When I first moved to Nashville, enough years ago that Nashville was not yet cool, I lived in a rent controlled apartment downtown. It was 503 square feet; I could spit into the sink while laying in bed. And because it was between two elevators, each night my dreams were infiltrated by a soft ding, ding, ding, mingled with the stereotypical bachelorette and bro noises rising up from 2nd Avenue.
I found myself out on 2nd Avenue more often than I'd like to admit- for cheap beer, for takeout wings from Hooter's, for shows where friends in the band pulled me on stage to twirl me around. Then I'd walk home late at night by myself, wondering if I should feel uncomfortable because of the man who had flashed me in broad daylight a block from my place or the woman who went missing from my building or my ex-boyfriend who stalked me a little.
Back at my apartment, a great eighth floor fortress that had proven impenetrable to two out of three of these dangers, I was grateful that I could see out, but no one could see in. Maybe for the first time ever, no one was watching me- not my parents or roommate or boyfriend or neighbor. Cheap beer, once the driving force behind some of my more shameful moments, became the catalyst for a miracle; it melted away an ever-present internal looking glass. I was no longer watching myself, no longer painfully and constantly wallowing in my flaws, which I considered to be everything from "cheater" to "wobbly arms."
In the absence of the looking glass I was not Alice in Wonderland, nor was I Lucy in Narnia, and I certainly wasn't Moses on top of the mountain. I was just me, blind and deaf to every noise, thought and standard in the whole world except for my own voice yelling the same thing that drives most inebriated people to make their best and worst decisions: TO HELL WITH IT! It said, I said, screw all the rules about not eating after 7pm, screw your 800 calories per day, screw bikini bodies and stevia and adderall and zumba and quinoa. It said, I said: do something "wrong," eat something "wrong."
I listened. I took all my clothes off. I opened the windows. I baked a chocolate cake and sat still while I watched it rise in the oven. That's what I needed. That's what I gave myself. That was the beginning. "Wrong" was so right.
Two or three evenings spent alone in this manner and I was hooked. I began to wonder what else I could give to myself besides an hour of freedom and a slice of chocolate cake- grace, mercy, generosity, forgiveness, patience, appreciation? And if I was capable of being more than the sum of my flaws- real or perceived, physical or spiritual- was it possible that I could give grace, mercy, generosity, forgiveness, patience, or appreciation to other people? To anyone, to everyone?
That seems like a big task to me. It did then and it does now. But now I know where to start. When I catch myself doing what I think is the worst possible thing- being quick to anger and slow to love- I regularly go back to square one and make something just for myself to remember that a single slice of cake gave me hope and brought me peace. So much so that I now know the answer is yes. Yes, feeding yourself and feeding other people can absolutely make grace and mercy and generosity and forgiveness and patience and appreciation possible among us.
These days, periods of alone time are few and far between and what I need is a little different. For starters, sugar and alcohol and 30+ years on this planet simply do not mix (you'll soon learn what I'm talking about if you do not already know), so if I am going to drink a beer or two, cake is definitely out of the question. Plus, it's not so much about the end result anymore; I'm all about the comfort in discomfort along the way. I want to be excited by the spatter of hot oil on my skin. I want to laugh in the face of worry when I get raw egg on my hands and do not wash them. I want my whole kitchen (nope, my whole apartment- I've only moved up in the world to 750 square feet) to reek of trout for two days as a memorandum of hope when I do not have time to stop and feed myself.
For those of you from the South who are familiar with croquettes, this is the Spanish version. They're a little less "overcooked canned salmon" and a little more "salty stuff suspended in fluffy mashed potatoes." You can bread them in whatever you have on hand- saltines, salt & vinegar chips and regular breadcrumbs all work well (all pictured). And as far as things to eat while drinking beer go, their goodness is on par with mung bean pancakes, Teresa Mason's fried avocado tacos, xiao long bao, Jess Benefield's crispy rice/spicy tuna, and Prince's hot chicken...ALRIGHT, everything salty and fried tastes good with beer, but especially croquetas, especially alone and without pants.
Smoked Trout Croquetas
makes 12-15 small croquettes
about 5.5 ounces smoked trout*
1 pound yellow potatoes
3 large eggs
1t vinegar-based hot sauce such as Frank's
2T salted butter, melted and cooled
1/2ish cup chopped green onions, green and light green parts only
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup bread crumbs, crushed chips or crackers, etc.
4ish cups oil for frying**
1. Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil in very salty water until just fork tender. Place in ice bath and drain well.
2. Put potatoes through ricer if you're like, an actual chef or a mashed potato fanatic. If you're just a regular person who doesn't own a ricer, use a microplane or the backside of a box grater.
3. Drain trout well and flake it with a fork. Mix it with one egg, the butter, and the green onions.
4. Gently fluff trout mixture into the potatoes with a fork.
5. Form small egg-shaped croquetas, about a scant quarter cup each (mine are all exactly 1.5 ounces, if you must know).
6. While your oil is heating up in a cast iron skillet or a small dutch oven, set up your breading station. Beat the remaining two eggs with hot sauce, then portion out your flour and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Dip croquetas in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs.
7. When your oil has reached 350, or when you throw in a cracker and it spits and spatters loudly, drop in your croquetas, three to five of them at a time, depending on the size of your pan or pot. Give them a minute or two on each side before turning.
8. Drain oil off on a paper towel and make something red and creamy to dip them in. Saffron aioli is good, so is roasted red pepper aioli (recipe follows.)
*That's the meat from two cans of Trader Joe's smoked trout.
**Get real: nothing beats peanut oil. Rice bran oil is a good second choice; grapeseed oil will do.
Roasted Red Pepper aioli
yields about 1.5 cups
1 cup good mayo
1 roasted red pepper, patted dry
1 large clove garlic, crushed
juice of half a lemon
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper
1. Blend everything together in a food processor except salt and pepper. Taste it and add salt and pepper as needed.