homecoming

sometimes when i sit down to write in this space, i wonder forward about whether and how my words will crystallize this particular time in my life. when i read them back to myself at some indistinct point in the future, what will they help me remember?

old passages i’ve written conjure up memories of a particular summer sweetness, or a dull and heavy dread, an uncertain waiting, a sharp vibrancy. and i am grateful for that. this course i’m traveling has felt long and varied, deep and complex, and i am glad to have records of it here.

i think of this now, because i have more to write. i have closed a stressful, demanding, exhilarating year as a teacher and grad school student. i have returned from two weeks walking so many unnamed roads and riding so many crowded buses and trains through europe. and i have come home to a house that is losing its sense of comfort and warmth.

during my travels, i came across this quote by maya angelou: “i long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever i find myself.” i love it. but i also wish, sometimes, that it wasn’t true. sometimes i want home to really be somewhere—or someone—outside of myself. for the homecoming to be a clicking into place, a slipping on of something soft, a true return. for now it’s just me; i am the keeper of my history, my comforts, my sense of place.

but i do my best. when i came back from my trip, i made sure to cook again. often, the kitchen—my kitchen—is where i feel most like myself. frantic trains of thought dissolve, self-doubt is replaced with self-assuredness, and i let myself be fully absorbed in what happens before me. the easy slice of the knife through juicy, meaty, ripe tomatoes; the sizzle and crisp of fat cheese slices on a hot pan; the smell of bread toasting behind me; the dry shake of garlic salt and fresh pepper sprinkled over it all. i ate this lazy summer meal every day my first week back, trying to regain my sense of land and ground. i hope embedded in this stack of ingredients—and this string of words—i’ll remember this odd, open-handed, wandering time of mine.

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Fried Provolone and Tomato Sandwich
Adapted from Food52
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches 

Two 
¼-inch slices provolone cheese
1 
Tablespoon mayonnaise, plus more as needed
Two ½-inch thick slices sturdy, country-style bread
1
 medium-sized ripe tomato, preferably heirloom
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

  1. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully add the slices of provolone and let them fry until crusty and golden on the outside but still gooey in the center, about 2 to 3 minutes total, carefully flipping them halfway through with a pair of tongs. Once they’re done, carefully remove cheese slices from the pan, allowing any excess oil to drip back into the pan, and blot gently on a paper towel.
  2. Spread the mayonnaise evenly across the slices of bread, adding more as desired. Core the tomato and cut it into 4 slices. Place the fried cheese on the bread, layer 2 tomato slices on each piece of bread, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
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big brother, little sister

it’s funny how little it takes to make me nostalgic. today, all it took was a friend sending over a mr. bean clip and suddenly i was tumbling backward to soft, simple afternoons when i was a just little kid… before i was old enough to be latchkey, before daycare arrived in our school district – back when it was just me and my big brother at home alone after school. the memories are faint, because there was only one year we were ever at the same school at the same time. only one year that i was asked to “wait for anthony” so we could walk home together: big brother, little sister.

i remember watching this with him:


and laughing because my brother laughed.


getting to know wallace and gromit, too:

and, one day, eating four strawberry fruit-a-freeze popsicles in a row – bought from a small japanese supermarket, meant for individual sale but taken home in the original cardboard packing boxes because we bought so many at once – and my brother getting blamed for my uncontrolled gluttony (but it was summer and so hot! and they were so good…)

and something else on pbs, a show whose name i can’t remember. but the kind-voiced, fuzzy-afro’d man taught crafts… the distinct sound of his sharp scissors chomping through thick construction paper still rings in my ears.

he had an episode once that taught how to make your own lick-and-stick stickers. my brother and i tried it, and i can’t remember how successful they were, but i remember being fascinated by the fact that vanilla extract was part of the
lickable glue recipe.

.

i think i may have come to the part of my life where it circles back to the beginning. or the near-beginning. it’s likely i’ll be moving back home – the home i grew up in – in just a few months. …and i realize i might have a chance for a second go at this whole family thing, to grow up and learn how to be a better child. so i suppose it’s timely that i am thinking about my big brother and how he shaped me, whether by sitting beside me watching pbs, or playing his hipster music loud enough so that i could hear it down the hall, or even through his absence as we quickly grew up and apart.

today is one of those days when the fibers run together, and it feels good after such a long stretch of floating untethered.

pulled pork sandwich

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and here it is, folks. i told you last week how i had prepared the barbecue sauce for these sandwiches, crossing my fingers that it’d turn out right. it is always a bit of a risk to try out a new recipe and then turn around and debut it to a hungry, expectant crowd, after all.

the recipe calls for a 6- to 8-pound cut of meat, but – with my guest list in mind – i bought two 5-pound picnic roasts instead, stuck them in a baking dish side-by-side, and let the oven do its thing. and after a good, long afternoon in there, the hulking pieces of pork roasted to shredability just fine. taking tips from the recipe reviewers, i made sure the internal temperature of the meat reached about 190º f before taking it out, and i made a surplus of sauce to douse the pulled pork in (i ended up needing 1 ½ times the amount that the original recipe would have yielded). the sauce ended up being just about the perfect dressing for the rich, savory meat: sweet with just a little bit of burn.

piled onto some hamburger buns with a top plop of coleslaw and a glass of something ice-cold to wash it on down… the chatter of friends old and new filling the otherwise quiet evening air, sun setting down behind you all… why, yes. i do believe this is the way to start summer.

quiet night

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i had one of those days. despite going about normal business, like showing up to work and buying a carton of milk, i spent most of the day inside my head, tunneling through thoughts. it was a solitary day. it was fitting, then, that at the end of it i came home to a silent apartment, bags of groceries in hand, recipe in mind, and – after some diligent chopping – made myself a simple dinner.

sometimes, when you’re young and a little bit lost, it’s best to just come home to yourself.

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the name of the recipe doesn’t quite give the right impression. but i suppose chicken-and-cherry-and-walnut-and-shallot-and-tarragon-salad sandwich would be a mouthful, and you don’t need a mouthful before you make a recipe. in any case, it was a lovely meal for a quiet night, with a glass of wine and some soft songs on the side.

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Chicken and Cherry Sandwiches
adapted ever so slightly from Self magazine
Serves 4

½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped (about 1 lb. of chicken breast, seasoned lightly with salt, and pan-fried)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (in a pan over medium-low heat until fragrant)
¼ cup chopped shallots
8 slices toasted whole-grain bread (I used dill rye)

Combine mayonnaise, tarragon, lemon juice and pepper in a bowl. Toss chicken, celery, cherries, walnuts and shallots in another bowl. Stir in mayonnaise dressing. Divide chicken salad among 4 slices of bread; top with remaining bread.