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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.