I hope this post finds you well, or as well as possible during this frightening time. This coronavirus quarantine mess is such strange, uncharted professional territory for so many, including bloggers and writers. I’m wrestling with so many questions (perhaps because there’s nothing else to do?) Do we compartmentalize and write about all the subjects we otherwise would have, or is there merit to keeping something of a “coronavirus diary”, to preserve personal accounts for posterity’s sake? Would anyone want to even read the latter? Would that provide comfort and solidarity, or would it just be depressing? Would keeping my writing to business as usual be a welcome escape, or an insult to our collective hardships?
I don’t know the answer. My inspiration for writing has never felt this distant, my work has never felt this unimportant. I have a keen awareness of the constant undercurrent of grief and trauma and stress we are all experiencing, even if I’m not always feeling acutely anxious (though sometimes I am!). Life is very surface, very touch and go right now. The ground beneath our feet is always shifting, in a thousand different unwelcome ways.
It’s a strange feeling to realize that even though you are around your intimate partner literally twenty-four hours a day, you haven’t had a substantive or abstract conversation once in almost two weeks. Everything is in planning and contingency mode. Keeping up with and discussing current events used to be about staying knowledgeable and informed, or providing some intellectual stimulation or even partner bonding, but now it’s literally life and death.
In grad school (many moons ago), I did a summer-long study abroad in a small town in Austria. I learned many things that summer, including how differently Europeans and Americans grocery shop. Instead of making a gigantic grocery haul once or twice a week like Americans tend to do, Europeans shop daily, buying only what is needed for dinner that night. I was instantly attracted to this concept. Going to the market for a few things each day is viewed as a respite and a treat rather than a cumbersome, annoying once-a-week chore. So every day I was able that summer, I’d walk over to the local farmer’s market and buy a beautiful, peak-season red tomato, along with some cheese and a pastry, and that would be my lunch. I’d eat the tomato like an apple while walking home from the market, then clean up all the juices that inevitably ran down my arms before diving into the cheese and pastry. Once I got back stateside, I adopted those European grocery shopping habits, which was super easy to do in New York City where space is at a premium and you are usually walking and taking public transit with your groceries. Good luck carrying a week’s worth on a crowded E train. Since moving to suburban New Jersey, where we drive everywhere, we’ve kept those same daily grocery store habits. Needless to say, this newfangled event of grocery shopping only once a week to avoid as much chance of exposure to a deadly virus is quite alien to us. It’s amazing how much conversation and strategizing it requires to change your habits. We need a fucking white board or something.
I have no advice. We currently live in an extended Fyre Festival, and I highly doubt I’m navigating it any better than you are. Grocery shopping is now a harrowing experience, one that induces high levels of anxiety and paranoia for me. People are not practicing good social distancing, and I deserve a medal for not yelling, “SIX FEET, MOTHERFUCKERS!” every few minutes.
I suppose I’ll just keep obsessively washing my scratchy, dry-skinned hands. There is no moisturizer equipped for this moment in time. I’ll keep ordering local takeout a few times a week. I’ll continue cooking. I’ll keep working, even though it often feels so futile. I’ll keep checking on my extroverted friends and family, and hope they keep checking on me, because we extroverts are just not okay right now!
I don’t associate Spring with sweet potatoes, nor vice versa; I’d planned on waiting until the fall to share this recipe. But seeing as potatoes are a hot commodity right now, providing a reliable and semi shelf-stable source of sustenance, this dish might be welcome in the present. It’s delicious, with a vibrant, tangy, acidic, slightly spicy salsa cutting the sweet richness of the potatoes. It’s easy and quick to make, too. You make the salsa in the time it takes to roast the potatoes, then mash and assemble. And by assemble, I mean heap the mashed potatoes into a serving bowl, drag your spoon around to make cute little divots, and dollop the salsa into the divots. I hope you are staying healthy and safe, wherever you are.
Sweet Potato Mash with Lime Salsa
- 2 lb sweet potatoes, unpeeled
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large jalapeno, seeded if desired and finely chopped
- Zest of 2 limes
- 1 tbs fresh lime juice
- Black pepper
- Preheat your oven to 425 F.
- Rub the sweet potatoes with 1 tbs olive oil then season with salt. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until a paring knife gives no resistance when pierced through the center, 35 to 40 minutes.
- While the potatoes are roasting, make the salsa. Pour the remaining 3 tbs olive oil into a small bowl. Add the parsley, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, lime zest, lime juice, and a good pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, you may need more salt.
- Let it hang out until the potatoes are done.
- Remove the potatoes from the oven, and when they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Place the flesh in a medium bowl with a little salt and black pepper, and go to town with a potato masher or fork. You are the judge here, you can mash them to be as smooth and creamy as you like, or leave them a little chunky if that’s your preference.
- When the potatoes are mashed to the consistency you like, transfer them to a serving bowl. Use a spoon to drag cute little divots all around, then spoon the salsa into the divots. Serve immediately with extra salsa for passing at the table.