It’s not often that things on TV are pretty much exactly the same in real life.
Last week I sat on a jury for a five-day trial. The defendant was accused of 24 counts of crime, including first-degree rape and possessing a weapon when he wasn’t allowed to possess a weapon.
(Fun fact: the defendant’s last crime was prosecuted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993. Federal drug charge.)
I have never sat on an actual jury; I have been called for jury duty three times in my life, and mostly it’s just lots of sitting around and watching movies like How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days and Avatar. This time was different, and I was quickly seated as Juror #4 by noon on my first day of reporting, then sent home until Monday when the trial would begin.
Everything about the trial was pretty much what it looks like on TV: the dramatic opening and closing statements, the cross examination, the witnesses getting testy with the defense attorney, and, finally, conflict (and resolution) in the deliberation room.
Time seemed strangely fluid as well; hours would pass in the courtroom in what seemed like minutes, but in the deliberation room, every minute was an agony of waiting. At the end of the day we would emerge from our windowless room, cram ourselves into the elevator, and then emerge at the corner of St. Paul and Lexington, blinking against the too-bright sunshine of the late afternoon, at the height of rush hour to crawl our way home.
Of all the things that stuck in my mind that week, one in particular stands out. Whenever the lawyers had to gather something or find something that meant the action had to pause briefly, they would say, “Court’s indulgence,” and the judge would nod, indicating that she was cool with the wait.
I don’t know why, but I love this saying. It’s a respectful request for permission to pause while you gather your thoughts, something we could all use every now and then.
One day when I came home it was stuck in my head like a mantra, playing over and over as I fed the dogs and made dinner. On that night, it was hot outside and the back door was open, letting in a feeble breeze (and lots of flies, which drives The Black Dog crazy, an admittedly short trip). It had been an especially long day, nine to five listening to a case about rape and gun violations, and I wasn’t particularly interested in making something complicated for dinner or turning on the stove.
Court’s indulgence: I remembered my preserved lemons, which were ready and waiting.
Court’s indulgence: There were some small, sweet yellow, red, and orange peppers in the crisper, along with half a red onion and some arugula that I wouldn’t even need to wash.
Court’s indulgence: A bomb shelter’s worth of canned beans in the coolness of the basement.
Et voila. Dinner, eaten with the court’s indulgence, on the balcony in the back of the house as the evening wore on and the sun sank low.
White Bean, Sweet Pepper, And Arugula Salad With Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon (rinse to remove salt and also strip away the squishy flesh)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup best-quality olive oil (it matters)
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (I like a lot of pepper)
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
One large red pepper, chopped, or five small multi-color pepper, chopped
1/2 large red onion, sliced
Handful of arugula per salad
Make things easy on yourself and mix this all in the same bowl. I used a medium-sized round white Corningware bowl.
Place first five ingredients in bowl and mix together. Add beans, peppers, and onions and stir to combine.
To serve, place a large handful of arugula in a bowl, then top with beans. If you feel the need, you can drizzle with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, but mix it all around and taste before you do that.
Beans are even better the next day, chilled and then brought to room temp before serving.
I certainly have the temperament for it – I am an introvert, and I over think everything. At a minimum I think writers need to be comfortable alone, stuck in their head for substantial periods of time.
But for as long as I can remember I have been jotting words down on scraps of paper and hoarding them. Sometimes these words come together with periods and commas and semicolons (my favorite form of punctuation. #TotalDork), sometimes they are occasionally formed together on the wings of a poem, and sometimes they remain just fluttering scraps of thought that I save, maybe waiting for their chance.
I have always loved journals and pens and the accoutrement of writers, but bar napkins, receipts, and matchbooks (from back when there were such things readily available) are all a part of the flotsam of my writerly (if not always writer’s) life.
I even remember my first typewriter: an IBM Selectric. I didn’t write much on that beige beast except for papers and other undergraduate work, but I lugged it around with me for years before finally donating it to Goodwill where I am sure it languished on a dusty shelf until someone decided to recycle it.
My behaviors are those of a writer – seclusion, procrastination, and moment- and memory-hoarding.
That writing is tragically hard for me is an unfortunate irony of my chosen profession. Writers complaining of the pain of writing is not unusual and indeed seems to be part of the job description. Every word you put on the page is a reflection of yourself shining glaringly back at yourself, like a mirror that doesn’t really allow for whitewashing of flaws or highlighting of assets. Writing is radical honesty, only self-inflicted.
If I am honest with myself, which I always try to be, writing is the most painful and precious and cutting place I have ever visited because, as a writer, even if I don’t write it down it stays humming around in my brain, and even if I do write it down and never read it, I know it’s there. There are blogs from the early days of Dane’s death that I simply cannot read now. They are raw streams of emotion poured on the page, the very essence of grief distilled in a paragraph or two when keeping it inside was not a viable option.
So there’s that physical pain of writing the truth as I see it.
And then there’s the intellectual pain. Not the mental struggle to choose the right word or really be honest with what I mean to say and not give in to the urge to have some sort of flourish that is not me. Although this can be excruciating, in many cases time, work, and careful attention to words and the craft of assembling them can help with this, as can copious amounts of reading and patience and careful editing.
I am talking about that odious bitch, the Anti-Cheerleader. The constant mental struggle against feelings of inadequacy and doubt.
The clear knowledge that millions of people are writing AT THIS VERY MOMENT, and most of them are doing it better than me. That someone has already said what I am saying, and way better. That somehow, everyone’s thoughts are better than mine, and I am foolish to believe that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.
Do you see the trend? The Anti-Cheerleader assures me that I am unworthy, that my work is not worth the price of the ink used to print it out, and that I will never be able to find any value – monetary or otherwise – as a writer. And, finally, that I should not even be calling myself “writer.”
It seems masochistic to willfully undertake something that continually reminds you how bad you are at that thing. And then to tangle your identity (“I am a writer”) all up in that thing? Well, that is certainly madness.
As it is a well-known fact that many artists are batshit crazy, I suppose a tinge of madness comes with the territory. But still.
Every time I sit down to write or I avoid sitting down to write or I read about someone who has sat down to write I am forced to confront all of these feelings over and over again.
But I was born to write.
I was born to the struggle of shaving words onto the page. I was born to turn the things I experience into sentences that mean something, even if they only ever really mean something to me.
I love words. I love the way they look on the page. I love the way they sound when they are spoken. I love the way they connect to each other and disconnect from each other and connect the people who read them with an invisible thread.
I love trying to figure out which word is exactly the right one, even if the word is simple and small and not flowery and worth 50 cents on the SAT.
Language matters, and it happens to be the currency in which I traffic.
For me, food is like this, too.
Food connects people in ways that even language cannot. I have been fascinated by food since I was young, especially the ways in which it brings people together. Aside from having to eat to sustain life, special moments are marked with food, and that food becomes the shared experience upon which lives are built.
But, as with writing, there are millions of people cooking better than I am. And developing better recipes. And just in general knowing more that I do, latecomer as I am to the whole business of cooking and eating, and with no formal training or work in the back of the house.
Writing + Food = Food Writing, which also = Nearly Paralyzing Feelings Of Inadequacy
And then there is this:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Hell, YEAH, it is.
Because there is ALWAYS someone who is better. Who knows more. Is funnier. Has tighter abs. Better hair. Whatever. Name it. Someone is better.
Which can be, I suppose, a bit of relief. There is no such thing as “the best.” Maybe it might be “the best right at this moment..whoops…not anymore,” or “the best for you with what you had at the time.”
I say this “can be” a bit of relief because most days, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), that doesn’t really help. I still feel like a huckster and a fraud selling skills which, if I actually possess them, are ephemeral and difficult to regulate and duplicate.
Then some days, quite accidentally, there is a shining bit of joy, when the Sunshiney Rays Of Competence dart through the Clouds of Self-Doubt And Despair with a crepuscular golden light.
Today is not that day.
My particular friend Khristian works with a lovely woman, Linar, who you all just WISH would teach your kids someday. Seriously. Her classroom (and her manner with the children and pretty much every person who crosses her path) is so lovely and loving and supportive that every time I see her, even my introverted self leans a little closer. Linar gave Khristian a bottle of rosewater, and he turned it over to me. I promised her a recipe using that, so here it is. Pistachios and rosewater is a classic combination, and macarons have been my archnemesis.
Turns out, they remain my archnemesis.
While the macaron flavor was delicious, they did not rise on glorious feet. The filling tasted like a mouthful of flowers, even though I was very sparing. Some might like it; for me, it was overly perfumed and not pleasant.
This is not the end that I expected to have, but there it is. It is important, I think, to discuss the hard parts, the failure, in cooking. It’s easy enough to make something look delicious; that’s only so much smoke, mirrors, and microwaved tampons.
Failure isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. If you must fail – and rest assured, you must – fail forward.
For the curious, here’s the recipe. I would advise you make these at your own risk, and if you do, let me know how it goes.
Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling
1/2 cup finely ground pistachios
1/2 cup finely ground almond meal
1 cup powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1-2 teaspoons rosewater (less or more, to taste)
Line two baking sheets with silpat mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift ground pistachios, almond flour, and powdered sugar. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip egg whites until they begin to gain volume and become bubbly. When this happens, slowly add sugar until fully incorporated and egg whites are thick and holding soft peaks.
Add egg white mixture to nuts mixture and fold in vigorously with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
Place macaron batter in a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or use a large freezer bag with the end snipped off) and pipe into circles onto silpat (which may have guides on them already). Bang cookie sheet on the counter to settle the batter (just a couple good whacks) then let macarons sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The macarons need to dry and form a skin, of sorts, in order to get a good lift while baking and have visible “feet” (the frilly part on the bottom of the cookie).
When the top of the macarons are dry to the touch, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for nine to 12 minutes or until they are crisp outside. Cool completely before removing from silpat and filling.
To make the filling, combine egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, beating with a hand mixer until it thickens and is hot to the touch. Remove bowl from water and, still mixing, add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated.
Continue to beat this mixture until it thickens and has the texture of light frosting. Add rosewater to taste and stir to combine.
Pipe a circle of frosting on the flat part of one macaron, and top with another.
I do not use food coloring, but if you do, the macarons can be colored with two drops of green, and the filling can be colored with one or two drops of red.
Macarons should be stored at room temperature and eaten within a day or two. They also freeze well.
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____.”
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.
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.
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
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.
You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.
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.
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
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.
Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
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.
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.
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.).
Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)
4 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
One bag of tots
One jar of pizza sauce
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella
Whateverthefuck you like, toppings-wise
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.
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.