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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.