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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.