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.