Today, I feel like storytelling:
In a heavy state of delirium, I punched the fluffed dough back down with my stiff fist just to see it cave. Tense, I waited for its reaction. Would it bounce back and show me who’s boss? Not this time. I’d hoped to see the gluten-y mass put up a fight. There’s no victory in continuously beating a thing already down–Unfortunately not everyone shares that philosophy.
The experience of striking risen dough was something me and my older sister, Jasmine, had amused ourselves with months before when she came to “the Bean” to visit for Christmas. I taught her about baklava, bread twisted with chunks of shaved dark chocolate and melted butter, and she taught me again how sinking fingers into raw bread can be the perfect stress balm. I guess I forgot. It’s nice when family can remind you what’s most important.
I’m just getting back from a weekend trip in NYC. It was actually a work trip turned baby-come-down-too-since-you’re-only-3-hours-away getaway. And that was before the bomb struck lower Manhattan. Eric and I had already escaped to Brooklyn by then, and the first we heard of the explosion was through an email update to my phone from the Boston Globe, ironically.
I pulled the yogi dough out of the metal bowl, and slapped it down onto my flour-cloaked cutting board. Whole wheat flour, because I stopped using regular white a while back. I cut the swollen disc in half, and then both those halves into thirds until I had six scone-like shapes, which turned to tennis-sized balls as I rolled them between my palms. I grabbed a sheet of Saran Wrap and pressed it over the skin of the shapely balls. And then I pulled out the cured beets from the fridge I had been marinating in a Ziploc bag overnight.
I was making hot pockets. The childhood treat that would, without fail, ruthlessly disintegrate the edges and roof of my mouth after its first contact. I don’t know why I thought this time might be different?
As I peeled open the lips of the Ziploc, a rush of licorice and tang hit my nose. That was the fennel and the mustard seed I ground into the rub that would give the beets the most flavor. I never thought to put fennel, mustard, and smoked paprika together before, but together the threesome danced into what smelled a lot like raw pepperoni, which was just what I needed.
Note: Finely grind the herbs and spices, and add them to the a Ziploc with the thinly sliced beets. The beets should be a little thicker than a potato chip. The longer you leave the seasoning on the beets, the better they will taste. If the beets are still too sweet they need more time marinating.
The rain stole away the sun, and the clouds brought heavy shadows into the apartment, but it was perfectly ok because it calmed me, sounding a lot like the generic nature soundtrack that put me to sleep every night, just missing the occasional string of Cotinga chirps. I couldn’t wait to bake these pockets and watch some 90’s rom com–my idea of Monday bliss.
I shook my coated beets of excess rub and lined them up like little soldiers on my sheet pan. Into the oven they went after a heavy drizzle of olive oil. They’d bake there until they crisped on the edges so nicely they’d begin the roll. I removed then from the heat and let them cool. The apartment still smells of spicy pepperoni today. Anyone trolling the halls would never guess otherwise.
On the stove I heated some olive oil, and began sautéing a chopped clove of garlic. The pan perfumed, spitting small splashes of garlic infused oil up from the stainless steel. I threw in 5 cup of fresh spinach and in a couple blinks of the eye, it had collapsed to a loose 1 and 1/4 cups. I threw in some salt, and dumped the spinach into a bowl of shredded cheese. Gruyere and Swiss because that’s what I had. I’ve been out of the habit of keeping cheese in the house since my plant-based experiments, but I was happy when I found the bag hidden towards the back of the fridge from last weeks recipe testing.
Finally I unveiled my six little resting dough balls and began pounding them out with my rolling pin and pushing them into 1/4 inch thick rectangles. I stuffed them with the cheese and spinach, and then on top went the crisped, smoky beets. I folded the dough over onto itself, twisting the ends as prudently as I might twist my hair before bed, brushed the tops with more olive oil, and sent them to the oven to finish. That’s when I eased into time, knowing comfort was only 15 minutes away, and I had manifested it out of only my two little hands.
Despite the chaos buzzing around us, I’ve been getting better at flipping off the switch, withdrawing into my own soundproof bubble. I can see the noise, but it doesn’t always have to seep in. Perhaps it’s a defense for a sensitive person like me, but maybe this is how we are supposed to live. In our own lanes, focused, refusing to give into the things that seek to pull us out of orbit, and make us lose faith and perspective. Just like our eyes were made to see just the width of our thumbs in focus at once, and our brains are hardwired to tune out 90% of our daily consciousness, we need to protect our hearts and our sanity sometimes, and just retreat into our kitchens, or our safety zones for a little momentary reprieve.