Yesterday at work I used the word ‘ain’t’ in a sentence.
As in, “She was supposed to send me some tax papers in a folder, but it ain’t in here.”
And then inwardly as soon as the word left my mouth I was thinking, “Oh. My. Gawd. What?”
And then I chastised myself for bringing shame on my dead grandmothers, both of whom were teachers.
So, you know, just go ahead and uninvite me from any of those high-class cocktail parties you were going to throw, because obviously I will just eat all of your cocktail weenies, steal a bottle of Jack, and break something before I leave.
I might look great in my lycra running tights but, I assure you, any amount of sex appeal is negated tenfold by how I look trying to remove my lycra running tights.
Last fall I did something that could either be called brilliant or insane (I’m leaning towards brilliant): I bought a 45+ pound box of sweet potatoes. For $12. At a hardware store.
It was for a good cause, okay? (I think it was a church, or something?)
And they were dug from a farm just a few miles away, and still had some soil clinging to their skins. So I win points for locavorism, too, in that case.
This was after I unloaded a bunch of them on my mom. And why yes, the trunk of my car is quite disgusting.
They sat in the trunk of my car for a while because, Where do you put a 45-pound box of sweet potatoes? The answer is, “I have no idea.” We just ended up putting it on the floor of the dining room until we had people over once, and then we moved it to another room, and so on. At no point have they been stored in the kitchen, and I guess this is why I will someday cut a hole in the floor and create a ‘root cellar’.
What does a person do with 45 pounds of sweet potatoes, you ask? You unload as many of them as you can on your mother, first of all.
Then you might make a soup or two, along the lines of this, possibly with some curry paste.
The rest of them you eat for lunch.
Sweet potato + goat cheese=Yum
Let me now add, under the heading ‘Good Lunches for Taking to Work,’ the humble sweet potato.
There is nothing to prepare the morning of or the night before. You just grab a sweet potato and go. In a pinch, you don’t even have to bring any toppings (assuming your workplace break room is strewn with those leftover salt & pepper packets that have infested every single break room I’ve ever seen).
I have a friend who was a very-near-to-fanatical devotee of the sweet-potato-for-lunch-at-work. And with good reason. Not only do they require zero at-home prep work (or thought), they’re chock full of vitamins (vitamin A, I’m looking at you) and fiber, all while being easy on the wallet (anywhere from 25 to 99 cents per pound on sale). And best of all: no artificial ingredients. Take that, Lean Cuisine.
The only drawback is that you’ll need a microwave to cook it. Hopefully there aren’t lots of other coworkers who also depend on said microwave for their lunches because here is a cautionary tale:
My sweet potato-fanatic friend, after bringing sweet potatoes for lunch several weeks (or was it months?) in a row discovered that her coworkers were not quite as enthused about them: at lunchtime they raced to get to the microwave before her, and groaned and rolled their eyes if they found she’d beaten them to it. Really. They groaned.
Though a medium-sized potato should only take you about 5 minutes to cook, it’s possible that your workplace microwave (being 18 years old and flecked with chunks of disgusting) may take many light-years longer. You may need to bring a book, or perhaps a candy peace-offering for your coworkers.
Just trust me—and her—when I say that it’s worth it.
Even more so if you remember to bring toppings
A Sweet Potato Lunch Recipe
1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed clean of grit
Prick your sweet potato all over with the tines of a fork. Wrap it in a damp paper towel and place it in the microwave. Microwave on high for 5 minutes or longer (depending on your microwave strength) until tender. Remove the peel or slit lengthwise and eat out of its jacket. Add toppings as desired, at the very least salt and pepper. Save the skins and give them to your dog, who will love you for it.
Topping Ideas—mix and match
Goat cheese (currently my personal favorite—my mom once found a cinnamon-cranberry goat cheese that was amazing on the sweet potatoes)
Toasted pecan/walnut pieces
black-bean salsa + cheddar cheese (I had a coworker once who was crazy about black bean & sweet potato burritos, so crazy that he made us eat them at his house and, I have to admit, they were actually pretty good)
arugula and/or wilted spinach + olive oil + minced garlic
etcetera, etcetera. And also probably bacon.
MGM: [Introducing herself to the realtor] You know, I used to be a realtor. I worked with Gail Tice. Did you know her? She was murdered.
Me: Oh gosh, Ann, I wouldn’t open with that.
It is about this time of year that I notice them—the wild greens. I see them in highway medians, in fallow fields and front lawns, distinguishable only from other weeds only by the clustered spikes of yellow flowers swaying gently.
Where I used to work, at a non-profit, many of the families we worked with were Hmong immigrants, tough and self-reliant people. The jobsite where we gathered volunteers to work alongside the families was old farmland. Even though nothing had been planted for 4 or 5 years or more, and the ground was hard-packed clay, here and there in drifts and clusters would be the wild mustards, the ones that volunteered themselves year upon year, self-sowing in harsh conditions, growing in spite of drought and heat and neglect.
And sometimes when we took a lunch break the Hmong families would wander over to this barren field, patchy with grass and weeds, to gather greens.
It was a little unnerving, to say the least, for the volunteers—who were usually well-off, and white, and suburbanized—to watch. “What are they doing?” they would ask. “Are they going to…eat that?” they asked. But behind those questions was a thought, the thought that the family was poorer than they imagined, so poor that they would freely and gladly gather up weeds to eat, and a horror—not that they would do it at all, but that they would do it openly in front of so many other people. Have they no shame? I could hear them thinking.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy—at least a little bit, secretly—watching the volunteers grapple with their own discomfort.
I’d be lying too, if I said I didn’t admire those families and the ethic behind their act of gathering: you take what the earth has to offer and let nothing go to waste. You make do.
And so this weekend I gathered my own armful of greens—the volunteer turnips, the creasy greens, a few sparse leaves of young kales and cabbages, the purple mustard I like to put in salads, the buds of arugula before they flower, a bunch of green garlic, earthy and pungent and clinging to soil—and made do. I thought of those families, settled in our strange land and finding something familiar and nourishing in the fields, how they talked easily and contentedly to each other in their native language as they gathered those greens.
I thought of them as I plunged the leaves into cold water, as I chopped, as I put heat on under the pot. I took what the earth has to offer right now in this moment, in this early springtime; I made do, and gathered, and cooked it all down with broth and bacon drippings. A simple sustaining pot of spring greens. The notion that the earth will always be abundant if only you could learn to see it in the proper light.
There are a few things I learned about people and about grocery shopping during my time as a cashier, chief among them being OH MY GOD LADY, Why is your shopping cart full of 80 pounds of ground beef and 1 gallon of bleach?!
I also learned that the only thing more embarrassing than buying a tube of Preparation-H is being caught shoplifting a tube of Preparation-H. So, you know, just go ahead and buy it. You’ve got ‘roids, so what, I make $6 an hour, let’s move on.
What is probably a less disgusting bit of knowledge is this: every year, cabbage will go on sale the week before St. Patrick’s Day. And every year people will buy cabbage who do not normally buy cabbage. Because OMG it’s 25 cents a pound! So let’s buy it and pretend to be Irish because they seem like they have a lot of fun! (hey, here is a secret: they have a lot of fun because they drink, not because they eat cabbage). Invariably these cabbages will be too large to eat in one sitting or to even cook all at once because you do not own a pot that large, and you will be left with a sad half-head wilting away in the crisper.
And maybe by ‘you,’ I mean ‘me.’
If you’re planning to go all Irish in the coming week, let me first strongly encourage you to make this Irish soda bread which, my mom informs me, comes from a real live Irish-Catholic.
As for your sad, wilting, half-head of cabbage I can offer only the following: fish tacos, or this one-pot bean soup. Or, you know, crows.
listen, it's pretty hard to take interesting photos of a bowl of cabbage soup so this is all you're gonna get.
Originally I was going to make just a lemony white bean soup and serve alongside it roasted cabbage wedges, but then My Guy made a face when I mentioned the roasting of the cabbage and whined requested that we make a cabbage soup instead.
Inspiration for this recipe came from this butter bean ragout, which has you cook your beans in broth until they start to fall apart—hence the “melted” beans.
White beans are so fragile that they tend to fall apart pretty easily anyway, so if you’re hoping to still be able to recognize any of them as actual beans you may want to wait until just before serving to stir them in, or go halvesies as we did and add one can at the beginning and one at the very end.
If you want to make it even heartier you can add some cooked ground chicken or turkey. (Sausage would probably work, but I’m a little skeptical that it would go well with the lemon).
As for the lemon juice, don’t skimp on it—it really makes the dish pop.
White Bean Soup with Cabbage and Lemon
1 onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ head of cabbage, chopped (if you have leftover cooked cabbage you can use that and cut down on your overall cooking time)
2 cans white beans, drained & rinsed
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
salt and pepper
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
optional: 1 lb cooked & drained ground chicken or turkey
bread crumbs & grated parmesan, optional, to garnish
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the chopped cabbage, thyme and enough stock to cover (alternately, if that seems like a lot of stock to be using you can substitute a few cups of water). If you want a thicker, more stew-like dish, add the white beans at this time. Cook until the cabbage is tender, reducing the heat if it starts to boil. Add the garlic and salt & pepper to taste. If you didn’t add all of your beans yet, add them now. Add the ground chicken, if using, and stir in the lemon juice. Add more salt and/or lemon juice to taste—I lean towards adding more lemon juice. Serve garnished with bread crumbs and parmesan, and add some parsley if it all looks too monochromatic for you.
[while watching Saturday Night Live the other night]
Me: Is he from Peter Paul & Mary?
My Guy: Who?
Me: Paul Simon.
My Guy: Oh my god, no. Paul SIMON. Simon & Garfunkel? Bridge Over Troubled Water? The Sound of Silence? The Graduate? One of the best musicians of all time?
My Guy: Oh god, that’s it, we’re getting a divorce, it’s over. How can you not know these things?
When I heard the news story about the man sneaking into the Vatican dressed as a cardinal, my first thought was, “That’s awesome.”
And my second thought was, “So what? It’s not that difficult to sneak into the Vatican. I did it by accident that one time.”
Those of you who know me are probably thinking, “Sure it was an accident. That sounds like the kind of thing you’d do on purpose.”
And it is, actually, the sort of thing I would do on purpose—like the time I snuck into the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Chicago and got a free tour, in spite of the fact that I was 20 years old and wearing sweaty running clothes while everyone else was a 65+ year-old retiree who arrived by tour bus.
Anyway, the Vatican.
I spent a year studying abroad in Austria, during which I did a lot of traveling. And a lot of drinking, and a lot of pretzel-eating and a little bit of weight-gaining.
Often I traveled alone and the thing about traveling alone is that, not only do you become very well-acquainted with your thoughts but you also become very good at reassuring yourself the way a traveling companion would if you had one. “Am I on the right bus?” “Yes, probably.” “Will this street take me back to the hostel?” “It looks familiar. It must be nearby.” “Is that man going to try to steal my wallet and/or grope me?” “Hopefully neither; let’s walk faster.”
The other thing I learned about traveling alone as a woman is that, if you aren’t sure where you’re going, often it’s best to just keep walking. If you keep walking, one of three things will happen: a) you will find where you are going; b) you will find something that is more interesting to see/do than where you were trying to go in the first place; or c) you will become more lost but eventually come across a bench or a park or a café where you can sit for a moment and discreetly take out your map to check your bearings. (This being preferable to standing on the sidewalk with your map flayed open, which is a homing beacon to beggars and street performers, a beacon which says, Please, come bother me and be loud about it!).
When you keep walking, you look like you know where you are going. You become one of many anonymous citizens; you look like you belong and should not be stopped and bothered.
And that’s how I got into the bowels of the Vatican.
It was the beginning of a two-week trip I had planned for myself through Italy and Greece. My first stop was Rome where, incidentally, that very weekend the pope was going to canonize Mother Teresa, an event I did not learn about until boarding the overnight train and finding it crammed full of nuns. In fact, I did not really know what a canonization was and was rather disappointed to find out that it did not, actually, involve cannons.
[Dear Catholicism: I’m pretty certain you would be way more popular with the Youths if you started featuring a t-shirt cannon at some of your events. Just a thought.]
[[Also, google has just informed me that it was actually a beatification and not a canonization. Thank you, semantics.]]
Every hotel in Rome, it seemed, was booked. Everyone was buzzing about Mother Teresa and about attending the canonization beatification on Sunday.
My attitude was along the lines of, ‘Well, maybe I’ll go if I can work it into all the other stuff I want to see,” though I was also kind of certain that even if I did want to go I wouldn’t be able to, seeing as I wasn’t Catholic.
On Saturday I began my trek around town, checking off items on my ‘To-see’ list. There was a fountain, I believe, and probably some museums, likely also the Sistine chapel. Late afternoon found me at St. Peter’s basilica, sidling up to a tour group with an English-speaking guide for a free-to-me tour.
At the end of the tour he led us back out onto the steps and started telling us about the beatification. “If you want to go,” he said, “they’re giving out free tickets over there.” He pointed across the square in the direction of what appeared to be a gift shop.
Okay, I thought, I’ll go get a free ticket.
So I headed over, vaguely in the direction he pointed, assuming that I would wander around until I saw a sign advertising them, maybe, or a line of people.
I did not see a sign, but I did see numerous people headed purposefully in one direction.
They must be getting tickets, I told myself.
So I, too, began moving purposefully in one direction. And we were joined by even more people. This is good, I thought. This thing must be really popular.
And then we walked through a gate flanked by two Swiss guards that had earlier been shut and locked.
It was at this point that I began to have my doubts.
As we walked we were joined by even more people coming in from side alleys until there were so many people that it could only be called a throng.
We walked and walked until we got to a building, where the walking slowed as people squished in through the doors.
We passed by several nuns who were handing out rosaries. I took one and said thank you, or maybe grazie, or maybe I was too confused to say anything at all.
Because it was at this point that I knew for certain I was in the wrong place but that there was no turning back since a) I wouldn’t have been able to find my way since I had no idea where I was and b) I really wanted to see where all this was going.
Where it was going, it turned out, was a huge auditorium-type room, one that reminded me a lot of high school theater performances. Boy, I thought, you’d think the Vatican could spring for a nicer room than one that looks like a gymnasium.
We all filed into our seats and I was only freaking out a little bit because I had no idea what was going to happen next, but I didn’t want to leave because it would seem rude. When in Rome…I kept thinking.
At this point the woman beside me turned and asked me, in perfect English, where I was from. We made small talk for a while, during which I found out she was from New Zealand and had come over as part of a group specifically for the beatification. It was at this point that I also found out they speak English in New Zealand, and also have Catholics. Who knew?
A cardinal or two then came out on stage and spoke but I had no idea what he was saying, because he was either speaking Latin or Italian. At any rate, Not English.
And then everyone took out their rosaries and began saying—I think—Hail Marys.
I say ‘I think’ because, as I said before, I am not Catholic, and they were speaking Not English.
I sort of tried to mumble along with the words and eventually picked up enough to be able to say the opening, which went something like: “Santa Maria, Madre del Dios…watermelon watermelon.” (Thank you, high school Spanish!)
I was feeling pretty good about myself, thinking that if anybody happened to notice and say, “Hey, how come you don’t know the rosary?” I could just be like, “Oh, well, I only know it in English.”
And then the woman next to me turned and said, “We’re all going to just say it in English, because we don’t know the other way, so you can say it in English too, with us if you want.”
Oh, gee, lady. Thank you for totally ruining my impersonation of a Catholic.
And that’s how I ended up accidentally spending my Saturday night at a prayer vigil in the Vatican, pretending to be Catholic and mumbling the word Watermelon over and over when I could’ve been out eating gelato and ogling Italian men in tight pants.
But at least I got a free rosary out of it.
[And in case you were wondering I did end up making it to the beatification—only after a girl at my hostel gave me her extra ticket to it. I never did figure out where they were giving away those tickets, but I did see the pope who was, from where I was standing, approximately the size of an ant.]
The other night we were in the kitchen making gravy. This is not a euphemism; we were actually making gravy.
My Guy: You wanna go see that cornstarch movie?
Me: Okay. What movie about cornstarch?
My Guy: The one that got all those awards. You know, Argo.
So we took the dog to the vet the other day.
And I’d been kind of thinking she was getting a little pudgy because whenever you looked at her from above she looked kind of…tubular. Like a tube sock, or a sausage in its casing. Pretty sure dogs are not supposed to look like that.
And I was pretty sure we were overfeeding her, according to the chart on the back of the dog food sack which said that for her weight, she should be getting 2 cups a day.
“But that seems like so little,” My Guy said.
So I asked the vet if he thought she was overweight.
“Well,” he says, “I wasn’t going to say anything, but…she could stand to lose five pounds.”
“Really?” My Guy says.
“Yes, well, you see here,” [he runs his hands down her sides] “she has love handles.”
“Oh, no.” I say.
“But she really has great muscle definition,” the vet says. “See on her hind legs how the muscles sort of form a ‘V’, like you can see on bodybuilders. She’s really cut. She could just stand to lose a little bit of weight.”
Our dog is totally ripped. Don't mess with her, or she will fuck you up. No, actually she won't. She will just try to lick you a lot until she gets so excited that she pees on the rug.
We take full responsibility for both conditions, and in case you want your dog to follow in the Snook’s footsteps may I suggest: A steady regimen of 3-mile runs, immediately followed by beer and cheetos.
She would've made a good frat boy.