separate two eggs: weight loss and mise en place

Detail, Market Scene with Christ and the Adulteress, Pieter Aertsen, 1559, Staedel Museum, Frankfurt.
Detail, Market Scene with Christ and the Adulteress, Pieter Aertsen, 1559, Staedel Museum, Frankfurt.

I’m prepping to receive about 100 lbs. of the tastiest, juiciest, pasture-fed, local beef, so I’m desperately trying to eat down my standing freezer.  This is a bit harder as one person than two, especially one who has been battling appetite slumps and anxiety cooking jags and antisocial moods and dining out hopes and growing terror about a headlong dive into poverty.

I’m finding little gems squirreled away in corners, now that I’ve freed the chicken carcasses, the oxtail bones, and the half pig head, trotter, and jowl from their frozen prisons to make stock.  I bring you the cornucopia of my life, most of it put up in the last year:

  • two fine pieces of lasagna;
  • 4 cups of sour cherries;
  • a quart bag of home-cured posole;
  • 4 cups of ajvar;
  • 3 gallon bags stuffed full of, respectively, boysenberries, haskapberries, and cranberries;
  • 1 gallon or so of tomato paste, portioned into 2 tablespoon-sized cubes;
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini;
  • 4 cups of sauerkraut golabki, pink; consumed;
  • bag o’ pancakes (pancakes?);
  • 2 cups b’steeya filling;
  • bolete pierogi (yum);
  • 2 half-pints duck rillettes;
  • 8 or 10 pieces of injera;
  • local polenta;
  • 2 quarts corn;
  • 1 cup wild mushroom duxelles;
  • 1 quart raisins (to go with the two more gallons raisins on my shelf and other freezer);
  • 2 gallons grapes to make more damn raisins;
  • 8 cups roasted sweetmeat squash;
  • a big package of forgotten homemade sausages (yay!);
  • pancetta;
  • 1 pint pork/raisin/almond tamale filling;
  • pork skin;
  • a bag of chicken feet;
  • and the meats and stocks one might expect.

I’m not even down into the bowels of the freezer yet. Or addressing the daily-use freezer full of readymades in the house.  If I were a civilization, what would this archaeological dig say about me, other than I’ve an embarrassment of riches?

Wait, don’t answer that.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

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separate two eggs: smashed patriarchy grilled pizza

IMG_8371Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

“Amanda cooks most of the food.  She says there’s no reason for her to grill.  Her husband is really good at it.  And she thinks for him it’s about more than just the food.”

Sound familiar?  A short podcast on masculinity and grilling, narrated by a cheery young woman, presents this description and a background on the caveman ethos that seems to undergird so much of the American rhetoric on man-with-fire-meat.  The piece goes on to comment that Amanda’s husband now lets his daughter grill.

Of course it’s about more than just the food.

I’d venture to say grilling is one of the last widely visible and critically unexamined bastions of mid-century masculist culture.  American girls are still raised with our dads or stepdads or uncles or self-identified-male-gendered individuals or manbuddies of our mom (or whatever configuration of masculinity operating in a family unit) at the Weber, joking, commanding, drinking a beer.  Manning the grill.

And the rest of us take pleasure in paying tribute to the priesthood by visiting and peering into the grates, smelling that meat sizzle, complementing the chef.  We are rewarded with the best of summer: hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, all piled up on a platter and presented like an offering to Xiuhtecuhtli.  He’s the life of the party, the hero, the chef.

It’s so often among the happiest moments we remember.  It’s a peaceful time.  Sunny, family, “family,” bountiful, happy.  Fraying relationships are mended for the moment, and we believe it will be ok.  It’s almost magic. Why mess with that juju?

And we’re thus indoctrinated into the system.  Girls never learn how to grill because there’s no reason to grill.  I wonder about Amanda’s daughter, whose father “lets her” grill.  What’s going on there?  Is it an occasional thing?  A novelty?  Are things changing?

Are things changing.

It’s not that we feel oppressed or left out.  It’s a way to get the dad-figure involved in the party, and it helps him feel useful and central, reinscribing the patriarchal order in its most comfortable and pleasing form because here the order seems almost natural and harmonious, his place assured and his place needed and beloved. And for a change, everyone’s participating in meal preparation.

(I write this.  My heart aches.  The unbearable lightness of political consciousness, of feminist conscience. There’s no choice, really.)

IMG_8292 IMG_8293I have a reason to grill.  As previously and begrudgingly narrated, I’m negotiating singlehood and the unpleasant loss of an excellent griller myself. But as I assume the labor for two for the household tasks, I’m taking the opportunity that many women, even feminists, don’t have when they’re in heterosexual partnerships, even enlightened ones.

I’m learning how to grill.

And I kind of suck right now.  It’s not just another heat source to master, it’s a whole ‘nuther rhythm.  The grill doesn’t require an attentive sous chef, but it pretty much bites not to have one.  (See “Amanda cooks most of the food” and patriarchy, above.)  My excellent griller, and grillers across America, make grilling divine by a hidden system of support that includes hours of unacknowledged labor.  That labor is performed joyously in many cases (and it certainly was in mine) but I’m pondering it with some critical distance as I take on both roles.

IMG_1858 DSCF4114IMG_6193Just like in any performance, for any performer, the team behind the scenes makes the show.  For every piece of chicken or burger gloriously presented, there’s the planning and the shopping and the chopping and the marinating and the coordinating and the side dishes.  The side dishes.  Those take hours alone.

I figured that since I knew how to do all that, the actual grilling part would be a snap.  And you know what?  It hasn’t been that hard and certainly not that time consuming, save all the little things that no one gives me a hand with. Because any idiot can grill.  Think about it.

DSCF4259

I still have no reliable control over the heat, and I’ve burned a few meals because I’d forgotten to add something and had to run inside or whip up a sauce or chop up some herbs.  I try not to think about the danger of burning down the city because of my inexperience. My excellent griller would religiously rely on a thermometer and a cookbook, but I want to learn grilling from an intuitive angle, just like my cooking.

And then there’s the exquisite loveliness of freedom.  I had to argue for the inclusion of grilled vegetables since they take up space.  Pizza wasn’t even a possibility: he insisted I call it “grilled flatbread” and I was only allowed to make it for the privilege of the grill a couple times.  And there’d be no patience or need for delicacies like grilled peaches or plums or bananas or lemons or cheese or parsley or boquerones or onigiri or meatballs or omelets.

The world of grilling is open to you…and it’s fabulous.

So I bring you my Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza, with an informal recipe.  Try it, ladies.  Pizza isn’t meat.  He’ll let you. Or just Occupy the Grill!  But don’t blame me for the divorce.  :)

(Oh, on the way, you might want to support the Kickstarter for the ladies who brought you the men grilling piece on the Feminist Fork. They’re fundraising for a new quarterly journal called Render: Feminist Food & Culture.)

Smashed Patriarchy Grilled Pizza

Serves 2-3, or one lonely feminist for three meals.

You’ll need two sides (hot and cool) for your grill and a lot of oil.  Don’t try this on a tiny hibachi, as you’ll be too close to the coals and the dough will burn rather than char.  A gas grill is easier than a charcoal grill, and make sure you pre-oil the grate with some paper towels dipped in a small bowl of veg oil, held by long tongs.

The easiest method is to use a pre-made store-brought dough.  Mix 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste with dried oregano, basil, garlic powder and a little olive oil.  Pour a few tablespoons of  olive oil in the plastic bag and massage it in the bag to get it pretty oily, then stretch out the dough on a cookie sheet so it resembles a pizza crust. With a fork, spread out tomato paste, concentrating on moving it to edges not middle of dough.  Layer on fresh mozzarella slices and sprinkle sparingly with toppings.

Heat the grill up to about 500 degrees, oiling the surface as you begin the grilling process and not later (FIRE!). Move your pizza outside on the cookie sheet; hopefully there will be enough oil on the bottom to aid transferring it over to the HOT side of the grill with a metal spatula.  Let cook there for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to char and blister and get stiff enough to move, then carefully move it over to the COOL side of the grill.  Close the grill lid to melt the cheese and cook the top of the dough.  Moisture is your enemy.  Dab away any liquid from the tomatoes or toppings with a towel.  Sprinkle on herbs just before removing from grill and serving.

Pro tip: clean the grill while it’s still hot with a wire grill brush.

 

 

 

 

separate two eggs: roasted beet parsnip salad and christmas for one

Manzanita, OR.After the darkest day of the year, one can’t help but feel a little brighter.  I took advantage of the day to (appropriately) finish up changing my name on nearly all my documents and accounts and such.  To burn bright in 2014!  That is my mandate, my motto, my personal crest, my raison d’être, my challenge.

Perhaps I should invest in a fire extinguisher.

I’ve been cooking, and anticipating with great joy my Polish Christmas for One.  The theory is to spend far too much time making a miniature version of the 12-dish meatless, fish-heavy Wigilia.  It’s a celebration of being able to cook whatever I want and eat when I want, delighting in the pleasure of being alone and unfettered and ending the year without any more terrible disasters. Hope MUST return, I’ve decided, if only in one-week increments.

Please note the celebratory aspect.  It is far more disturbing, I’m discovering, for others to envision me spending Christmas alone than for me to live the reality of it.  Christmas has always been a quiet affair in our house, involving a break from elaborate dinner parties or socializing or social media or work.  And this year will be no different.  It will just be fancier with Polish dishes and calmer without arguing and more grey and fluffy and energetic and bitey and jumpy and maniacal.

I’ve got salt herring and pickled herring and gravlax.  I have beet kvass souring for borsch, and yellowfoots for mushroom pierogi, dilled sauerkraut for braising, fresh sweet cabbage fermenting with apples, carrots, and cranberries, and apple butter for a miniature cake, and grains for kutia.  There’s vodka and a bottle of good dry Riesling.  I’m still working on the rest.  There will be a little fish, ridiculously complicated, or maybe a crab.  Or oysters?

IMG_5075Anyway, before all that, I am happily eating a new dish made from glorious candystripe beets a new friend pulled from his garden for me.  A fine present for solstice, and unexpected.  I like that.

This pretty and simple warm salad, made with my own parsley and parsnips freshly dug from Tell Tale Farm, is in his honor, as it tastes of our Willamette Valley earth.  The secret is in roasting the parsnip batons separately from the beets with nutmeg and ginger, so they can get crispy and caramelized.

IMG_5094Pretty, no?

Warm Roasted Beet and Parsnip Salad

  • 3 beets (candystripe or other light-colored ones that won’t stain and mute color of parsnips)
  • 1 parsnip
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • fruity vinegar (homemade raspberry vinegar, if you have it; I used my foxy grape-star anise vinegar)
  • pepper
  • Equipment: 2 roasting pans and foil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Scrub beets well, cut in half or quarter if extra large, and place in one roasting pan.  Toss with a glug of olive oil and some salt until well-oiled.  Cover pan with foil and roast in oven until easily pierce-able with a fork. (40 minutes? Depends on the size of the beets.)

Peel and cut the parsnip into small batons, and mince ginger.  In a second roasting pan, and toss with a glug of olive oil, salt, and powder well with a good strong shakes of nutmeg.  Roast uncovered in the oven with the beets until browned and crispy. (15 minutes?)

Chop parsley and set aside.  Remove parsnips from oven when done and leave uncovered and unrefrigerated.

When beets are done, remove the foil and let cool until you are able to handle, then peel off skin with a paring knife.  Slice beets and place in serving dish.  Toss with a good splash of vinegar and some more olive oil, then add parsley, parsnips, and perhaps a little pepper.

Serve while still warm.  It makes a great light supper dish for one with some feta sprinkled on top, or a side dish for sausages or pork chops for 2-4.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

separate two eggs: blossom end rot ketchup

IMG_4004The rain was ill-timed, for sure, and my garden is at risk.  Water has been an issue all summer.  Hubris and the bottom falling out of my life goaded me into believing that an overhead watering system was much easier than taking the time to put in the soaker hoses this year, so I’ve got powdery mildew shrouding the leaves of squash and cucumbers, cantankerous wilt encroaching on the tomatoes.  The soaker hoses I did lay down and test in June were either fixed too many times to work properly or just didn’t work at all.

My own eyes seem to be malfunctioning, too.  After those unspeakable hours when my beloved sidekick and best buddy had gone from seemingly healthy to “when they’re this far gone they usually don’t make it,” when I suddenly, terribly, intimately, finally understood the keening wail and hear-tearing grief of the ancient Greeks, they stopped knowing how to cry.  Something broke inside my head, and tears seemed to flow at their own will.

They didn’t come when I needed to feel some iota of resolution of a good life put to rest in the days that followed, stumbling around on the beach and begging for a sneaker wave to come take me.  They came and come while driving down Willamette or stepping into the fish market or making coffee or brushing my teeth, just enough to wet my eyes, and then go away again.  This pain births itself from you and rends you and makes you incomplete, absolutely paralyzed, sitting on your chest and not moving until — one hopes — it decides to climb down and go possess someone else.

You spend all your time still with the fear that there’s no consolation over the loss of a pet like him, and no longer consolation in your life. Instead of getting better, it just gets heavier and more leaden and more unreal. Even my subconscious has given up; the one fleeting glimpse of him I had in a dream I completely lost it and begged him to come back to me, saying what I had said thousands of times but not pleading, not in such high, hysterical, desperate tones: Come here, baby! Momma needs you!

It’s easy to say sorry about the job, sorry about the husband, sorry about the thousand other things you lost this year, just as easy as it is to compartmentalize these terrible things and deal with them one at a time as a series of tasks.  But no, we really don’t even know how to be sorry about the uncanny child-friend-mate-comfort blanket-lover-shadow bond one forges with a bright-eyed and utterly devoted feline with whom one has such a singular connection; we don’t know how to move beyond it…

And I’m just now getting around to mulching.

I moved the tomatoes to my Dissertation Draft Memorial Bed in the front of the house and the plants are gloriously erect and massive this year.  Huge, promising fruit have been developing well. There’s a grafted ‘Mexican,’ big luscious ‘Brad’s Black Heart,’ three ‘Amish Pastes’ sadly of the small and genetically muted variety, a nice ‘Carol Chyko’s Big Paste,’ my standard ‘Black Krim’ slicer, a ‘Hungarian Heart (which originated around 1900 in Budapest, like many good things), stalwart ‘Slava’, green and yellow ‘Grubb’s Mystery,’ Dawson’s Russian Oxheart,’ bright orange slicer ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast,’ and a deep yellow salad tomato, ‘Summer Cider Apricot,’ that I bought in a moment of weakness and don’t regret because of the unusual acidity.

At the first signs of blossom end rot, a virus we see every year on tomatoes as we transition from wet spring to dry summer in the Willamette Valley, we lay out calcium.  I’ve done it for years with ground eggshells dug in and dried milk watered deeply into the soil.  The first few tomatoes can be affected, but after they’re plucked and discarded, the rest are usually fine.

But this year, with the new bed and onslaught of trauma and my tragic confidence in watering methods against all portents from the gods, I didn’t see the early signs early enough.  Now most of the plants are infected, those big beautiful green lobes rotting from the bottom up like, well, there’s no point in veering off into the metaphorical direction, since you already get it.

I’m trying to cut my losses, then, with blossom end rot ketchup.  Safe canning practices say one’s not supposed to can with blossom end rot tomatoes, since the virus messes with the acidity, and since my crop is so damaged this year, I decided to make a batch of ketchup, which has enough acid and sugar added that slight variations in tomatoes don’t really matter.  And a little bitterness and salty tears just improve ketchup anyway.

And for sauce and paste and salsa?  I picked up a lug of organic ‘Scipio’ paste tomatoes from the good folks at Good Food Easy/Sweetwater Farm in Creswell, who are operating a farm stand on Sundays from 10-2 at 19th and Agate.  I ate one directly from the box and it was full and meaty and sweet and good.  Apparently, it’s also known as ‘Scipio San Marzano’ and ‘Astro.’ I’d warn folks off the regular ‘San Marzanos’ we grow in the valley.  It’s usually not hot enough and they take so long that they’re nothing like Italian ‘San Marzanos.’

Want the ketchup recipe?  Click here.

IMG_3421Boris Badenov Levin, RIP. 1997-2013.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

separate two eggs: guide to dining out alone

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942.
Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

One of my pleasures in life is eating alone at bars in nice restaurants.  In many ways, I prefer it to eating at a table with five of my closest academic colleagues.  (Yes, academics, it’s ok to laugh.)  I’d relish the opportunity when I wasn’t separated, and now even more so as I’m disentangling the strands of two lives.  It makes me feel at home and part of the business end of a restaurant, while giving my business to them.  And through this activity, I’ve really grown to love the people who put food and drink on our public tables.

When I sit at the bar, I can lazily watch the process, keep an eye on the kitchen, see the exasperated glances pass between servers, exchange pleasantries with the most important people in every restaurant, the ones who are literally running the show.  Directly served by a bartender or two, I can ask about new specials and get recommendations and hear tidbits of news from the wine distributors who stop by.  Time is less of an issue: I can eat at the bar at 4:30 because I haven’t had lunch, or 9:00 because that’s a much more reasonable dinner time.  There’s always a bit of drama, a bit of sadness.  Life pivots and spins on the fulcrum of the bar.

And there are plenty of people like me.  Not just friends of the bartender or middle managers awaiting tables with their weary wives, but traveling businessmen, an occasional doctor, a former waitress who’s back for the weekend, a tattooed dude just in for a beer, an older lady who just wanted a glass of gris and a salad, a couple who just moved to town, an aging hipster chick reading a book. There’s usually a musician or an artist, and occasionally someone looking for a new friend. Sometimes you talk to these people, sometimes you don’t. IMG_3888IMG_4567IMG_3074

It’s a nice place.  You’re inspired by the food and you let them take care of you, trust they’ll do you right.  You don’t do anything stupid, like ask for vegan mayonnaise or no peppers or gluten-free fish and chips or a glass of ice for your lovely Provençal rosé that the proprietor just told you was his favorite of the season.  You don’t announce what you don’t like or let your kid smear food all over the floor or undertip.  In short, it’s a civilized island in a sea of everything else.

Which is exactly what dining alone is all about.  The person who really made me think about my right and privilege to eat at a bar alone was Jeff Morgenthaler, while still at the late lamented Bel Ami.  He told me once that his job was to make everyone feel comfortable at his bar, even the single woman reading a book.  And he’s absolutely right in doing so.  Single women shouldn’t have to feel like barflies or weirdos eating at the bar alone.  And they shouldn’t be harassed or feel unsafe, but take pleasure in what is sadly still a radical feminist joy in not wanting the oppression of company, relations.

Sometimes I grade papers; sometimes I edit a paper; sometimes I focus too much on my iPhone; sometimes I talk with actual people.  But there’s no real pressure in a hospitable bar.  If you are single and not an asshole, you should try it some time.  And if you see me, say hello.

separate two eggs: party of one mix

IMG_3796Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Inspired by Judith Jones, editrix extraordinaire of some of the best American food writers, a widow who continued cooking elegantly for herself after the death of her husband, I think I’m going to start writing about cooking for one, and call the series “Separate Two Eggs.” It won’t be elegant, I assure you, but instead I promise never to let a dog lick a single plate in my house (Ms. Jones, really?).  So let’s see how many ideas I can devise.

The problem is I don’t really like cooking for myself. I never got the hang of it. I cook meals for 4 or 6, figuring on guests or leftovers. There aren’t often leftovers, but there have always been plenty of guests, so it served me well. Not having kids and living in a place with decent-enough dining out options gave me the strength: no one ever killed dinner for me.  But then, when my husband started to diet, I had to learn how to cook alone, and I got used to cooking for 3, then 2, and maybe, on a good night, 1.5. Tiptoeing around the food restriction du jour filled me with despair and I finally just mostly gave up on the daily dinner slog. Instead, I ate out or made big pots of things I liked and froze them, or just ate popcorn for dinner.

Now I have to rethink things, because the frozen prepared food won’t last me forever and I suppose I should relearn how to amuse myself at dinnertime, forging more boldly across the bloody dinner battlefields of our Puritan land.  When I’m alone and have nothing scheduled, I work all afternoon and well into the night. I’m finding more and more I can multitask less and less, so with the blessed and rare (and surely transitory?) life I’ve been suddenly given — no children, no husband, no pets, no conferences, no research trips, no immediate deadlines, no events, no classes — if I don’t think about feeding myself I will spend hours concentrating on writing. So it’s got to be quick or half-prepped in the refrigerator or utterly fascinating.

And nothing healthy will do, given there’s nothing more depressing than eating a salad when one interrupts one’s work with a glass of wine. Popcorn is the food of the lonely, and quite frankly, as much as I loved that man and still consider him one of my closest friends, I’m less lonely at home than I have been for a long time. I know you hear me.  I’m never that hungry at night, and certainly not at the unfathomable Eugene dinner hour, so I find a snack is much more palatable than anything else in the evening.  Finally, throw off the remaining chains of dinner!

Imperative now, intrepid voyager, is to amuse your bouche. So what’s a girl to do? Party.

Party Mix for One

Serve with a glass of lively rosé or cava. Or two. Or all of the above.

The general idea is to mix the five flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory. The overriding principle is crunch. Use a tiny bowl; don’t be a piggy.  I suppose you could subsitute an aged gouda for the cured meat, but don’t use both so you don’t offend god.

  • 2 tablespoons tiny organic corn nuts (I have no idea what these are called without the trade name, sorry, but you can buy them in bulk at organicky markets)
  • 1 tablespoon chilled diced cured coppa or other dried sausage
  • 1 tablespoon dried cherries
  • 1 teaspoon Dutch “platte salmiakje” salmiak licorice drops, or substitute something weird like, hmm, fresh coriander buds? Diced sour gummy bears?  Fried sage? Chocolate chips? Just nothing moist or stupid.  Other than that, I’m not sure. You decide.

Dice everything as small as the corn nuts.  Blend.  Serve immediately: you’re waiting.