Monday, November 10, 2008

Like a Chameleon

Sunday, November 9, 2008

“You’re back!” my kitchen said happily as I slipped off my shoes, closing the door behind me.

“Yes, I’m back. Finally! What a weekend!” I said, shrugging out of my coat.

“It’s not like you to spend the weekend running in and out of here like a crazy person,” said Kitchen.

“I know. Usually I like to hunker down in here with something simmering on the stovetop. But this weekend was a special one. Shawn Marie was in town, Ammie organized an Indian-themed feast, and I went downtown twice to meet Kath and a bunch of KERF-readers.” I pulled my cast-iron skillet off the top of the refrigerator and set it gently on the stove.

“That’s odd. For a while, you weren’t even reading Kath Eats Real Food, and this weekend you wanted to meet her?” Kitchen frowned at me, disapprovingly.

“Well, I phase in and out of reading KERF. I can’t really keep up with the volume of writing and comments on her blog, and my main interest is always the recipes. A good recipe is like a gift. I LOVE the Baked Oatmeal Brulee that I adapted from her recipe, and I like the hummus I made the other day, inspired by this recipe. I like reading blogs where most of the recipes are very nutritious—it’s a nice change of pace from the heavy, rich foods of my other cyber-hangouts, like Orangette.”

“So how were the food blogger events?”

“They ended up being really, really fun. I was a little nervous about going to them alone. I can be kinda antisocial, especially when I’m tired or stressed. But on Friday night, we went to Bin 36, which is a very cool wine bar in downtown Chicago. I drank a delicious glass of chardonnay and managed to have lots of interesting conversations with new people. Julia and I talked about long-distance relationships. Julia’s boyfriend, whose name I have, regrettably, forgotten, talked about his cool job with Teach for America. Jenna and I commiserated over how hard it is to have a job where you are on your feet all day. She was also kind enough not to hold it against me that I’ve only looked at her blog once—so many blogs, so little time to read them all! Alice and I talked about food allergies, which seemed apropos considering the Candida Dinner that Ammie had planned for the following night. And Kath and I talked about good blog etiquette. She assured me that I’m not stealing her readers if people visit Life, Love, and Food after I leave a comment on her blog. She called it ‘networking!’”

“What was Kath like?”

“I thought she was very nice and gracious. I’m sure I read her blog less frequently than other readers. I pop in and out, depending on if I’m in the mood to peruse a recipe or if I’m just looking for a little inspiration for a work-out. Her words always remind me how good I feel after I go for a run, even if the couch sounds more appealing. So I probably know less about her than other readers, given my fickle nature. I wanted to talk to her like a normal person, not like a rabid fan.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s a reasonable assumption on her part to think that when she meets readers, they know a lot about her life. I know some things about her, but not nearly as much as she might think. So our conversations were a little awkward because I didn’t know how to have a ‘normal’ conversation with someone who is, essentially, a celebrity among food bloggers. I didn’t want to bore her or ask her questions that she’s already answered a thousand times.”

I paused here to consider my lunch options. I wanted something warm and soothing, something to go alongside leftover Indian-Spiced Kale and Chickpeas. I wanted cheese, and bread, and lots of flavor. I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich.

“Why do you think people read her blog in the first place?” asked Kitchen, her voice filled with curiosity.

“I think people read KERF for a lot of reasons. I think she has a big following among people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a weight loss. Some people read to get ideas about how to eat healthfully, regardless of weight. I bet some people just enjoy the panache with which she presents her life. She has a very sweet voice, the way she shares her joys with us, her triumphs and her challenges. And there’s a big community out there among her readers, people who find each other through her blog. It’s fun to read her blog; I just don’t have time to do it every day.” I began slicing some carrots. Their cheery orange color and sweet flavor would go well with the leftover kale. “It’s good for me to read a lot of different things: blogs, poetry, Anne Lamott. And lately, I think I’ve saturated myself on food blogs. I need to broaden my reading list.”

Kitchen and I fell silent as I set more pans on the stovetop: a small one in which to heat up the kale and a large saucepan in which to steam the carrots. Once the carrots were cooking, I began making my grilled cheese sandwich. I fell in love with a new combination a few weeks ago, and I’ve been making it ever since: a little pile of sharp cheddar, a few spinach leaves, and a nice smear of Dijon mustard. I lightly buttered one side each of two slices of oatmeal bread. The cast-iron skillet was warming up over medium heat on the stove, and the first piece of bread sizzled as it made contact with the iron. Working quickly, I smeared some mustard on the sizzling piece of bread, sprinkled my cheese on top, laid the spinach leaves on top of that, and topped the whole thing with the last piece of bread. The whole sandwich began yielding to the heat, the cheese melting gently, the bread crisping against the skillet. I nudged a flipper underneath the sandwich, and, using a second flipper to hold the sandwich together, the top became the bottom and sizzled with excitement. Dammit, I love grilled cheese! I thought.

My mind wandered back over the events of the weekend. I am, it turns out, a woman without a niche. Or I’m a woman with multiple niches: I had just as much fun with the food bloggers, a group of people I’d never met before in person, as I had with Shawn Marie and Ammie, fierce, strong, beautiful women I’ve known for years now. The KERF events felt a little surreal: meeting your cyber “friends” opens up the possibility that they may become real friends, people with whom you have a relationship off-line. And I will confess that it was fun to talk about my blog, so very different in style from KERF and yet, I feel more of a kinship with the health-minded bloggers than I do with recipe bloggers for whom there is no such thing as too much butter. Food is sustenance, nutrition, and pleasure, in that order.

Perhaps I am a chameleon. Maybe this is how we reconcile the different parts of ourselves with the demands of real life. I am at once a student and a teacher, enthusiastic and critical, striving and content, productive and lazy, a health nut and a hedonist. I eat to live, and I live to eat. I love to cook, and I cook for love. A chameleon blends in with her surroundings; a human chameleon strives to find common ground with other people, to love without judging, to empathize with compassion. Meeting new people provides the perfect opportunity in which to exercise your inner heart, the one that feels love, because the more different a person is from you, the greater the opportunity to find new love in your heart.

Maybe I’ll just carve out a new niche for myself, and if you want to join me, there will be room for you. We can eat grilled cheese sandwiches together.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Spinach and Dijon Mustard
Serves 1 (multiply to serve more)

I have no shame: I love grilled cheese sandwiches. They are all my favorite things piled together into one convenient little package: melted cheese, crispy bread, satisfying chew. This particular specimen is a little upscale, what with its spinach and mustard. I like to make it in a down-home cast-iron skillet, mostly because I like using the new one I bought recently, but you can make it in a nonstick skillet just as well.

My favorite bread to use here is pumpernickel, but I’ve also made it with an oatmeal bread, and that was tasty too. The flavors are really wonderful in this sandwich: the mustard and the cheese become creamy and tangy-sweet as they cook together. Crispy bread is the perfect foil for this filling. If you’re anything like me, you might feel compelled to lick the crumbs off your fingers after you finish.

Is it insulting to give a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich? I hope not, because I think this one deserves to be shared. And if you need a tomato soup recipe to go with it, my favorite starts with a can of tomatoes and ends with a bowl of softly sweet vegetables, carrots and onion and celery taming the tomato’s wild acid ways. I highly recommend it.

2 slices of good sandwich bread, such as pumpernickel
1-2 tsp. Better (you could also use softened butter or even a drizzle of oil, if you prefer)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard, or to taste
~1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, or to taste (use the good stuff here—it really makes the sandwich!)
4-5 fresh spinach leaves, enough to form a nice layer of spinach

1) If using a cast-iron skillet, begin preheating it right away on medium heat and give it a few minutes to warm up. If you are using a skillet made of a thinner metal, you don’t need as much warm-up time. Either way, preheat over medium heat.
2) Spread one side of each slice of bread with Better, butter, or oil. Lay one slice of bread, Better-side down, in the now-hot skillet. Spoon the mustard onto the face-up side and spread it evenly.
3) Working quickly, sprinkle the cheese over the mustard side and lay the spinach over the cheese. Top with the second piece of bread. When the bottom piece of bread is toasty and golden, flip the sandwich and grill the second side until it’s golden brown and crispy. You can peak while you’re making grilled cheese sandwiches if you aren’t sure if you should flip it. Sometimes my sandwiches get a little charred…er, EXTRA-crispy, and are still very tasty. Serve immediately, preferably with a cup of tomato soup on the side.


JD said...

I love the conversations between you and your kitchen! I fully expect a novel where your kitchen is a main character.

Rosiecat said...

JD, I'm hiring you as my agent. Clearly you know talent when you see it ;-)

michael said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


anna said...

oh man!
that grilled cheese recipe looks divine.
very interesting to hear about the meeting of minds - i haven't been to an outing of internet people yet. maybe soon!

Rosiecat said...

Thank you, Ruth! Nice to meet you!

Anna, grilled cheese is near and dear to my heart. It has been unfairly categorized as junk food and bad for you. I say, make it with high-quality ingredients, enjoy the sensual pleasure of cooking it, and surround it with a plethora of vegetables on your plate. THAT'S how I eat grilled cheese.

The KERF events were really fun! I was definitely nervous about my ability to offend people with my honesty--I'm a terrible liar and I treasure authenticity. But I'm finding that with a pound of curiosity and a sprinkling of compassion, it's much easier to meet new people. I see that you are in Chicago these days? Would you be interested in a bloggers+readers gathering?

Anonymous said...


Two thoughts in no particular order:

1. "'Why do you think people read her blog in the first place?' asked Kitchen, her voice filled with curiosity."

That sentence immediately rang my mental potential-children's-author-bell. (I hope you recognize that to a schoolteacher this is complimentary.)

2. You're reading Anne Lamott? I've been thinking about reading Anne Lamott. She's been mentioned/quoted in two of my recent reads. Reactions, comments, suggestions?


JD said...

The only vegetables I associate with grilled cheese are pickles, because you CANNOT have a good grilled cheese without pickles. (are pickles even still vegetables in their pickled state?)

yasmin said...

Another great post, i love the part where you talk about reconciling your different selves together, that really everyone has. also your grilled cheese sandwich sounds inspired.

Rosiecat said...

My dear AMPD,

Thank you for the sweet teacher compliment! I like how children's book authors know they have to keep things simple in order to write effectively. I think some ADULT book writers could benefit from this lesson.

Anne Lamott is great! She tells it like it is: very funny, kind, sometimes crude but always compassionate. I've read three books of hers now and I'm working on a fourth. She's written several essay collections about her Christian faith and how it plays out in her life; I find her thoughts on faith heartbreaking and uplifting. She tackles such difficult material, and I admire her gutsiness. She also writes for Salon, an on-line publication, and I've been reading her old Salon essays too.

JD, pickles! Brilliant! Why am I not eating my sandwiches with pickles?!? I love pickles. I do think they are still vegetables, but I'd be unhappy to live off of pickled vegetables. I like fresh ones too.

Yasmin, thanks for the sweet words. I think there's this pressure for us to label ourselves as THIS but not THAT. It's ridiculous. We're complicated creatures. As for the sandwich, let's just say that when inspiration taps me on the shoulder, I sit down and start taking notes.

yasmin said...

I just tagged you with a 7 random things about yourself meme. Here are the rules:

Rosiecat said...

Your wish is my command, Yasmin:

ttfn300 said...

another winner :) i have alot of similar thoughts on those blogs... and enjoyed your take on the meeting!

Rosiecat said...

Thanks, ttfn300! I think it's wonderful to be part of a community of food-lovers. Meeting in person really makes the community feel tangible. It's a good reminder for me that there are real people out there who are affected by what we put on our blogs.

Asmodeus said...

Niche #1: you are a scientist and a cooking writer! You see things that other people don't see in cooking, and in life, as a result. Because, as the above comments attest, you are a good writer, we get to see these things, too.

I'm not convinced, though (says the wine blogger, of course) that pleasure can be put in a hierarchy. Is pleasure so fixed? Can it even be a _category_?

Rosiecat said...

Asmodeus, you are both ludic and wise beyond your years. Is it selfish of me that I write to help MYSELF see things? Writing is my way of taming my wild thoughts into something I can recognize. Perhaps I am the ultimate control freak!

I like the way you think about pleasure. I suppose I've been thinking about categories because I want a way of explaining what I do here to other people. Someone suggested "creative non-fiction," which would work, except when I have fictional conversations with my kitchen for the sake of entertainment! Then there's the problem of other minds: one person's pleasure is another person's pain. Not all of us love spending an hour caramelizing an onion or stirring a risotto, but I love an excuse to slow down and savor the pleasure of cooking.

Jim, the Guacamole Diet guy said...

Very interesting blog post.

You said:
"Kath and I talked about good blog etiquette. She assured me that I’m not stealing her readers if people visit Life, Love, and Food after I leave a comment on her blog. She called it ‘networking!’”

Oh, good! So you don't mind if I leave this comment on your blog and steal ... I mean "network" ... your readers?

Rosiecat said...

Hi Jim! Hmm, I don't know how easily you'll be able to steal my readers. They're all smart cookies, so your comments will have to be awfully witty to lure them away. That being said, of course I welcome comments from readers! It's one of the best parts about writing a blog.

Thanks for visiting me!