It’s been awhile since I’ve written a ‘sigh, I’m alone’ post. And god, I thank you for sticking with me through those. In one sense it feels like just yesterday and in another it feels like it’s been a decade. And I haven’t written about it much because most days I’m doing pretty darn well. I have great friends, an amazingly supportive family, exciting writing jobs popping up left and right, and interests and passions that keep me busier than I’d like to be. But to have just a moment together here–a little bout of honesty–it sucks eating alone. I haven’t gotten over this part of being single. I hate it. And as you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of eating. So we have a little problem on our hands.
One summer when I was in graduate school, I decided to escape to Cape Cod by myself to work on a syllabus for a course I’d be teaching in the fall. I found a cheap Bed & Breakfast in Chatham and spent time alone just reading, drinking lots of iced coffee, beach walking, bike riding, and eating ice cream cones. I have the fondest memories of that week. The only difficulty was when 6 p.m. would roll around and I’d panic over what to do for dinner. I was comfortable sitting in cafes alone, but an actual restaurant was a different story altogether. So one night, tired of take-out burritos or trail mix + apples, I drove into Provincetown and chose a little Mexican spot that seemed casual enough (and virtually empty). And I had a meal there. Without my cell phone or a book. I just sat and looked out at the amazing pink light on the horizon and the piles of almost fluffy sand nestled against kayaks on the beach and kept repeating to myself what my mom had told me, “No one’s as interested in what you’re doing as you think they are.” And that was that.
So what is it about eating alone that I’m having difficulty with lately? Truthfully, I think eating a meal is about so much more than just food–it’s sharing your likes and dislikes with another person, your quirks and habits, your stories about the day. Laughs. Glances. Understandings. That’s the part I miss. A lot. But I gained some perspective this week when an old professor shared this video from poet Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. It’s all about being alone but not being lonely. Just straight-up chilling out with yourself and grooving on it. This little video is charming. Watch it.
It inspired me to bake a whole batch of Giant Buttermilk Biscuits for me, myself, and I. I had two for breakfast this morning with lots of butter and jam, and I plan on having another for lunch with tomatoes from the garden.
“Lonely is a freedom that breathes easily and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it. …if you’re happy in your head, then a solitude is blessed and lonely is o.k.”
So I’m shooting for being happy in my head. Funny way to phrase that. I guess for many people that’s a lifelong pursuit, huh? I’m finding, today at least, that eating a biscuit with cherry jam helps. I like what Davis says about taking the perspective you get from being one person in one head, too. In a way, I’ve gotten to know a lot more about myself in the past 5 or 6 months than ever before. So I know looking back at this time, I’ll be thankful for the occasional lonely meal and I’ll probably wish I had a whole plate of biscuits all to myself.
Note: This is the first time I’ve embedded video into my blog–if you have any trouble viewing it, will you let me know?
This recipe came from a Food and Wine feature called Dixie Deli, profiling Matt and Shelia Neal’s sweet little deli in Carrboro, North Carolina. There they make oversized buttermilk biscuit sandwiches with pastrami — and on Saturdays friends, farmers, and locals all line up to start their mornings. The turning method described below helps evenly distribute the butter, making these biscuits super flaky. I’ve added cheddar cheese, and I think any smattering of herbs would dress them up even further.
Adapted from Food and Wine
Preheat the oven to 475 F and position a rack in the upper third of the oven.
In a large bowl, whisk the 2 cups of flour with the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles course meal. Using your fingers (or continuing to use the pastry blender), quickly incorporate the sliced butter, leaving large bits of coated butter (this makes them fluffy). Freeze the mixture until very cold, about 15 minutes.
Stir the buttermilk into the flour mixture until a raggy dough forms. Add the cheddar cheese and quickly incorporate with a fork or with your hands. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and gather together into a casual ball. Press any loose bits of flour into the main ball of dough.
Roll into a 9 by 7 inch rectangle, about 3/4 thick. Fold the rectangle in thirds like a letter, then fold it in half to form a small package. Press or roll the dough into a 9 by 7 inch rectangle again. Repeat the folding process two more times. Using a 3 1/2 inch biscuit cutter, cut out 4 biscuits. Gather the scraps together and stamp out 2 more. Arrange them on a cookie sheet and brush the tops generously with the melted butter. Bake for 13-14 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the tops and bottoms are lightly golden.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.