Years ago, two friends started a debate about how many dollar bills could be stuffed into a soft-sided suitcase (it was a Le Sportsac, if you must know–it was the 80’s, and we can only apologize for the time in our history when we referred to suitcases by their brand name). “Infinite!” said one of them. “Finite!” said the other.
About three months ago, my friend Suzi asked me to participate in a kind of blogger’s chain letter, a mutually supportive exercise in talking about writing and raising awareness of each other’s work. It was just the sort of thing I ought to be saying ‘YES!’ to, in order to be More Committed To Writing and Building My Readership. And it was just the sort of thing I ought to say ‘no‘ to, in order to be actually more committed to actual writing, and because if one more skinny little figment of a commitment gets stuffed into the decidedly soft-sided suitcase of my mind, the seams surely will not hold.
It should come as no surprise that I said yes. It came as something of a shock that I failed to deliver. I try not to fail to deliver, even when I have overloaded the bag and things are looking burst-y.
Here are the four questions I was supposed to answer, back in April:
- What am I working on?
- How does my work differ from others in the genre?
- Why do I write what I do?
- What is my writing process?
Well, we know I have rather a smart mouth and I am inclined to use it whenever I have questions like this to answer. But I will suppress that tendency, to the best of my ability.
What I am working on is fitting writing, which I have come to see is closely connected to feeling capable and creative in all areas of my life, into a life with a lot of other areas. So I work on keeping this site updated (with varying degrees of success), and on writing for publication elsewhere, while I work on the dozen or so other things that will take all the time I have for them unless they are closely supervised (which takes some time). I work on understanding that I am useless to others unless, and until, I feel that rush of capable, creative energy.
And I work on dinner. A friend asked me this week to identify the loudest or most frequent thought in the cacophony of thoughts in my head. Really, I think it is “what is for dinner?” Sometimes this is expressed as “this is clearly the kind of day when I should have made dinner this morning” or as “I bet I could make dinner out of that leftover chicken if someone didn’t poach it for lunch.” Sometimes as mental arithmetic on when a dash into the store can be edged into the itinerary (“French people shop every day!–those tiny fridges!–so I’m not disorganized, I’m continental.”) or on who will be home to turn the oven off if I can manage to brown things and turn it on before I leave. Or any of the other endless mutations of this thought process that feeding five people can produce.
My process for writing about food is simple. 1. Agonize that I have nothing to say, 2. find that some odd thing about something I’ve eaten is oddly connected to something else that I think, and 3. find, suddenly, that I can’t get anything else done until I solve for all those factors on a page. I loved this post because I always feel I have to aim for something that feels simple and I liked imagining that my marching orders instead were to freely somersault through complex pastries and so forth. Her GF piecrust inspired me to try something pretty fabulous for my mother on mother’s day; I’m of the mind that cherry-picking in a maze of complexity (and mixed metaphors) can be inspiring as easily as it can be daunting. But I try to stick to things that are more broadly considered feasible here. (It was a purty pie, though. Maybe you’ll hear about it later.)
When we are living from grappled meal to grappled meal, I hardly feel qualified to write about anything edible. In a time span largely occupied by four-hour Planning Board meetings, this is par for the dinner course. But a dear friend whom I love to feed came for lunch the other day, and I made time to think carefully about what I could assemble.
Thankfully, it’s spring, and I can poke around in the yard for things to eat. If you don’t live on the east coast, where it has been winter for 7 or 8 months, you may find it hard to appreciate how miraculous it feels to pad outside in bare feet and grab some greens to play with.
I made hash. I made nettle and potato hash. And I imagine how that can sound exotic and peculiar and difficult, and I can tell you that it was easy and satisfying–to think of, to make, to eat, and to share.
nettle & potato hash
Boil one whole, medium-sized, smooth-skinned potato (red or yellow) per person until it is just beginning to be tender on the outside. Set aside.
Carefully pick as many of the tenderest nettle tops you can find (read more about eating nettles here and here, and here, and its merits as a superfood here). Blanch them quickly in salted, boiling water, drain (reserve that liquid for soup or a quick tonic drink for the chef), cool under running water, and chop coarsely.
Mince up a little garlic.
Chop the potatoes into half-inch cubes.
Heat a few tablespoons of good olive oil in a skillet, and saute the potatoes until they are golden and tender, stirring often.
Shove them to one side of the skillet. Drop the garlic into the empty space, stir, and then add the greens. Saute them around for a minute, then stir everything together and season as you like with salt, pepper and (entirely optional) chile flakes.