burritos & broken hearts

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The burrito in question

It wasn’t the end of the world. Because if it was the end of the world they’re wouldn’t have been burritos. See, Mexican food is at the very epicenter of my emotional core thus if it should suddenly somehow not exist, I will know that we as a society are really screwed. A disturbance in the force looks a lot like a lack of tortillas and hot sauce. So it wasn’t the end of the world yesterday because I gobbled down a burrito at lunch. It was just a broken heart.

Go ahead and mock the humble burrito but if you’re some white person who thinks that just random crap in a tortilla constitutes a great burrito then keep that shit to yourself. Seriously. There’s an actual art form when it comes to burritos. A great burrito is all about ratios (not too much rice, not too little salsa) and amazing condiments (homemade guac and hot sauce only). It’s a delicate balance that begins and ends with a good tortilla and well-made ingredients. Don’t get too fussy and in the same note, don’t half ass it, either. Trust me. I’m not some pinche gringo who pretends to know everything about Mexican food. My affinity for the cuisine started at childhood and carried on through adulthood as I waited tables ta not one but three Mexican restaurants. Also, being an Angeleno for 15 years meant that Mexican food became my religion and people were judged on what taco trucks they were loyal to. I had a mental map of that town based on what Mexican places were where. I even dragged my husband to the Mission district in San Francisco to try what was dubbed the country’s best burrito (totally worth it, by the way). So when it comes to a great burrito, I know what the hell I’m talking about. And yesterday’s offering, while a decent Portland college try at a Mission style burrito with its charred chicken and toasted tortilla, couldn’t erase what was happening inside of me.

Getting sober sometimes means letting things go in order to get better. For me in 2009 that meant letting go of my dog Jake and cat Phoebe. I could barely feed myself and was just trying to get through the day without being loaded. It was a heart wrenching decision but I had no other choice. Jake passed a few years ago loved and taken care of by my ex while Phoebe has lived for the past 8 years with my friend Regina. I got a Facebook message yesterday from her and she told me that Phoebe was being put down. At 17 years old, the girl had a good run and I am eternally grateful that she wound up being cared for.

Nevertheless, the news for some reason knocked the wind out of me. Feelings of loss and sadness bubbled up inside me. My body temperature raised and I felt like I was going to burst into tears. As usual, I’m unable to deal with any genuine emotion unless I turn it into a social media event so I tweeted about it. Yeah, there isn’t anything more 2017 tragic than tweeting and crying. “Tweetin’ and Cryin'”, my new country single. Still, it sort of helped and forced me to go for a walk. I went and had a cappuccino and some chocolate biscotti. But much to my dismay they weren’t prepared by a wizard and therefore couldn’t make all of my sadness go away. As I sat in the cute faux Euro cafe flipping through some shitty free newspaper, I started crying again. “Tears in My Cappuccino”, the b-side. My heart was really hurting and I knew exactly why: even though I’ve been sober for 8 years and even though my life has changed for the better in every way possible, sometimes the past just fucking hurts. And sometimes my heart hurts too. Not just for those two poor sweet animals, either. I was also devastated for me. Poor Sean, who was so mangled by addiction and alcoholism, who had to make that kind of choice. I texted my husband and cried more until I realized I better get out of this cafe before some concerned Portlander asked if I was okay.

After more walking, I wound up back at home. I didn’t feel better but at least I was tired. As if he knew how shitty I felt, Larry came and laid down on my chest. Larry, for the uninitiated, is my rascally black cat and, despite his name, not our building maintenance guy. The miracle of this moment wasn’t lost on me but the pain didn’t vanish either. As I tried to turn the heartbreak off with some Netflix therapy, I finished off the rest of my burrito. A few hours in the fridge did it some good and made it saucier. However, it was still only a 7.5 on the Mahoney burrtio scale at best. To fair, however, the kind of relief I wanted didn’t exist inside of a tortilla or cappuccino cup.  I sat in my bed and watched whatever the hell I was watching until my eyes got heavy. I went to bed knowing that I’d feel better today and I was right.

All of this is to say, it wasn’t the end of the world. There’s more burritos and more heartaches to come. But there’s more miracles to come too. In the end, I’m lucky to experience all of it even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. So for now, pass the hot sauce.

 

at least there’s potatoes

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By my own admission, I am that food person. You know the one. The food magazine reading, reality food competition watching, restaurant obsessed, cooking gadget collector, straight up food nerd. I think I was born into the role.

Cooking and eating in the house I grew up in was a way to learn new things, express creativity and share love and gratitude. My mom was the 1970’s lady who baked her own bread, sewed our groovy outfits and gave all of us haircuts. No, we didn’t live on a religious commune nor was she trying to be hip. We were just a big family who needed those things and my mom was endlessly crafty. Thus one or more of us was put to work in the kitchen as soon we got old enough. And the tasks I remember the most revolved around potatoes. Peeling, chopping, boiling or baking- you could count on at least one of us Mahoney kids pitching in and doing our namesake proud. In fact, some of my favorite food memories– summer steak dinners, meatloaf night, Easter brunch– have little to do with the main course, if I’m honest and more to do with whatever potato was being served. I mean, who could remember anything about the nondescript ham someone brought over when there was my mom’s cheesy potatoes on the same table? Forty some odd years later, the potato obsession is alive and well.

Love makes you do crazy things and my love for potatoes is no different. I will confess that when I invite you to brunch because I miss you that’s only partially true. While your company is cherished, brunch for me, especially since Bloody Marys and mimosas are thankfully out of the picture, is actually about breakfast potatoes. The same can be said for the burger place I might casually suggest. Don’t be fooled. I have a hidden agenda. I’m suggesting this place most likely because I read somewhere about their fries. I recently started a heated Twitter thread by proclaiming my new-found love for potatoes on pizza, which I discovered in Portland. It’s delicious and I will hear nothing to the contrary. There are even places whose names escape me but you better believe I remember what sort of potatoes I ate there.

Since I don’t eat out 7 nights a week, this love spills over to my own diningroom table. Not to toot my own horn but I can cook. And I can really cook potatoes. To paraphrase 90’s R&B sensation Ashanti, “I’m not always there when you call, but I’ll always bring potatoes.” Potato salad? I’m your boo. Mashed potatoes? Um, yes. Three Thanksgivings ago, I was entrusted with making mashed potatoes for 30 people and it was a job I took very seriously.  So yeah, I got this. Baked, fried, croquettes? Check, check and check. But the best potatoes I make are ones that aren’t even mine.

If you ask my husband which potato dish I rock the most, he’ll say roasted potatoes. And he isn’t wrong. They’re freaking delicious but like most fantastic ideas, they came from someone else. Ina Garten to me is like the unsung Obi Wan Kenobi of vegetable roasting in this country. Miss Ina was roasting vegetables and spreading the gospel of their deliciousness since the 1990s. While people in 2017 are just discovering roasting and doing their cute little sheetpan meals, Ina’s been killing it for years. Thus my award-worthy roasted potatoes are her’s and her’s alone. Simple, perfect and applause worthy at brunch or dinner or whatever, the potatoes in question go like this:

3 pounds small red or white potatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.

There’s something artful about simplicity that my more-more-more addict brain finds soothing about this recipe and all of Ina’s giant white Hamptons kitchen existence. People like her and Mark Bittman were sort of the cornerstones for me as a cook and a student in cooking. They have this very relaxed but chic and smart approach that makes me think, “Okay, I can do that.” Unlike Martha Stewart, whom I also love but I watch her when I want to feel shamed and like I’m living a shabby life by not using enough parchment paper. It’s more of an abusive relationship and best in small doses. Plus, her recipes are really difficult and even the ingredients seem to be judging you. Yet sometimes I can’t resist watching Martha Bakes wherein she has pastry chef guests whom she bosses around and makes sweat profusely. It’s oddly uncomfortable and the post-prision, post-daytime show depressing production value of it makes it a must-see.

All of this leads back to potatoes, as it usually does. This morning, I was making breakfast for myself. Cooking for myself is something I also do well. Like a good recovering Catholic, I can make ingredients last forever or develop guilt about not using them. I chose the former and I decided to make breakfast tacos using some potatoes that I needed to cook. Throw in some eggs, salsa verde and cheese, serve on warm corn tortillas and you’ve got a breakfast party for your mouth. This little ceremony is insignificant in the sense that people everywhere eat breakfast all day long. But for a guy who didn’t really eat breakfast when he was drinking, it’s kind of important. The act of cooking, which I find meditative, and the art of cooking something perfectly is cause for satisfication. It feels like I’m being nice to myself. Treating food and cooking like gifts also helps me keep my relationship with it in tact which as an addict is key.

This morning as I made the homefries pictured in the glistening skillet above, my thought was at least there’s potatoes. I’ve been battling the blues a little bit. Maybe not the full-blown blues or a big depression. Perhaps just “Lite Blues.”Half the calories and despair as Original Recipe Blues. I try to shift my brain into gratitude when I go there. So my thought was at least there’s potatoes. At least there’s small joys sprinkled all throughout my day. At least there are gifts everywhere that are accessible when I look for them. And at least when those gifts are potatoes they’re also delicious.