Well, it’s that time of year again: The time of the first frost, and then the first killing frost; the time of begrudgingly switching the thermostat over to ‘heat;’ the time of turning the bed into blanket-topia; the time of eating all of the Halloween candy before Halloween (and the time, obviously, of being a month behind on blog posts, and hey! Why don’t you check back at Christmas for the sausage stuffing recipe I was going to tell you about but didn’t); the time when my feet get cold and don’t fully warm up again until April (or until I wedge them in the crook of Andy’s legs while he’s sleeping, which he loves).
It’s the time of year when the first thing I do before getting out of bed each morning is put on a pair of wool socks; the time when I add another item to the list of things my dream home will have: heated floors.
This is probably my least favorite time of year: the sun is at a hurtful angle and the random scattering of bright, warm days seem to be just a taunting reminder of what we’re losing. The seed catalogs have yet to arrive and so the most hopeful thing to look forward to is the winter solstice, that nadir of winter light.
Andy and I celebrated the first frost by harvesting all of the basil and tomatoes and making margherita pizza. We washed it down with full glasses of cheap red wine.
Around the time of the first frost we both got terrible colds; first Andy, and then me. Around that time I started making lots of soup. Soup for lunch! Soup for dinner! Soup mixed with rice & cheese & scrambled eggs & rolled into a tortilla for breakfast!
There was a lima bean soup, a barley & black-eyed pea soup, veggie chili, black bean soup, turkey sausage chili, and (twice!) a cauliflower daal thickened with split yellow peas and spiked with ginger and turmeric and cayenne.
One Sunday in the midst of the soup-capades, Andy asked what I was planning to make for dinner. ”Well,” I said, “I was thinking about some kind of potato soup.”
And then the man who could eat some form of potato for every meal, forever, let out a pitiful, defeated groan. ”Oh my god,” he said, “not another soup.”
Then there was some discussion about whether or not we were 80 (we were not) and living in a nursing home (didn’t think so), and then I did have to admit that maybe I had been overdoing it a little on the soups. Not that they weren’t delicious, but. A little solid food doesn’t hurt to remind you, every now and then, that you are an adult human with teeth.
Inwardly I have been bemoaning the fall for what it brings: the end of sun-on-skin, the end of delicious, fresh things to eat. But while I was holding a grudge against the season, shellfish arrived back on the menu, again on sale at the seafood counter nestled in beds of chipped ice.
First we had blue mussels, steamed simply in a large pot with a few glugs of white wine. We served them with a side of rigatoni slicked in marinara sauce, fat and toothsome. We ate the mussels with gusto, pulling them apart with our hands, slurping juice from the shells.
A couple of weeks later we made a poor-man’s paella: rice and onion, tomatoes & home-grown saffron, with mussels of course and more white wine, and several cloves of garlic.
Then in December there will be the moped club’s holiday oyster roast; we will make a fire in someone’s backyard, lay a piece of sheet metal over top, drop armloads of oysters onto it, and smother them with a wet towel that steams and sizzles where it touches metal.
Then we will stand around a tall table, waiting turns for an oyster knife, or, if you are me, waiting while one of the guys shucks them for us, watching as he works with a quiet, steady rhythm.
We will eat with our hands, dipping the oysters first into communal pots of melted butter, and then tabasco. It will be cold and dark, and by the end of the night the melted butter will have congealed in its bowl; the sleeves of saltines will be sticky and damp, lost under shells and balled-up paper towels.
Last year someone brought a jug of maple-flavored whiskey; people drank out of mason jars and Andy fell asleep on the couch. When I found him there were two dogs and a cat asleep on top of him.
Last year one of the girls punched another girl in the face. There was some cursing and yelling and probably crying, and I think someone may have thrown a glass, and it was then I decided it was time to go home.
Andy was in a sorry state. I had to take his boots off for him, or maybe he slept in them because I couldn’t get them off. The next morning he was never–he swore–drinking maple whiskey again. Nothing good seemed to come of it, for anybody, although the girls seemed to have forgotten about the fight by morning and were friends again.
This is the time of year when shellfish are the season’s small consolation: briny and unctious, with slight metallic undertones. Small morsels that are worth the work & wait, and the time spent with friends standing over bowls of melted butter, getting hot sauce on your hands.
Lazy Man’s Paella
2 lbs blue mussels, rinsed & de-bearded, dead or broken ones discarded
1 onion, diced
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups rice, cooked according to package directions
3-4 tomatoes, the ripest you can find, diced
4-5 strands saffron
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup dry white wine
~1/2 cup marinara sauce, if you have it
~1 Tablespoon butter
crushed red pepper, if desired
Salt & Pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the diced tomatoes, garlic, & saffron. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and have released their juices. Add the marinara sauce and white wine and stir. Add the mussels and cover the pot with a lid. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until all the mussel shells have opened.
Fold in the rice, adding a knob of butter and a dash of red pepper flakes if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and don’t get drunk and punch anybody in the face.
Years from now, I may decide that the finest moment in my professional career was the day I told the sales guy he needed to make the other guy stop pooping in the ladies’ bathroom.
On the bright side, it worked (no more surprise floaters!)
The downside is the fact that this was a conversation that needed having.
Let’s talk about drunk food for a minute, shall we?
Drunk food is a carb- and fat-bombed greasy mess; the kind of food you eat with your hands or out of a paper wrapper, usually deep-fried and smothered in cheese. Drunk food is the kind of food you eat with gusto and without guilt because, after all, you are drunk. Pizza is good drunk-food; salad is not. French fries are a good drunk food, and cheese fries are an even better drunk food, and the best cheese fries in the world are at Linda’s in Chapel Hill.
Of course there are other places to go for drunk food in Chapel Hill. There is Time Out, which reminds me of a gross version of K&W Cafeteria if K&W were open 24 hours a day, had a more limited selection, and was filled with about 1000 loud drunk people. The one time I remember going to Time Out they were out of most everything and we had to resort to eating the dregs of the fried okra, which had been sitting on the hot bar so long that they had turned into dried-up, mean husks of themselves.
At Time Out we also saw a boy sitting at a table by himself and throwing up into his lap*. This boy was decidedly NOT having good drunk-food times and my friend Jennifer, who is a better person than I, helped stand him up and walked him to the bathroom to clean up in spite of the fact that he was covered in vomit and weaving dangerously and had to lean his whole body against the wall for several minutes to keep from falling over. (Obviously, Jennifer is the kind of person you want to have as your friend because if she will do that for a complete stranger, what wouldn’t she do for you?)
(Also? Pretty sure one of my friends told me that a homeless man once attempted to stab her with plastic cutlery at Time Out).
*I tell this story not as a cautionary tale that says “Don’t get drunk,” but a tale more along the lines of, “Don’t get that drunk.”
Drunk food can also be had at Cosmic Cantina, which serves up a good burrito, drunk or sober. I’ve eaten plenty of their burritos over the years (most of them from the Durham location which, in my mind, seems better than the one in Chapel Hill), most of them while sober. The only memorable moments I’ve had at Cosmic were the one time when I yelled at a girl who was letting all the cold air in (it was winter) by propping the door open, and the other time when my friends and I smoked some really bad* weed and then spent the next hour (two??) at Cosmic trying not to freak out. I ordered a Chimichanga which I was only able to eat 2 bites of because I physically COULD NOT move my arms and so spent the rest of the evening feeling like the chimichanga was sliding off my lap (were we sitting on a couch??) and becoming increasingly more anxious that my plate was sliding off my lap, because if it fell off my lap I wouldn’t be able to pick it up, and then I would just be sitting there staring at a chimichanga on the floor and then EVERYONE WOULD KNOW that we were stoned and IT WOULD ALL BE OVER.
Also? I couldn’t feel my legs. The night went from bad to worse, however, when one of us spotted a police car parked outside the restaurant, and one of us (who I will not name as to not be incriminating but you know who you are, FRIEND) locked herself into the ladies bathroom for 45 minutes. To this day, I have no idea what happened to that chimichanga, or how I managed to walk home without being able to feel my legs.**
*And I don’t mean ‘bad’ as in ‘good,’ I mean ‘bad’ as in: we gave the rest of it away to some hard-core potheads and even they didn’t want to smoke it more than once.
**I tell this story not as a cautionary tale to say, “Don’t do drugs,” but maybe a tale more along the lines of, “Know your drug dealer.”
And then there is Linda’s, whose cheese fries are the crown jewel of UNC drunk food, the standard against which all other drunk food is measured, judged, and found wanting.
Joe Kwon (of the Avett Brothers) loves Linda’s cheese fries, which are so renowned they’ve earned themselves a spot on the UNC Bucket List.
Because these are not mere cheese fries as in fries+cheese=food. No. These are fries+cheese+bacon+scallions+peppercorn ranch dressing=AMAZINGNESS.
Let me put it this way: I lost a bet to my friend Ashley, and now I owe her Linda’s cheese fries. Here are your cheese fries, Ashley: I did you a favor and ate them all. You’re welcome. (Also? Maybe just go ahead and order me a bridesmaid’s dress one size UP).
You don’t have to be drunk to enjoy these cheese fries, and now you don’t even have to be in Chapel Hill because I got the inside scoop on how to make them. My friend Daneen’s husband, it turns out, used to work in the kitchen at Linda’s and when I found this out the morning after their wedding I spent the next 20 minutes demanding that he give me ALL the details (which I’m sure was exactly what he wanted to talk about at a post-wedding brunch). The downside is that now I have an image of him in my head crushing up (imaginary) strips of bacon with his bare hands, and it makes me feel rather uncomfortable on behalf of the bacon. But it was worth it.
We indulged ourselves and made these for dinner one night because we’re adults, after all, and there are so few indulgences left to adults except perhaps chocolate cake and going to bed at 9 p.m. on a weeknight.
Linda’s Cheese Fries
1 bag (24 oz.) frozen crinkle-cut fries (can also substitute tater-tots)
1 8-oz. bag shredded cheddar-jack cheese
Parmesan peppercorn ranch dressing [I am having some debate amongst my friends whether this is Ken's Parmesan Peppercorn or Ken's Peppercorn Ranch, or another brand's Parmesan-Peppercorn-Ranch. When I made it at home I used Ken's Peppercorn Ranch because it was on sale]
6 slices bacon, cooked, cooled and chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped (can substitute chives)
Spread fries evenly onto 2 baking sheets and bake according to package directions.
Divide half of the cooked fries onto 2 plates (1/4 of the fries on each plate). Sprinkle each with some of the cheese (no exact measurements here, just what seems right to you). Sprinkle each with 1/4 of the chopped bacon and drizzle with some of the dressing (or reserve the dressing and have it on the side). Add another layer of fries, cheese, bacon, and dressing and top with the chopped onions. If needed, slide the plates into the oven and turn on the broiler for a minute or two to melt the cheese. Serve immediately, with additional dressing on the side and plenty of napkins.
A while ago I was working in the garden, setting out thick layers of newspaper and covering them with grass clippings. I was working my way up the row, spreading & covering, spreading and covering, when something seemed out of place. In the back of my mind, something seemed not quite right.
I kept working, spreading and covering, not paying attention to the subconcious whisper saying, “Hey. Heeeyyy. Look over there.”
When I was about five feet away, I saw it:
The tail end of a long copperhead dangling in the corner of the garden.
Luckily (for me, not for the copperhead), it was dead: tangled, somehow, in the netting I’d put up to try to keep away the deer.
There is nothing that smells quite as bad as a dead snake.
If you are a dog, however, this smell is intoxicating. Which is why, a week later, Lily kept lurking near the dead snake, sneaking wistful, surreptitious looks.
And then my mom had this conversation with Siri (or google or whatever it is that happens now):
“My dog ate a copperhead snake.”
“I don’t want to take her to the vet, that’s why I asked you.”
Sure, it features an amazing ocean view and charming woodwork, but what you’re really going to want to ask the real estate agent is, “Does the horse come with the house?”
On second thought, actually, I would like to amend my question:
“Can you get the horse out of the house? It’s making the dogs nervous.”
You'll love the slate-tiled hallway, the bright sitting room, and...the horse that watches your every move from just around the corner.
From an actual real estate listing, which I found via this hilarious site.
There are wasps in the ladies’ room at work. Although, ‘ladies room’ I think is a generous euphemism for what it actually is: a decrepit trailer containing toilets. And by ‘trailer,’ I do not mean something semi-nice, like you might see at an outdoor wedding; I mean something that the Clampett’s would have tried to get rid of in 1974. When I close the door too hard, chunks of trailer fall to the ground. When I turn the knob of the door to get out, rusty water leaks out onto my hand.
I’m not sure what the wasps are doing in the bathroom; I haven’t seen a nest, so as far as I can tell they are attracted to the rotten wood above the door and are possibly trying to eat it. The thing about the wasps is that every time I go to the bathroom I am caught off-guard when I open the door and they dive-bomb towards the sunlight. Conveniently, I have completely forgotten about the wasps until this very moment, a moment that finds me trying to shoo them out of the bathroom while also not peeing my pants.
You know what is worse than having wasps in the bathroom? Finding a wasp inside the bathroom stall while you are sitting on the toilet.
So, you know, I am not working at the Ritz.
This is the trashcan in the ladies room. Please tell me why there would ever be a reason to label a bathroom trashcan 'inedible.'
I am also the only woman here, which is actually not a terrible thing as it affords me certain luxuries, like sitting in a heated/air conditioned office while everyone else either freezes or sweats, depending on the season, and gets all kinds of dirty. It also means I don’t have to carry anything heavy, although sometimes if I walk out while the guys are lifting an 800-lb spiral staircase I will ask them, “Did you need my help with that?” And then everybody has a good laugh as I walk past them to reheat my coffee in the microwave.
I feel a little bit like Jane Gooddall observing the male of the species.
Just a few days ago I observed one of my coworkers making lunch: using a utility knife, he cut off the top half of an empty gatorade bottle, added a crumbled-up package of ramen noodles, filled it up with water from the outdoor spigot, microwaved and ate it.
This is quite a change from my last job, where the office was 100% female and where ‘water-cooler’ conversations usually tended toward “I love those shoes,” or “Can I get your carrot cake recipe,” or “Kohl’s has the best stuff on the clearance rack.”
Compare this to the other day, when I heard one of the guys say, “I ain’t seen shit like this since that time at fuckin’ girl scout camp,” and also, “It was a chromed-out beauty queen when I got it, but then I ratted it out and manlystuffmanlystuffmanlystuff.” I have no idea what he was talking about.
Before Andy and I got married, we discussed wedding rings: whether to get them, and whether, if we got them, we would wear them. We talked about how, since Andy works with his hands (and with power tools), a wedding ring poses a hazard. “I’m fine with you not wearing a wedding ring,” I told him. “Yeah,” he said, “but I still feel like I ought to have one.”
This was as far as the conversation went, until three days before the wedding when Andy remembered that we did not have wedding rings and had a minor panic attack. “We’ve got to get wedding rings!”
We did not, in fact, get wedding rings, although there was a brief discussion of using ring-pops which someone was a spoilsport about.
Ever since then, every month or so Andy will bring it up again, wondering aloud, “Do you think I should have a wedding ring?”
I answer him as I usually do, saying that it doesn’t matter to me; I know we’re married and I’d rather he be safe at work than wear a wedding ring and also? We could use that money instead to buy some wine. I then ask him what his feelings are, at which point the subject usually meanders off into the realm of ‘What’s for dinner?’
But now—now I can finally put this subject to rest, thanks to the guys at work.
A few weeks ago the owner was with a customer in the office when one of the guys came inside and asked if there was some way to bend his wedding ring back to its normal shape because it was his anniversary and he hadn’t been able to wear it in ten years. He went on to tell the story of how it got bent (somehow I think it involved lifting weights, but I’m unclear on the logistics) and how it almost cost him his finger when it happened.
“Oh yeah,” said the customer, “I used to help my parents on their farm and I have a scar [shows scar running down his palm] from where one of the fork tines (on a tractor?) got caught on it. It almost took my finger off.”
It got worse from there.
“When I was in high school,” my coworker said, “my basketball coach was blah-blah-blah—you know, from the L.A. Lakers championship team. One day at practice he decided to show us how to dunk so he ran up and dunked the ball, only his ring got caught on the basket and it ripped his finger off. And then his finger was stuck up there on the rim and he’s yelling at all of us and pointing up there going, ‘Go get my finger! Go get my finger!’”
Not to be one-upped, the customer responded, “I worked at [Home Improvement Store] and one day a guy was throwing stuff in the dumpster and his ring got caught and took his finger off. We had to spend the rest of the day going through the dumpster looking for his finger.”
I got home from work that day and told Andy that under no circumstances, ever,was he going to wear a wedding ring. And I had four very horrific reasons why.
Well, it’s that time of year again: all of the garlic I forgot to harvest in June is sprouting, sending up their tall grassy stalks. There are so! many! more than I remember, and in places I have no recollection of planting them. Note to self (and others): do not plant garlic in/near your asparagus patch. This is fine for late fall, when the asparagus has died back to yellow branches, but in the summer the massive fronds will completely obscure any sign of garlic (and completely hinder, also, your ability to even get to them).
I’ve decided to transplant them rather than risk them being forgotten for another year, and yes, this is just as tediously time-consuming as you might imagine. On the bright side, though, it turns out there are so many that I may not have to plant any additional cloves–already the transplants have filled up a 3′x25′ bed (and by ‘bed’ I mean ‘a place I sort of try to keep weeds out of sometimes’), and there are still loads more of them (as long as I can muster the courage to fight through the asparagus fronds).
The kale is making a comeback after being eaten to shreds by a caterpillar or some other bug. I’m a little surprised, to be honest, as this is kale that I planted last winter (late fall? early spring? I can’t remember) and I completely expected it to go to seed or simply fade away. Likewise: the arugula. It volunteered itself (some of it even growing in cracks of the brick front porch steps) in early spring, then immediately went to seed when the first heat hit. In a fit of what I’m going to call genius and foresight, I cut off the ripened seed stalks and instead of spending time spreading them on a blanket and sorting out the chaff and storing them, I simply held the stalks over my garden and shook them around a bit. And lo! several weeks later I had MANY baby arugula shoots that surprisingly survived the summer’s heat and are now thriving quite splendidly, providing me with excellent (and peppery) salad fodder.
There are five(!) bunches of rogue garlic growing in this photo.
I’m debating trying to start potatoes this fall. Intuitively it makes sense to me; they seem to die back so early in summer that I don’t think the growing period is long enough. Also there’s this article by a North Carolinian, so maybe I’ll just go for it. Also? Check out that author photo. Now there’s a guy you don’t want to run into in the woods.
I planted some carrot seeds a couple of weeks ago. Some of them have sprouted; some of them haven’t. My attitude on this is: We’ll see. Carrots are one of the few crops I’ve debated giving up on trying to grow because they’ve never worked for me in the past (poor germination rate & even poorer survival rate). Curiously, my mom has had great luck with growing carrots from seed by starting them in flats and then transplanting them (which every gardening resource says not to do).
I also sowed some broccoli and cauliflower and radish seeds; so far there’s been spotty germination with them as well (due to poor watering, possibly, on my part). Yesterday I scattered turnip and kale seeds in the bed where the gladiolas are drying up. This is the lazy gardener’s way of planting, and obviously I’m a fan.
This summer I discovered a good way of expanding your garden beds without much effort on your part: sweet potato vines. I’ve been slooowly expanding my front-yard garden at home by planting flowers & veggies just outside the bed (i.e. in the yard). The theory being, they would spread and I would weed. Much to the disgruntlement of Andy, this theory did not hold and thus, there were 2-foot tall weeds and grasses and much discussion about how close, exactly, could he get with the weed-whacker (in my opinion: not too close at all; in his opinion: not close enough). And so: sweet potato vines. I planted one or two and they spread and spread…and spread. They smothered grass and weeds nicely, and were low-growing enough to be easily avoided by the weed-whacker.
The Kentucky Butcher corn is drying up; I’ve picked a few ears but not many. I’m not sure if the kernels have dried enough yet to keep well (see also: lazy gardener). One of them, I was sad to see, had gotten smut. How? Why? Ugh. If it happens again next year maybe I’ll have to figure out how to prepare the Mexican dish made with it. You’re all invited for dinner, if you promise not to gag.
I was rummaging around the freezer the other day when I found a tupperware from last year labeled “Pesto 10-28.” I used the pesto in a batch of bagels (that I just now realized I never posted a recipe for, since apparently I am a lazy idiot).
Anyway, it got me thinking about last year’s first frost, the occasion that is always on a gardener’s mind this time of year, and about how I was still harvesting basil at Halloween. That seems like it should be unnatural.
But here we are again: October. The mornings start off cool and crisp, then melt into slanted-sun afternoons and quiet evenings. October. Even the word itself is crisp and melting.
I know that the days of summer veggies are now numbered; there’s nothing left to do but try to appreciate their last.
And so, to that end: Basil Mac-and-Cheese.
I took the basic recipe from the back of the box of pasta. It calls for making a bechamel sauce, which sounds less intimidating if you don’t refer to it in French. So, southerners: you’re making a milk and cheese gravy. Yum!
This has less cheese than this recipe (but more butter, so maybe this isn’t a win). It’s a teensy bit more work, but you can still do it in one pan–just stir a little bit more, and pretend that this means you are working off all those calories you’re about to consume.
I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that you splurge on the gouda, because apparently that’s my new thing lately, splurging on cheeses, but also since it won’t overwhelm the flavor of the basil. (Also, inspiration thank-you to Trader Joe’s for advertising a pesto gouda and suggesting making a mac and cheese with it: you were right! Basil and gouda is a great mac-and-cheese combo).
If you’re not a vegetarian/sufferering from a meat allergy, you could even add some cooked, chopped bacon to this (and replace some of the butter with bacon drippings). But really, it’s delicious enough on its own.
Basil Gouda Mac and Cheese Recipe
(adapted from the back of the Mueller’s pasta box)
1 lb. pasta (elbows or shells or whatever you prefer that’s similar)
4 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
4 cups milk
4 cups shredded gouda, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
fresh-ground pepper, to taste
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch basil (about 6-8 leafy stalks), de-stemmed and finely chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs, optional
Preheat oven to 375F.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, and set aside. (To save on dishes, you can do these next steps in the same pot you boiled the pasta in; or to save on prep time you can start this in a separate pot while the pasta cooks). Melt butter over medium-low heat in a medium to large pot. Stir or whisk in the flour until there are no lumps. Gradually whisk in the milk and turn the heat up to medium high. Continue stirring until the mixture begins to bubble slightly and thicken.
Turn off the heat and stir in 3 1/4 cups of cheese, the crushed garlic, basil, salt, and pepper. Stir in the drained pasta.
Pour it all into a large greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the top with remaining cheese and top with breadcrumbs, if desired.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
The summer after my junior year in college, I traveled around Europe with my friend Daneen. We went to Greece and Italy and a smattering of other central- and eastern-European countries, but most of our time was spent in Italy & Greece.
In Italy, we made our way down the boot. First Venice (pigeons! disgusting! tourist trap-y!), then Rome (pope-y! gelato-y! homemade wine-y!), then Naples and Amalfi, then to whichever city it was that had the ferry to Greece.
That was a long time ago now, and most of my memories of it are hazy (because my god, how many cathedrals and paintings of fat baby-angels can a person see?). But what I do remember is Naples, because that was where I ate the best pizza of my life (and also other reasons).
The other thing that comes to mind when I think of Naples is this: the garbage. There was, for some reason, an ongoing garbage strike. I don’t know how long it had been going on (weeks? months?) but it was long enough that there were piles upon piles of garbage bags lining every street; in some places piled up four feet tall, and in some places so many that they clogged the entire sidewalk and people had to walk in the street. It was summer, and it stunk.
To make matters worse, the only hostel (that we knew of) in Naples was full. The guy who answered the door (and who we did not quite trust) made a phone call and directed us to his friend’s hostel down the road (and possibly out of town?). Rather than trust him and try to navigate seemingly complicated directions and public transportation, we decided to bag Naples entirely and head to Amalfi. But first we were hungry.
Near the bus station (bus stop? Like I said, memory=hazy), there was a restaurant with a wood-burning brick oven and at least a page of its menu devoted to pizzas. We ordered two–a pizza margherita and something else–and I cannot convey to you how delicious they were. They were so delicious that we nearly re-thunk our decision to bag Naples, so delicious that they nearly redeemed the whole city–a city that was trash-filled, stinking, and had no vacancy. Also? This was a city where a lady yelled at me on the bus.
But instead we pressed on, laden with our boxes of leftovers, bellies full and tastebuds post-orgasmic-taste-explosion, to Amalfi, where—spoiler alert!—this story ends with me making out with an Australian guy.
We ended up at a hostel that—unbeknownst to us when picking it—was on the side of a mountain and reached by walking up a very steep and very (very!) long set of stairs. In the summer sun with our backpacks on, it was less than pleasant and we had to stop several times to rest.
After checking in and laying our packs down, we collapsed. And then we ate the rest of the pizza, which made everything (sort of) better.
Later that night we ended up at a bar in town, drinking free drinks courtesy of the owner (who also owned the hostel and was hitting on Daneen), and after that we ended up on his boat, ostensibly “because it was a full moon,” but also there was mention of skinny-dipping, which, (hazy) I am about 87% sure I participated in (with underwear on, geez Mom.)
Later on because I was so, so tired, and the boat captain was not yet done making moves on Daneen, I crawled below deck, where I made a nest of all the life jackets and fell soundly asleep.
In case you are thinking the story ends there, that we made it back to town and went to sleep (or in case you are my mom and you just had a mini-stroke because: drunk people + motorboat + 2 a.m. + rocky shoreline + boy trying to impress girl = CERTAIN DISASTER), well, let me tell you that we made it back to shore safely, but then—then! While Daneen and various others were toted back up (up! the steep and winding road filled with steepness) in some type of mini-truck-situation, Mr. Australia and I were left at the dock with the utmost assurance by Mr. Hostel that he would “be back in a few minutes” to pick us up.
He did not come back in a few minutes.
And in the meantime Mr. Australia was trying to put the moves on me (and full disclosure, it’s possible that I was pulling some moves on him) but I was so, SO tired that I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.
After an hour or so of waiting for Mr. Hostel, I began to suspect that he was not, in fact, coming back to pick us up.
“No, no,” said Mr. Australia, “I’m sure he’s on his way.”
This went on for at least an hour until the sky began to lighten and turn that sick-bruise color, the color that any good drunk knows is a certain signal to go to bed because you’ve worn the night out.
I was ready to go to bed.
So I started walking up the steep and narrow street back to the hostel. Mr. Australia followed, still assuring me that Mr. Hostel was on his way to get us, but meanwhile it was getting lighter by the minute.
Onward we plodded up the hill, sticky with saltwater, tired, thirsty, and hungover. The street was narrow and winding, and I remember vaguely worrying about how easily a car might slip over the edge, or possibly run into us as it tried to not slip over the edge.
The sun rose and almost immediately it was hot.
There were no other people out; the only traffic I remember seeing was a single car, who I think was delivering newspapers.
There seemed to be a surprising amount of trash on the sides of the road, and I remember thinking, How strange, so much litter and dirt in this idyllic, lemony vacationland.
And then we saw the cat.
The roadkill cat.
It had been run over clean through its middle; the front half of its body was perfectly intact except for the fact that its eyes were popping out of its skull.
No; I am not doing it justice. Its eyes were popping out of its skull, as in, I could see the optic nerve; the pressure of the tire must have forced the everything out of the cat’s body and there it was; the entire rounded orb of the cat’s eyeball, and the thick red bundle of whatever-it-is that connects the eyeball to the skull.
“Holy crap,” I said to Mr. Australia, “check it out.”
Mr. Australia did not want to check it out; rather he wanted to do more hand-holding and small-of-the-back-touching and Hey fellas, in case you need some advice about the ladies, Here it is: When your date is more interested in staring at roadkill than she is in holding your hand, it is a pretty sure bet that you are not going to get laid tonight. You’re welcome.
But really, that cat. If I had had my camera with me I would have taken a picture—it was incredible in the way that medical museums are incredible, if you are the type of person who is into that sort of thing.
Back at the hostel I discovered that Daneen was fast asleep in our room; when I asked her what had happened to our ride she mumbled, “I asked him if he was going back for you but he was like, ‘They’ll be fine,’ and then he kept trying to make out with me, but I just wanted to go to sleep.”
So I guess the moral of the story is ‘Never trust anybody who’s trying to make out with your friend.’
But maybe also: ‘Never trust the guidebook.’
The guidebooks will say how beautiful and lovely these cities in southern Italy are; they will wax poetic about the underwater caves and the terraces of lemon trees and the ancient city preserved under volcanic ash. But the truth of the matter is that these cities are like any cities; they have trash on the roadsides (in the case of Naples, sometimes A LOT of trash); they have roadkill and they have hole-in-the-wall pubs and they have lecherous men and ladies who will yell at you on the bus; that these places aren’t that different from home, after all.
Except that, you should really try the pizza.
Since most of us can’t afford a plane ticket over for just pizza, here is a cheaper solution: homemade.
I’m going to recommend that you splurge and get fresh mozzarella (you know, the kind shaped in a ball packed in water). The trick is to not use too much; it spreads easily and also exudes a large amount of water; (though if you do use too much it will be a lightbulb moment for you when your pizza has lots of puddles in it and you finally realize what all those packages of the pre-shredded stuff mean when they say ‘low-moisture mozzarella.’)
handful of fresh basil leaves
fresh tomatoes, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced and/or torn
cornmeal for dusting
If you have one, put a baking stone in your oven. Preheat your oven to 450°. Take a handful of pizza dough (about the size of a baseball) and roll/stretch it out to desired size/thickness. Place it on either a pizza peel (if you’ve got pizza skills, which we do not) or a rimless baking sheet that’s been greased and then sprinkled with cornmeal.
Arrange tomato slices, basil and mozzarella evenly around the pizza. If desired, drizzle lightly with olive oil.
If using a baking sheet, place the pan in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes. Then, using a pizza peel or maybe some spatulas if you need to improvise, transfer the pizza to the baking stone (or if you don’t have one, directly on the oven rack). This will help the bottom of your pizza crisp up. Bake 5-6 minutes more until cheese is bubbly and melted.
There are people out there who refuse to allow anyone else to load the dishwasher at their house.
I used to think these people were crazy.
I used to think that, if someone else wants to do your dishes for you, let them.
I used to think that any dish-doing was good dish-doing.
But then I moved in with Andy and I learned a very important life lesson: Anyone who says that men are better at spatial relationships than women has clearly never seen a man load a dishwasher or put away clean tupperware.
Maybe it’s just the Virgo in me, or maybe it’s the Why would you run the dishwasher now there are only 8 dishes in it?!? GAAAHHH! but I get it now.
And I also know how to tell when Andy has unloaded the dishwasher, because all the tupperware lids are in different–and unexpected!–places from the containers–that is, assuming I can ever find them again. Often it looks as if he has (literally) thrown the containers into the cabinet and quickly shut the door before everything toppled over. Then the next time I open the cabinet there is a tupperware avalanche and I am like, Hey! I didn’t know we were playing Jenga!
Which is why we had to have a serious relationship talk about Please don’t put the tupperware away, ever, or I will strangle you.