side until golden brown, about four minutes each side. Transfer to cooling rack and fry the other four arepas.

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes or until arepas sound hollow. Turn off the oven and leave arepas to cool and crisp.

Recipe Notes

  • You cannot use regular masa for this recipe, and the addition of baking powder makes it not quite traditional. But of the eleventy million times it seems like I have made these, this formula produced a creamy interior with a crispy shell. So there it is. You can find masarepa in most Latino grocery stores, occasional in a mainstream grocery store, and always online.

Fried Green Tomatoes

There really is no better way to use up those stubborn, lingering tomatoes clinging to the vine than Fried Green Tomatoes. If you aren’t a fan, take your green tomatoes, stick them in a cardboard box, and set them someplace cool. Check on them every now and then; they will gradually ripen and be just as sweet and delicious as the ones from the vine. Remove mushy ones fast; they really will spoil the whole bunch.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (for eight sandwiches, I used four medium ones), sliced into 1/4″ rounds

1 cup soured milk (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup flour (I use gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup cornmeal

Salt and pepper

Method

Slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Some people salt them at this point to draw out the moisture, but not me. I let them sit on the towels and blot them dry.

Place a cooling rack on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ of oil over medium heat.

Set up your breading station, left to right (or right to left if you are left handed): one dish of flour, one dish of milk, one dish of cornmeal.

Controversial direction #1: I do not season my flour. I season the tomatoes directly. Many will take issue with this. I don’t care. Do it however you choose. 

When your oil is hot, salt and pepper your tomatoes. Dip into flour, shaking off the excess, then soured milk, and finally cornmeal. Fry until golden brown on both sides (approximately four minutes total, but the temperature of your oil will dictate this a bit).

Controversial direction #2: Do not drain your fried tomatoes on paper towels. This will make them soggy. Remove them from the oil to your cooling rack over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. If your oil was the correct temperature, the breading will not absorb too much, and this keeps them crispy. My grandmother drains hers on paper towels, but as Oprah says: When you know better, you do better.

Recipe Notes

  • Many recipes call for buttermilk, but if you don’t regularly drink it, you will end up with extra that just sits in the ‘fridge. To make your own, add one tablespoon of white vinegar to each cup of milk, stir, and let sit for ten minutes. Voila.

Assembly

Slice arepas down as you would a pita pocket; it’s up to you if you slice all the way through or treat them like a pocket.

Slip in a fried green tomato or two and then go from there. Favorite combos pictured above are: Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Mayo; Fried Green Tomatoes With Pimento Cheese; Fried Green Tomato With Mushroom Bits, Pimento Cheese, Lettuce, and Chipotle. Any or all of these are delicious. Fresh herbs like maybe a little parsley or cilantro are also delicious.

If you want something simple and don’t have time for any fuss, just use pimento cheese and let it get all melty. So. Freaking. Delicious.

It’s Time For Fall: Frank’s Holy Bundt

It may not look like much, but it’s basically religion in a bundt pan. #Trust

It’s fall, people.

The calendar may argue the point, but the weather surely doesn’t.

And not a moment too soon. My schtick is not depression lit, but I have made no secret of the fact that in my personal life it can be hard to find a lot of things to get it up for on a daily basis (yes, I said “get it up for” not “get up for.”). Often life seems like a silly march towards the end, just looking around for things to fill the days until you don’t really have to look around anymore and can sit in a chair, watch the news, complain about the weather, and worry about your 401K.

This summer in particular has been one of the more difficult ones. Maybe it is the return of the prodigal daughter from France. Or the conflict and stress of a freelance project that is exciting and challenging but an ongoing battle. Maybe it’s the completely fucked state of the U.S. Whatever it is, things feel pretty meh, enough so that even a drop in temperature is enough to get excited about.

On this the first day of September, I had been planning to kick off a 30-day month with three things: 30 days of cooking, 30 days of writing, and 30 days of yoga.

I am a huge fan of the 30-day challenge, but only the ones I make up for myself because YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. In an effort to cast about for something to focus on, I thought piling on the 30-day deadlines would be a good idea.

And then September 1st hit. Today. And I am still finishing up a recipe that I have been working on for two weeks and have a website with half-written blogs and a cell phone with jotted notes.

Turns out, sometimes you have to plan a little bit when you are gearing up for something.

Ah, well. In the wake of flooding in Texas, missile tests in North Korea, and navigating the complexity of emotions and people in combining two households with two teenagers (yes, I compared those three things. What of it?), planning has been…difficult.

So here we are, September 1st, and I am presenting to you a recipe from someone else.

The original recipe is not actually called Frank’s Holy Bundt.

Khristian (my particular friend, for those of you new to the blog) has a friend Peter with whom he performs. Peter lives with a roommate, Liz, whose boyfriend is Frank.

I met Frank briefly once before and only in passing, but a couple weeks ago I spent more time with him on Peter’s back porch. Cocktails at The Bluebird Room in Hampden had me feeling social, so I stopped by Peter’s house on the way home and found Peter, Khristian, Liz, and Frank.

Frank is a musician, constantly on tour. He has unruly hair, a beard, and an easy, warm way about him. As with many people, he also comes with verbal tics, one of which is “holy.” Everything that night was holy, from the cupcakes I made Liz for her birthday to a broken down car in western Maryland. Even the mashed potatoes they heated up later that night were holy.

In honor of Frank, and that warm summer evening, and the reminder that sometimes it’s nice to not worry about the big picture and just hang out on the back porch and enjoy what is, I present this, Frank’s Holy Bundt, a strange but incredibly delicious marriage of zucchini and chocolate. I only made slight adjustments to the original recipe mostly because I like to use what I have. If you have an abundance of zucchini, shred it and freeze it in two-cup measures so you can make this mid-winter.

Frank’s Holy Bundt

This cake has very little sugar for a cake, plus vegetables, so it’s practically health food. I used chocolate chips because it’s what I had on hand, but if you are fancy and have fancy chocolate, use that instead.

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini (I used frozen and squeezed all of the water out)
3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition (see note below for why this sort of doesn’t actually matter).

In a separate bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and a cup or so of the flour/cocoa mixture. Stir well to coat and separate as much of the zucchini as possible.

Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.

Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing (see Recipe Notes).

Pour into the prepared cake pan, and use your spatula to make sure the top is level.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then place the rack on top of the bundt pan. Flip the bundt over and allow to cool completely.

Use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Try not to eat it all but remind yourself that there is zucchini in there if you do and count that as a couple servings of vegetables.

Recipe Notes

  • I beat the shit out of the butter and forgot the sugar. When I added it after the next step, the batter was lumpy and gross looking, with clumps of butter. DID NOT MATTER AT ALL. This cake is very forgiving.
  • When working with cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc, you will often see the direction “mix until just combined,” or “do not overmix.” This is so the traditional flour doesn’t begin to develop the gluten and result in leaden cakes. With gluten-free flour, you can mix as much as you want. I don’t worry about it at all, but if you are using regular AP flour, tread lightly.

Just In Time For Easter: Buffalo And Bleu Deviled Eggs

The holy trinity. A little raggedy. Don’t judge. Resurrection isn’t tidy.

Today is Easter, a time when I traditionally post about Zombie Jesus and tell a long, anti-climatic joke whose punchline is, “Peter! I can see your house from up here!” My dad, good Jew that he was and inveterate and unapologetic Teller of Terrible Jokes, thought my joke was excellent. Possibly he was the only one, unless you count seriously intoxicated patrons of the bar that I tended back when I first learned this joke. I always worked on major holidays because that’s where the money is, and my captive and inebriated audience rewarded me with drunken laughter and extra money.

But I digress.

I am non-religious to an almost atheistic degree, especially in that I find so much hypocrisy and contradiction in religion that it can really only be made up by humans. How can you preach one thing and act completely another?

This is not to say that I don’t have some certain thoughts. Feelings. Beliefs?

Let’s not get carried away.

I, like every single, solitary other person on this earth, have no idea about any of it – what’s true, what happens when we die, if there is a plan or a purpose or some kind of reason for being. So, like every other single, solitary person on this earth I make shit up.

It’s what we do.

I grew up in Maryland but moved huffily away back in 1995. Since moving back to Baltimore in 2014, one very strange thing has been happening, a very strange thing that has me making shit up sometimes.

I keep finding utensils on the ground. Forks and spoons mostly, with the occasional knife thrown in. I find them on walks in the woods, the random stroll to the store, and even embedded in a newly paved road (in East Baltimore by the Johns Hopkins campus where I teach yoga).

For some reason, I have been picking them up. There are a million things on the street in any major city, but I pick up silverware.

Initially I thought I might get arty and make a windchime or something, but I have not yet done that, and the stash of cutlery is growing.

Coincidentally, just before I really started writing about food, the pace of street cutlery acquisition increased exponentially. Everywhere I went, spoons and forks magically appeared. Plain, ornate, bent out of use, and perfect as if just out of the box from the bridal registry: eating utensils were everywhere.

It got a little ridiculous.

But now, as I continue to stockpile my growing stash of silver/not silver, I wonder.

Which is how all made-up human creations begin.

Is this The Universe telling me to start a food blog?

(pause here for that not-quite-serious question to sink in)

I just read an article on The Facebook about ten of the most overused phrases in yoga (this is not that article, but this is a good one, still with the same snarky bullshit, but the sting of truth is there. Get a Band-Aid and some tissues, hypersensitive yogis.), and while I disagreed completely with the snarky, my-yoga-is-better-than-yours tone of the article, one point struck me: the serious and continued calling upon of The Universe.

As in, “If I just tell The Universe what I want, then I can manifest it, ” or, “That’s The Universe telling me to____.”

I have shaken my fist at The Universe, it’s true. I have, in moments of weakness, wondered (there it is again), if certain things were just supposed to happen.

But come on.

We are tiny little specks in this overwhelmingly ginormous collection of dust, gas, and other material. To suggest that our tiny little lives merit even a moment of attention from any wisp of cloud or breath of wind is ludicrous and faintly ridiculous. The Universe frankly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us and our tiny, insignificant human problems.

But still.

I have felt in my life that sometimes, if I could just make myself small enough (or, conversely, make myself open and big enough), I would be able to hear that little voice that is maybe me, deep down, or maybe something else outside of me. That whispered breath of something has been with me for a long time, and I don’t know if it’s on the wind or in my bones.

Whatever it is, it’s never wrong. Quite literally. I have tried to drown it with booze and outrun it by moving, but ultimately whatever is being said/whispered/transmitted/ WHATEVER gets through.

It sounds like a belief system, of sorts, but I promise you, it’s not.

But it’s something.

There really is no good segue into why this recipe made it into this post, except to say that I found the inspiration for it on The Facebook in the form of Jennifer, my cousin in Seattle. In truth, she is a cousin by marriage, related as she is to my deceased husband, but after Dane died we became (and stayed) close (like maybe The Universe thought we should. #Transitions)  She posted on The Facebook, asking a friend in Washington to make these for her, and they seemed just the thing for a not-quite-atheist to have for a dinner celebrating Zombie Jesus’s (re)birth.

Buffalo And Bleu Deviled Eggs

Note: Like all things religious and spiritual, there are no hard-and-fast answers. Amounts are really subject to you and what it looks like. The filling should be creamy, so taste and keep adding until it’s how you like it. The original recipe has many exclamation points! And ranch dressing powder! Neither of which made it into this recipe, as exclamation points are an anathema to me, and I didn’t feel like buying ranch dressing powder. But do as you like. This isn’t a cult, for Christ’s sake.

Ingredients

6 hardboiled eggs, cut in half with yolks removed to a bowl

3 tablespoons softened cream cheese

2 teaspoons mayonnaise

Frank’s hot sauce, to taste

Splash of milk

Garnish: bleu cheese crumbles and celery

Method

Place egg yolks, cream cheese, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and milk in a medium-sized bowl (or the bowl of a food processor) and beat with a hand mixer (or process on low) until ingredients are smooth a creamy. Taste, and add more hot sauce or milk as needed.

Spoon (or pipe if you’re fancy AF) into hardboiled egg white cases. Thinly slice celery and place artistically on top, then add bleu cheese crumbles (gorgonzola is also delicious here). Finish with some freshly cracked black pepper, and try not to eat them all in one sitting.

 

 

How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Tater. Tot. Pizza: Pretty Much As Good As It Gets

We ate this all, and could’ve had another.

This is how relationships go.

You spend the first little while – six months, maybe – trying to be impressive as hell, your sparklingly best version of yourself. Even if you are a real, down-to-earth, no artifice kind of person, this is just how humans roll. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are, but it’s much easier to reveal the best parts first, the parts that are easy to love.

You and your new particular friend may do new and interesting things.

Maybe you try exciting new hobbies or go on long walks or eat at interesting places you have always wanted to try. Maybe you sit through the boring lecture or sporting event because it lights them up. Maybe they do the same for you.

Whatever happens, you don’t fart out loud, and if you fart at all you keep a dog handy.

#KeepinItReal

And then, somewhere around the six month or one-year mark, things begin to shift.

Contrary to popular cultural belief, this is where things start to get good.

Because it’s not the new adventures and the new food and the no-farting that make human relationships deep and wonderful (although all of those things definitely enhance life together).

It’s that part where you can exist in a space with another human and just be 100% who you are, the best and worst parts of yourself all at once without any effort or any need to go or do or be anything.

It’s when you allow yourself to relax enough to read at opposite ends of the couch together, and that’s the night without guilt or remorse or a shred of FOMO, even on Fridays and Saturdays where you start to feel hella old if you are in jammies by 9 but are secretly proud you made it even that late because you really wanted to put jammies back on around 5.

It’s sitting on the back porch in unseasonably warm weather, watching the earth spin as a planet moves across the sky. And that’s it.

It’s all of those nights where there is no pressure, no plan, a weekend off from running from thing to thing, a night in after being pulled in a million different directions, dealing with the slings and arrows of this mortal coil.

Maybe not every night. You don’t want things to get boring.

But just enough nights so that you can see how spending more time with your particular friend might just unwind into a whole new lifetime of love and adventure, even on nights when there is not much happening.

And this realization needs an appropriate snack: tater tot pizza.

You heard me: Tater. Motherfucking. Tot. Pizza.

I am not scared of salty language, but I will tell you that I am holding myself back from unleashing a torrent of curse words.

It’s just that fucking good.

Seriously. Tater tots + pizza sauce + cheese = perfection. Sheer, utter perfection.

This Saturday night, after a long walk and some bad news about a car (not mine, but still), this is the kind of easy, early night in food we needed.

Full disclosure: we ate the entire cast iron pan full of it. Zero scraps left.

And even more full disclosure: I won’t say this recipe is perfected as a pizza.

In fact, it’s still just a little bit messy and not quite the same all three times we have made it. The tots aren’t quite accepting of their role as a crust, and sometimes when you can’t wait for it to cool it ends up looking nothing like pizza and more like a bowl of deliciously crispy bits of potatoes slathered in tomato sauce and dripping with fresh mozzarella.

It’s kind of like how real life is with a new person after the new starts to wear off, just a bit if you’re lucky: comforting and warm, infinitely adaptable, and pretty good no matter how things turn out.

Tater Tot Pizza

Ingredients

One bag of tots

One jar of pizza sauce

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella

Whateverthefuck you like, toppings-wise

Method

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. You can use a cast iron skillet, a pizza stone, or a baking sheet – stick that in the oven while it’s preheating.

Meanwhile, shred your cheese and get your toppings ready. No rush, and you’ll see why.

When the oven is hot, take out whatever you are heating (it will cool a little; that’s okay) and dump about 1/2 a bag of tots to cover the bottom. Get fancy, or don’t, but make one even layer. If you are using a pizza stone, allow a two-inch gap between tots and the edge of the stone.

Pop back in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes.

Pull the pan out and smash the tots into an even layer that climbs a bit up the sides of the pan or reaches out to the edge of the pizza stone.

Place back in the oven and cook until the tots are done and crispy on the top and sides.

When Khristian makes it on a pizza stone, he uses the edge of a spatula to press the tots towards the center, forming a sauce-containing structure.

Add your toppings, and put back in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and brown and delicious-looking.

Here’s the dumb part: after you take your pizza out of the oven you have to wait for at least ten minutes, probably more like 20.

It SUCKS. Truly.  I am one of the least patient people, especially when it comes to tater tots and/or pizza.

However, waiting allows everything to firm up a bit and allows you at least the chance of picking this up like a pizza.

For me, I don’t give a crap if it looks like a pizza or not. At this point, I will put it in a bowl and be perfectly happy. When Khristian made it last night, though, it was more pizza-like than any of my creations, and he cooked for me, which made it taste EVEN BETTER.

However it turns out, it’s pretty much the most delicious thing ever.

Recipe Notes

  • Tater tot “crowns” by Ore Ida may work better for a pizza stone (no rolling), and all Ore Ida fries are gluten-free.
  • Why they give you two full cups of pizza sauce when you only need less than 1/4 cup for most pizza-making endeavors is beyond me. I portion the leftover out into 1/4-cup servings in ziplocs and freeze them flat until I need them.