What are You Hungry For?

What are You Hungry For?

Pear Galette, made by my beautiful and talented sister, Laurel.
Pear Galette, made by my beautiful and talented sister, Laurel.

When you trace the days back, skip over calendar squares like spaces on a game board, reversing: events, choices, moments, does it overwhelm you? Do you look back to a month, three months, seven, a year ago and pause for a moment, wondering what the hell happened?

It’s a dizzying spiral that can, too often, lead down a rabbit hole, rehashing events we can’t do anything to change, but somehow find the need to comb through endlessly.

Lying in bed, mowing the giant lawn, working around the house, my thoughts slip easily into this well-worn groove, like tires into a rut. The past whispers, and soon I feel the tight, familiar ache in my jaw, as I begin to clench. Sadness, anxiety, twist in my chest.

Re-set.

I take a deep breath. Work to close the lid over my Pandora’s Box of worries I can’t change right now, or ever.

Home-waters. Big Manistique Lake
Home-waters. Big Manistique Lake

I’m used to cooking for another human every day. I find inspiration in their tastes, the mood, and what we’re craving.

“What are you hungry for?” Is, it seems, a much more interesting question to ask other people, but not so much yourself. These days, my answer to myself is usually, “rice pudding.” I go to the container in the fridge, dump on some nutmeg and cinnamon and plop/lean, eating wherever I am in the house. When I’m sufficiently shocked at how much rice pudding I’ve consumed, again, in one sitting, I return container to fridge.

I’ve analyzed my reliance on the side-food group “Pudding” and I think it hearkens back to comfort food of my childhood.

Grandma Betty Harkness made my sister and me the most delicious rice/vanilla puddings. We got to eat them from her company-special, cut green glass goblets. Our spoons clinked against emerald glass, creamy pudding swirled along fluted edges, and the morsel lingering in stemmed bottom had to be reached with our pinky fingers when no one was looking. The sweet, velvety pudding was both a treat and a comfort. Special glasses, cream and sugar, Grandma’s cozy kitchen.

While the pudding from the food co-op is delicious, it imparts little of the comfort I crave.

Lady friends, food, and dogs.
Lady friends, food, and dogs.

Impulsively, I invite various friends and groups of friends for dinner. Before confirmations, I begin planning and cooking. The energy focused on holding down the box lid on my trunk of worries, I divide, to focus on meal planning. In the morning, as I finish the lawn, instead of running the hamster wheel of apprehensions, I categorize ingredients in cupboards, shelves, fridge, and freezer. My mind adds and subtracts ingredients—grouping, arranging, rearranging.

Venison: the protein. Simple buttery polenta: the base. Fresh herbs: the green note. Frozen cauliflower from my father’s garden: the creamy, garlicky sauce. Roses are blooming on the cabin’s south-side, and a long-ago gardener’s rhubarb legacy peeks elephantine-ear leaves through tall grass. Roses, Honey, and Rhubarb: the sweet.

Heirloom Roses
Heirloom Roses
Wild Strawberries and Rhubarb from the yard.
Wild Strawberries and Rhubarb from the yard.
Rose Petal white wine
Rose Petal white wine

 

 

 

 

The sun moves through its longest days’ orbit and apologetic cancellations and rain checks for “dinner next time” trickle in.

It doesn’t matter. The meal’s underway in my mind. I have something else to focus on, and I leap from hamster wheel to kitchen counter with desperate relief.

The meal comes together throughout the day. I give myself up to familiar rhythms: chopping, mixing, spicing, stirring, seasoning—decisions weighty enough to satisfy and calm my anxious mind.

One person to cook for would be enough, and dear friend Ryan arrives. He doesn’t simply arrive, but walks through the door bearing a bag of fresh clams, mussels, and conch from Maine.

We steam the seafood, filling the cabin with a briny, tide pool aroma unfamiliar to Laughing Whitefish River shores.

We eat shelled delicacies in the screen tent, near the river. Maple leaf shadows stipple the tabletop. River water chuckles over stones, nearby. Finches, robins, and meadowlarks fill the insect-humming air with melody.

Maine seafood by the Laughing Whitefish River
Maine seafood by the Laughing Whitefish River

I can’t help myself, and chuckle aloud, as garlic-herb butter drips down my fingers.

It’s all still here—the worries, fears, anxieties—but distant now. Like the far-away whine of a mosquito you know you’ll have to deal with eventually, but for the moment, you’re safe.

 

 

Eating Alone

Eating Alone

I’ve been in two, serious, back-to-back, long-term relationships since I was 19. I’m 32 and six months single.

I came of age as a cook, and as a writer, with a partner. Cooking for someone else at least five nights a week sincerely influenced my culinary decisions. It challenged me to find ways to make two very different men like vegetables more. It pushed me to impress, both my men and extended friends and family, with my culinary prowess. It was a way I attempted to show two very differently, indifferent men, that I loved them. Every meal I put in front of them, I handed a little piece of myself to be taken inside them. Love, infusing food I’d made with these hands, now, a part of my love.

Venison Tenderloin, homemade sauerkraut, Brie, fresh herbs, garlic toum
Venison Tenderloin Sandwich, homemade sauerkraut, Brie, fresh herbs, garlic toum

Unfortunately, good food and love need more, to keep a forever-relationship, forever.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m really alone. One room cabin, 40 acres. Middle-of-nowhere-Deerton-Upper Peninsula wilderness-alone.

In the past, when single people have talked to me about challenges cooking for themselves, I fear I’ve been a bit flippant in my response. “I love cooking for myself,” I’d say with just a hint of disbelief and a total lack of context. “I cook something delicious just for myself, and it’s a treat. I’m glad to give you some recipe ideas,” I would finish with what I fear might have been a hint of bothersome self-assuredness. I couldn’t fully understand their perspective, because I’d never been in that position.

Eggs N' Greens with Brie Toast
Eggs N’ Greens with Brie Toast

I get it now. It’s damn hard to cook a nice meal for yourself when you live alone. By nice, I mean put the time and energy to buy groceries and create something delicious and soul-satisfying, just for yourself. When we cook for others, we’re aware of many things: the need to impress, nourish, sustain, and nurture those we’re feeding. We put all of that into the food, and the flavors, etc. answer. But there isn’t always incentive, to do that for ourselves. Food becomes fuel when you’re alone. You eat standing, perching, laying down, but not sitting around a table. At the moment, I don’t even have a table.

I try. I’m a food writer. I love food and flavor is really important to me. Every aspect of good eating is important to me. But somehow, other things take precedence. I don’t eat as regularly. I read or watch a movie, trying to remember mindfulness with each bite. Trying.

Why are we less likely to nourish ourselves, than others?

Rhubarb, Honey, Rose Petals
Rhubarb, Honey, Rose Petals

In a rural setting, it becomes an interesting challenge. The closest grocery store is a solid 25 minute drive away. When I’m hungry at home, I’m also all the way home, and not likely to jump in the car just to get myself a meal. So I end up with interesting concoctions and combinations of snacks and half-meals that I often consume standing, then sitting, then walking around as other agenda items momentarily take precedence over eating. It’s not like that, when you eat with others. You focus more, on the meal, atmosphere, conversation, their reactions, the play of light across food, wine, faces.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. I chant, a mantra. But before I know it my eggs are getting cold, and the buttered toast, chill. However, I’ve managed to sweep, play with the puppy, and hang clothes on the line, so there’s always a tradeoff.

Sit down and eat your damn eggs. I remind myself in something approximating a mental-stern-mommy-voice. They’re still good, even cold.

I’ve learned that eggs are a single person’s best friend. They’re a simple-to-cook, locally sourceable, healthy, versatile protein option. They’re adaptable to any cuisine theme. They’re comfort food.

Sunny-side up local eggs with smoked sea salt and polenta
Sunny-side up local eggs with smoked sea salt and polenta
Eggs N' Greens with Brie Toast
Eggs N’ Greens with Brie Toast
Avocado, Garlic Toum, Soft Boiled Egg
Avocado, Garlic Toum, Soft Boiled Egg

 

 

 

 

 

***All recipes are adaptable to adding many more people to your meal!

Soft-Boiled Eggs and Toast—Arguably, the Ultimate Comfort Food (Shailah, I know how you feel about yolks)

  • 2 local eggs
  • Good bread for toasting
  • Butter
  • Cheese (optional)
  • Salt/Pepper to taste (I also like to use garlic salts, dill, tarragon, turmeric, etc. depending on what flavor mood I’m in)

Bring a small pot of water to boil. Slowly lower in eggs, one at a time, careful not to jar. Let boil for approximately 4 minutes, depending on how runny you like the yolk.

Run eggs under cold water and carefully remove shell. Sprinkle eggs with desired flavors.

Toast bread, and then butter. Cut into dippable/scoopable slices.

Eggs and Greens
Eggs and Greens

Eggs and Greens

  • 2 local eggs
  • Good bread for toasting
  • Butter
  • Large handful of greens (chard, kale, spinach, micro greens, mustard greens, arugula, wilted lettuce, etc.) –The greens melt down into next to nothing, so use a generous handful.
  • Minced Garlic (Add garlic towards the end of cooking process for a more full flavor)
  • Salt/pepper/spices to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Braggs Liquid Aminos/ Soy Sauce
  • Water—not always needed, but might be necessary to keep greens from sticking. Sometimes, I also just add butter.

Melt greens in oil with spices and Braggs/Soy Sauce. When greens are melty, make a well in the center and add eggs and garlic. Cover, making sure to keep a bit of liquid in the bottom, and cook until eggs are sunnyside up (whites are cook and there’s a film over the yolk, but yolk’s still runny). Scoop eggs, greens, and pan juices into a bowl.

Other Egg Meal Ideas:

  • Sometimes, I cheat and use packets of Indian curries our food coop carries. The ingredients are good and healthy, and they don’t have a bunch of preservatives. There’s different options, and you can add to them. Ditto with the organic ramen/noodle packets. I add cabbage, peppers, zucchini, seafood, leftover sausage/chicken/venison/beef/pork, chopped nuts, etc. And of course, eggs. They can be cooked however you’re craving eggs, and added to the curry/noodle dish.
  • Hard-boiled, or even soft-boiled (using the yolk as part of the dressing) eggs are delicious on most salads.
  • Plain old eggs, bacon, and toast is a perfect comfort food.
Local Eggs
Local Eggs