Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cheater's Tortilla Española

I ate my first tortilla española in Spain on a foreign language exchange trip I really kind of hated. I was genuinely irritated about how minimally academic the whole thing was, a reaction which perfectly encapsulates the nerdy, well-meaning, privileged brat I was at 17. I saw Goya's dark room, ate perfect grilled sardines and learned the difference between tea and infusion by myself at a beautiful old cafe- and somehow, I resented feeling like I hadn't earned them. I mean really- would my doing more homework have made the trip any less of a gift from my parents? If I'm honest, I think it was that trip where I felt the first stirrings of my depression. When I concentrate on remembering, the was an acute loneliness, emptiness and insomnia that I tried to soothe away by submerging my brain in the internet and raiding crackers from my host family's pantry in the middle of the night.

That beginning, so very hesitant, was quickly overshadowed by a crazy medical incident involving a pretty bad staph infection, two trips to the hospital and about six sitcom-worthy language mishaps. Waking up with both my eyes swollen shut kind of pushed the barely nascent idea of mental health out of focus. My host mother, whose name I have long forgotten, earned my lifelong gratitude by being about the best medical advocate anyone could ask for. She took one look at me (face swollen, sleep deprived and slightly delirious) and marched me to the doctor. She yelled at my tour leader so he held the bus for me, she yelled at the nursing staff until they let me, a random American without any identification, see a doctor, she yelled at the patients in the waiting room until they let me cut the line.

I took this photo from the top of a Cathedral in 2007. I think I thought I was artsy?

Full disclosure, she may not have been yelling- as I said, I was a bit delirious. Regardless, she saw the golf-ball sized cyst on my forehead, realized I needed help and got it for me. Somewhere in there, my last day staying with her, she also gave me a Spanish-language cookbook that I lost somewhere between Pontevedra, Madrid and Boston.

That cookbook haunts me. It is a reminder that I lose things, constantly, and I lose things that people are not supposed to lose. It was important to me, and I somehow just left it behind. Over the years, I've lost so many things of monetary and personal value through a combination of ADHD, laziness and absentmindedness I can never seem to work out. I lost the backpack I hiked the PCT with because I dropped it off to be cleaned and in my depressive fog never came back for it. I grieve for it too. I lost my flute, or more likely had it stolen from my dorm room, but I'll never be sure: knowing myself, I can't rule out the possibility that yes, I am that careless. I lose earrings and gloves and socks and my jackets and my debit card. Every twenty minutes I misplace my phone, my keys or both. Often, I never get these things back.

My mom used to claim she could track my movement through the house by the trail of objects I left behind.

These days, I wear the same shoes every day because having fewer things means having fewer things to misplace. I wear my grandmother's ring on my hand and never take it off. I have some coping skills, but I still dream about finding a treasure trove of objects I've lost. I still feel the not-so-secret shame of misplaced, permanently lost objects, the greater shame of having lied about losing them, the sometimes desperate desire to be the kind of person who accepts who they are and doesn't bury their mistakes so reflexively.

Is my carelessness a symptom or a fault or both?

In a show of horrifying irony, or perhaps predictions coming true, the day I wrote the beginnings of this post I got in to a car accident that, while resulting in no personal injury, has pretty much shattered my barely-held sense of having my shit together. It's a story for another time, but again I am left wondering and doubting myself. Where do I draw the line between the things I cannot control- the whirlwind of anxiety and ADHD that is my brain- from the ones I can? Will I ever be able to trust myself with anything of consequence? How do I rectify my pain, which is real enough to be diagnose, with the priviledged-even-for-the-first-world nature of my problems? Seriously, where are my keys?

(Before you suggest anything, farmwife just gave me one of those tile things for my birthday. She's figured out the drill).

I took this photo last week. Apparently I still think I'm artsy.

So all of this rambling was just a prelude to telling you I've cracked a lazy-girl version of a tortilla española. If you've never had one, a tortilla española is sort of like a potato and onion fritatta cooked entirely on the stove and often eaten as a sandwich. I have made them the traditional way before, (including once just last week), but it requires frying a couple pounds of potatoes in batches and guys... I hate frying things. Not for weird dietary reasons- it's just a pain. No matter how careful I am, I always end up with a messy stove, a million oily paper towels and a bunch of fried-in oil. The waste! I know I could reuse the oil, but let's be real... I won't. I just let it languish, aspirationally, in a jar under the sink until someone digs it out and dumps it.

Anyways, after my last attempt, I became determined to find a way of doing this without the fried, and lo! A tortilla ere blooming. Turns out that baked potatoes work just fine- and baking a potato is the kind of thing that takes time but zero effort. You can even bake the potatoes days in advance, or use leftovers. I'm sold. It is not at all traditional, but unless someone finds my long-lost book it will have to do.

Updated to add: a friend of mine with better Tortilla cred suggest that you could also cheat by par-boiling and then sauteeing, which I suspect would be much better.

Cheater's Tortilla Española

1.5 lbs yellow potatoes
2 medium onions, finely diced
2-3 Tbsp good olive oil
6 eggs
Salt and pepper

Bake your potatoes, or break out the leftovers. When they're cool enough to handle, peel them with a vegetable peeler. This is a little messy. Once peeled, slice into 1/4 inch rounds, or half-rounds if you've got giant potatoes.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook the onions until browned. Meanwhile, beat six eggs in a large bowl with quite a bit (at least 1/4 tsp of each) of salt and black pepper. Mix in the potato slices. When the onions are done cooking, mix them in as well. Be a little careful about how fast you do this, or the egg will start to cook.

Put the remaining tablespoon of oil into a small non-stick pan and turn the heat to medium. I used an 8-inch sauté pan, but well seasoned cast iron would work well too. Pour the egg/potato/onion mixture into the pan, and smoosh it flat. In the first couple minutes, run a spatula around the edges a couple times so that the egg from the top runs to the bottom of the pan. Then let it cook, undisturbed, until it's beginning to set. This took me 10 minutes, but I'm at altitude with very fresh eggs- your time may be different.

When it looks like it won't fall apart, run the spatula around the edges and the bottom. Wearing oven mitts, invert a plate- anything larger than the pan will do- on top of the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Put the pan back on the stove and slide the whole thing back in, cooked side up. Push the edges into place if you have to, and then cook for another couple minutes until it is set, or a toothpick into the middle comes out dry. Serve with aioli, hot sauce or anything else languishing in your fridge.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Your Daily Duck (6!)

Ducks: they will crawl through the fencing to eat brown rice.

Duck ducks!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

You Daily Duck (4!)

I did something dumb and careless (I got in a car accident- nobody is physically hurt) and I was feeling really shitty about myself, so the farmwife sent me this picture: 


Friday, July 21, 2017

Your Daily Duck (3!)

I'm pretty sure the right ducks are trying to figure out if my iphone is food (still no, ducks). Left duck is a little busy being blurry.

Duck Ducks!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Your Daily Duck (2!)

My beloved dutch oven, a 20th birthday gift from my Aunts, developed a big circular chip in the enamel last week. Lodge offers limited lifetime warranties, so they're replacing it, but I still couldn't bear the thought of getting rid of something that had 

So yep, I gave it to the ducks. Serendipitously, we were looking for a container that was too heavy for them to knock over- for some reason our 'plastic clam-shell full of rocks' idea wasn't sustainable. I'm still pretty sad that my dutch oven is dead... but at least it's being used for cute purposes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Your Daily Duck

Welcome to your Daily Duck! Full disclosure: there is a 105% chance I will become lazy and this will turn into your Weekly Waterfowl. Regardless, it's a series and there will be photos and videos of ducks.

In the words of my farmwife: have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat raw zucchini without hands if your mouth was just two spoons? Wonder no more.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Farro with Browned Butter, Sage and Eggs

I've started a glossary of community vegetable-disaster terms. So far, it includes "squashpacolypse" (derived from an incident that involved cleaning rotten squash off saw blades) and "zucchini crisis", which just meant someone forgot to harvest zucchini before they went on vacation.

Yesterday, I woke up to an email with the subject line "zucchini apocalypse", which irritated me because my dictionary already contains an apocalypse. Also, in light of my spring-garden fail (have I mentioned our spring garden failed?), I'm kind of irritated at the zucchini. They're doing so well! It's barely July and there are SO MANY ZUCCHINI. I've personally eaten like twelve and also brought a couple to a friend as compensation for being too lazy to make salad. My mom taught be not to show up empty handed, but let's be real- if you invite me over, you're likely to get a loose handful of sage, or three plums and a radish, or some sugar cane I couldn't resist at the NPS store.

I'm pretty sure those are all things I have brought to my friend Rachel's house for dinner. She feeds me a lot.

The last time I ate at Rachel's- the time with the compensatory zucchini- she made pasta with browned butter, an egregious amount of sage, Parmesan and fried eggs. It was dead simple but phenomenal, even with gluten-free pasta. With those ingredients, how could it not be? (Side note- I have like six friends in Utah, and two of them have Celiacs. I am quite confused.) The next day I came home from work, picked some sage, and half an hour later was happily eating on the patio while the farmwife took blurry photos and fed farro to the ducks. The ingredients might not be objectively summery, but the effort to reward ratio certainly is. With a leafy green salad and a glass of white wine it would be fit for company- even if your company is too dignified to show up with random vegetables. I will be making this one again. 

Note: I had a whole thing written about switching from pasta to farro, which I chose for nuttiness and because what I really wanted was the effect of the sage browned butter infusing everything (smaller pieces to be dressed → more uniform distribution). Unfortunately it quickly devolved into me ranting about fatphobia, and bad nutritional science and the gross ways in which those things force us to talk about what we eat. I ended up both very angry AND exceedingly bored with my writing, so I'm gonna spare you the rest of the rant. In summary: I wasn't trying to healthy-up the recipe because fuck that. In the words of the indomitable Lindy West, fuck it very much.

Farro with Browned Butter, Sage and Eggs
Adapted from my friend Rachel (serves 2)

1 cup farro
4 Tbsp butter (half a stick)
2 eggs
20-25 sage leaves, picked off the stems
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (I used a microplane)
Salt and Pepper

Put a couple cups of water and a pinch of salt in a small pot and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the farro boil until cooked but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain into a colander with small holes. 

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble/foam gently, add the whole sage leaves. Swirling the pan occasionally (or smooshing things around with a rubber spatula), cook until the milk solids are browned and the whole thing has a nutty toasty aroma. Remove from heat immediately. When the farro is ready, toss it with the browned butter sage mixture, breaking up the sage leaves as you go. (Are these too many instructions? Do people know how to brown butter?)

Fry your eggs. People do this differently- I used the same pan I'd browned the butter in (with a little more butter because life is excellent). Most of the time I also like my yolks a bit past runny- getting into the fudgey territory- but feel free to do yours as runny as you'd like.

Lastly, assemble: divide farro into two bowls and divide parmesan between them, leaving a little for the top. Add black pepper and toss; taste for salt. Top each bowl with an egg and the remainder of the cheese. If you're me, add more pepper and then happily eat outdoors.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Birthday Pavlova

On my second birthday, my mother was about two months pregnant with my little sister. As she tells it, even being near food was unbearable, so she asked a friend of hers to make me a birthday cake. Her friend, who is Kiwi, made me a Pavlova...  and I was done with cake forever. There was to be no other cake. I was a stubborn child  (shocking, I know) and I've had a Pavlova every year since- if not on my birthday, within a month or so. My mom even managed to (awesomely) send one to the me via some friends when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012. Our family takes tradition seriously.

Last year, I made my first one, and then my second and third, because it took me three tries. Now I have a new birthday tradition: calling my mother and apologizing profusely for making her learn to make meringue for a toddler.

So have you eaten a pavlova? I don't know what kind of meringue it is- in fact, I just recently learned that there are different kinds- but it's crispy crunchy on the outside and then soft and almost marshmallowy on the inside. It's like a sugar pillow with a sugar crust... and then you get to eat an inordinate amount of whipped cream and fruit. I know I'm biased, but I have also never seen leftovers. This year, in fact, I had to make two.

(And, for the record, BOTH of them worked. I am an adult and I can make my own damned cake.)

FINE I LIED. I did have to remake one... but only because I forgot it was cooling in the oven and turned it to 450 to make these potato wedges. It was perfect until then- my ADHD screwed it up, not my inability to bake things. And then we stayed up until 2:30am and ended eating the second one I'd made without photographing it, so I made another one the next day. Also I broke a yolk into one of the batches and I had to start again, and there may still be melted sugar on my oven floor. BUT STILL I AM 27 AND I AM A REAL ADULT I SWEAR!!!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go call my mother.

Becca's Birthday Pavlova

Adapted slightly from my mom's friend Alison

Note: my personal struggle with this cake is disproportionate- my celiac roommate has made a few, and my friend Kiks made me one on my 21st birthday on her first try. I think that means she is a wizard? Either that, or I'm just terrible at following instructions. Point is, don't be scared. Even all flattened it tastes good.

4 eggs

4 Tbsp ice water
1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Fruit! I use a package of strawberries, a package of raspberries, a package of blueberries and one kiwi, but you could really use any combination you want.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and cover a baking tray with foil. Separate the eggs, reserving the yolks for another use (I made this mayonnaise to go with my potato wedges). Mix the cornstarch with 1/3 cup of the sugar and set aside.

Place egg whites and ice water in a very clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form. With the mixer on its slowest setting, or while whisking by hand, add 1 cup of sugar very slowly. Still working slowly, add the sugar/cornstarch mixture, and then turn the mixer back to its highest setting and beat for at least 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and vinegar, and continue beating until most of the way there.

Pile meringue into the middle of the baking sheet, making a disk about 9" in diameter and at least 2" high. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the oven down to 200°F. Bake for two hours, then turn off the oven but leave the pavlova inside it- let it cool down with the oven. When it's no longer warm, peel the foil off the bottom carefully (or just say screw it and serve on a baking tray. I won't judge).

Shortly before serving, whip 2 cups of heavy cream.Spread over the pavlova, then cover in fresh fruit. Toddler Becca would explain that there is only one acceptable way of decorating it: a ring of strawberries around the outside, one in the middle, a very specific order of raspberries, blueberries and kiwifruit... but thankfully adult Becca is a tiny bit less stubborn.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Here are some things: episode 2

This week in community, one of my neighbors crawled halfway through our dog door and nobody was surprised. According to my roommate, who was neither fully dressed nor awake at the time, there was brief moment of shock... followed by a shrug of resignation. "Ah! Mary appears to be climbing through my dog door. Of course she is." Less than two months in community and already accepting the absurd as ordinary. I've trained her well.

Also, I almost had to go to the 4th of July parade in Provo (literally called the 'Provo Freedom Festival'- shudder), so major bullet dodged there. Instead I lay in the grass on the common house lawn and watched my ducks try and eat the sprinklers.

Here are some things I learned this week:
  1. Most of my office does not know what falafel is (absurd)
  2. Ducks really, really like falafel (somehow less absurd?)
  3. "Thank you for letting me ride-along on your garbage truck" is a difficult gift category
  4. A gigantic, slightly bendy zucchini is not the right answer
  5. Riding in a garbage truck in 90+ degree weather is not exactly pleasant
Here are some things I want to read (if I write them here, maybe I won't forget?):
  • "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" by Sherman Alexie and "Hunger" by Roxane Gay. Side note: how did two of my favorite authors come out with books without me knowing this was happening? 
  • On that note, I have a sneaking suspicion that David Sedaris has written something I haven't read yet. Is this a thing? 
  • "Strangers in their own Land", which I have been meaning to read since the election
Here are some things that made me rage-laugh:
  • Utah has no rain, terrible air quality and practically no firework restrictions. HOW IS THIS A THING? Also, fireworks bother both puppies and veterans... and I thought those were supposed to be, like, the only things we all agreed we should support.
  • Orrin Hatch calling for civility like 15 minutes before the president's tweets about Mika Brezinski... about which the Senator conveniently failed to comment
  • A security guard at the Federal Building, when reading my permit application for a healthcare sit in, asking me (genuinely) "Have you tried to set up a meeting with Senator Hatch? He's in town this week- he should be meeting with constituents!". Did he really think that having people (including at least one disabled activist) sit on your lawn for nine straight hours in 100 degree heat was our first choice? 
And to make up for those last things, here are some pictures of my ducks hanging out with their newly refurbished house.