Crockpot Chicken Noodle Soup

I can’t get the smell of this soup out of my crockpot. I don’t mean to dissuade you from making my recipe. It’s just that, whenever I open the cupboard where my crockpot is, I can still smell gusts of sage-y, savory air. It isn’t the worst.

If I reach for a tupperware container, or a towel, or a plastic bag, I am greeted with this soup I made for the sake of having options. Wafting, like the memory of salt above crashing waves.

Each time, I feel a bit like Elvis when it happened at the World’s Fair. Doing normal, mundane things just to be reminded of this thing that’s gone.

I once told someone I assumed I’d never see again that I liked that film. I bumped into him months later, and he had figured out a way to watch it. He informed me that he did not enjoy it.

Actually, thinking about it, I have to say: it took me quite a while to even remember that fellow’s name. Mitch, I think?

I don’t know, the whole thing is still pretty comical to me. I can’t think of this film ft. a song ft. reminders without being reminded. Mitch, you were a marker. (But, have you NO TASTE?)

I diverge. Here’s a better meet cute: a gal idles in her studio apartment, placing chicken and carrots and celery and some sage leaves tied with string into the shadowed nave of a slow-cooker. She sprinkles green dots of scallions on top. She squeezes the guts of two lemons.

Over the next two hours, its aroma permeates the hallway of the complex. In those hundred-twenty minutes, she decides to make Choice her word; when ready to serve, the soup is ladled-each time-over whichever noodles are preferred (egg, spaghetti, elbow, or squash).

Like the scent of flowers, the sky of blue, those tender love songs–the memory of such a thing could last a long while. Swoon.

Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese

Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Cacio e Pepe is a bit like Roman Mac and Cheese, except both simpler and more complex. Whereas we normally make a roux or add egg yolks and a cheesy spectrum of creams and oranges, Cacio is a barren ingredient wasteland. Sheep’s milk cheese, ground black pepper, pasta.

At this point, you might be wondering where the sauce comes from.
Cacio e Pepe Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Something happens when spaghetti cooks in water. Starches release. Those starches thicken sauces, and even make them, if given the chance. Cue: complexity. It is so simple, it doesn’t make sense.
Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
You know the rules. When in Rome, do as the Nonsensical do: crave, complicate, and reinterpret simple intricacy. I sprinkled black peppery cheese on melting butter. I cooked a sandwich on top of it as it frico-ed.

[Both sides.]
Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Ooze and crunch and superglue stretch. Om. Nom. Chew. Chomp.
Cacio e Pepe Frico Grilled Cheese // Queen Smithereen.
Munch. Pen:

Comfort Food

we were not the strand of pasta between
dog mouths, we were not

lit up like untangled knots of lights

strings strung in tight corners and wrapped
around bits and bobs
a garbling, muddled

spaghetti too big it hurts to open
that wide / each time

even after

Gulp. Good night, Moon.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake

Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Thoughts that I remember occurring to me as a kid in a cafeteria: “I wonder if So and So would let me eat the cheese off of her pizza.” Gross. “My bangs are getting long, but are they too long?” Let them grow out. “I am emotionally uncomfortable around people, so I will playfully punch them on the arms when they get close to create some distance.” (<–paraphrasing) “Will Luke ever notice me?” NOPE!

As a 6-year-old, I used to hand my change purse to one of the cafeteria aids at the cashier, instead of counting out my money. One day, she told me I had to try. Sometimes, I wonder about a world in which she never did that. Thank you, whoever you are. Even though I don’t remember your face.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
I once mustered enough courage to say hello to Luke in the hallway. It was just the two of us, so there is no one in the world to confirm, but it totally happened. It has been decades, of course. I do still feel mildly embarrassed about that time my friends and I walked to his house and he wasn’t there. I wonder if his family laughs about the little, socially awkward girl who had-very obviously- a little, socially awkward crush on him growing up.

Sigh. Making history, I suppose.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Every week when I was a kid, my grandmother would send us home with loaves of bread and peanut butter for sandwiches. I have not met another person who is quite so giving. I once told her I liked her shirt and she went and changed out of it. She refused to accept a reality in which I did not take it home that day.

I wear the rings she gave me as a kid nearly every day. My hands are much larger, so the rings rest on my knuckles and I will never care.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
I remember going to a friend’s house as a kid once and accepting a PBJ from my host. She put margarine on it, too. It was sacrilegious. I will never forget the way the distinctly yellow taste of the margarine introduced itself to the stuff that should’ve been sandwiched between those slices of bread.

Don’t mess with the original.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Unless, of course, you’re turning it into coffee cake. Fluffy, moist peanut butter cake is swirled with jam and dolloped with cinnamon-scented peanut butter-oat crumbles.

Grace came over while it baked. We ate tacos and videotaped her fake sneezing and throwing her phone and we cackled. We broke the rules and we hardly waited ten minutes after the cake emerged from the oven before slicing and serving. In our defense, rule-breaking is acceptable when it can be loosely reinterpreted through the guise of Rumi’s wisdom:

Come, seek, for search is the foundation of fortune: every success depends upon focusing the heart.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Slicing into that freshly baked peanut butter cake with my best friend. Delicately balancing the warm, crumbly slice making its way to my polka dot plates. Watching her eyes roll back and her lids close at the first bite. Cutting myself a square of an unfamiliar formula for the familiar. One bite of that delicate, pillow-soft, peanut buttery, jam-swirled, crumble-speckled cake, and I think we understood the true meaning of treasure.

I don’t know, you do you. But maybe be like us in that moment (and in life).

Malted Chocolate Toasted Coconut Fudge

Malted Chocolate Toasted Coconut Fudge // Queen Smithereen.
If you know me in real life, then maybe don’t talk to me about this. Unless I bring it up. I recently woke from a dream in which someone had taken the ice cubes from the tray I like. [I have two trays.] It happened when I wasn’t looking.

There has been a ghost. I seem transparent, too. It is surprising when someone is surprised to learn something about me. There is a lot that I keep quiet.
Malted Chocolate Toasted Coconut Fudge // Queen Smithereen.
For the last long while. Like ice cubes. I kindofsortof(reallydon’ttalktomeaboutthis) froze over. A shape of a space. Slowly, I melted in ways.

That awkward phase of Spring in which it is light. Suggestive. You can feel what’s coming. But then your feet are too cold at night. It is dark and it might just never warm up. You are too far to know for sure.
Malted Chocolate Toasted Coconut Fudge // Queen Smithereen.
Water takes many forms, and ice is one of them. Most days for the last year I have ended up spontaneously crying harsh tears for just a minute or two in my car. Before heading wherever it is we are going these days. Me and my ghost.
Malted Chocolate Toasted Coconut Fudge // Queen Smithereen.
Winter, for so long. Maybe in winter there is a white noise blanket. To block out the rattling. Selectively attentive theft. Perhaps the underneath needs time.

Meanwhile, you do and you do and you do. You have to. And then there is light. Maybe. Afterward. When you aren’t looking anymore. You end up okay. Either way. In spite of or because of your ghost.
Malted Chocolate Toasted Coconut Fudge // Queen Smithereen.
The events pressed their daily REPLAY in waking time that morning. Chocolate was melted. Sweetened condensed milk, swirled. Coconut, toasted. Sprinkles, sprinkled. No tears.

For the first time there is a puddle. It is a slow thaw. As it will be. A specter. A vision.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies // Queen Smithereen.
Once upon a time, two people lived across the street from one another for decades. Back then, she was wild-haired and eccentric–blushing her cheeks with lipstick at the window, counting the birds feeding at the end of the drive. She was known to succumb to her own worries and whims, but he was safe–a gentle man, and a kind one, well-fed and patient. They led separate lives, though they knew one another. They had families. Their children grew up. Their spouses fell ill. They mourned. It was always a simple distance, a brief walk, if necessary, to check in on one another.

He waited an appropriate period of time after his wife passed before approaching my grandmother. One day, he and his stilt-like legs hobbled across the street and knocked on the door. The next time I saw them, they were in love. When the topic of tulips came up, she turned to him and said, “How about you press your two lips to my two lips?”
Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies // Queen Smithereen.
After that, he became a new family member. In the summers, we would sit and watch the world pass by my grandmother’s house–eating caramels, telling bad jokes. Sometimes, he’d drive us all out to another small town in Ontario, and we would have dinner and walk along the river. But years and years have passed since then.

Here’s how it looked the last time I saw them together: she lives in a nursing home, and he is no longer able to drive. That day, we’d arranged a feast for her. Stopping by her room to help her down the hall, my heart broke to find she doesn’t remember much anymore.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies // Queen Smithereen.
I sat across from her at the table as everybody trickled in. There were so many of us. It was overwhelming for her, and she became preoccupied with where it might be draftiest. She couldn’t keep a thing straight. I wondered how long it would be before she’d return to the quiet of her room, away from the crowd. But then, the door opened, and she looked up.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies // Queen Smithereen.
Ed!” She proclaimed.
Finally, a face that she recognized. A safe one. He had scheduled a bus to drive him, as he does, without fail, every week. He sat down next to her, and the woman we knew returned to us for a while, lit up like the sun scatters across rippled water.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies // Queen Smithereen.
The right decision can feel different, depending on the circumstances. There are times when it makes no sense at all. There are times when it guts you. There are times when things just click into place.

Thinking of her and thinking of him, I wonder sometimes what things would look like if no one had acted. What if it never happened at all? What if the potential awkwardness of living directly across the street from each other prevented them from trying? What if all of the reasons not to were more important than the reasons to? One day, when it was right, he took a short walk to her door and said something. That, to me, is romance.

And so, an Ode. To all things pink and hearted: we have luxurious, dark, sweet brownie batter, decorated with raspberry cream cheese swirls, dazzled with cutting rivets of raspberry preserves. Because Happy Valentine’s [if that’s a thing you do].

Smashed Chickpea Guajillo Stew

Smashed Chickpea Guajillo Stew // Queen Smithereen.
There are a lot of things that have happened lately, aren’t there? There are. Too many. It’s surprising. It’s ridiculous. And all I can think about is how lotus flowers grow from mud; and how, sometimes things get worse before they get better; and how, in order to locate a problem, the problem first has to make itself known. I wonder if that is what is happening these days.

I don’t have many words, given the state of things in the world right now. It doesn’t feel very appropriate. Let us turn to the lines of Shel Silverstein for a moment, instead.
Smashed Chickpea Guajillo Stew // Queen Smithereen.

An oak tree and a rosebush grew,
Young and green together.
Talking the talk of growing things-
Wind and water and weather.

Smashed Chickpea Guajillo Stew // Queen Smithereen.
And while the rosebush sweetly bloomed
The oak tree grew so high
That now it spoke of newer things-
Eagles, mountain peaks and sky.

Smashed Chickpea Guajillo Stew // Queen Smithereen.
“I guess you think you’re pretty great,”
The rose was heard to cry,
Screaming as loud as it possibly could
To the treetop in the sky.

Smashed Chickpea Guajillo Stew // Queen Smithereen.
“And you have no time for flower talk,
Now that you’ve grown so tall.”
“It’s not so much that I’ve grown,” said the tree,
“It’s just that you’ve stayed so small.”

I suppose we all evolve at different paces within the confines of our own capacities.

In the meantime, here is some stew, nesting in rich, smoky, red guajillo chili broth. Smashed chickpeas and ground chicken (or pork) are seasoned with two kinds of paprika and thyme, and spliced by ribbons of thinly sliced carrots and yukon gold rounds. It can cure nothing, but it might help warm those of us feeling cold right now, for a moment.

Almond Joy Cookies [vegan, gluten free]

Almond Joy Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
I caught everyone’s cold this past week. I caught everyone’s cold. It was like hotdish, a hodgepodge of everything at once. Bits and bobs of everyone’s illness jumbled together and infiltrated my core just in time for two days off in a row. That first night, I awoke at three in the morning to the most severe, persistent pain in my ears. I could hardly breathe. My throat was daggers. And yet, I had no coffee filters, no eggs, no strawberries, and no soup. This is the point when I realized one of the greatest purveyors of mundane discomfort: having a cold in the wintertime when you live alone.

The last time this happened, I was in Munich. I told myself my symptoms were normal [spoiler alert: they were not]. Every block into the city felt a mile. The cold, damp air cracked through my bones. At one point, I ended up on the train with my friend Rob on the way to the hospital. When it lurched to a stop, I wobbled so hard he had to catch me. He sat next to me in the hallway, showing me his dissertation to distract from the wait. The doctor took my temperature, shook his head, and convincingly muttered, Schlecht! Friends, it wasn’t good. I left the country early…and promptly got stranded in New York City. For days.
Almond Joy Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
That’s how it is, I suppose. Nothing works out the way we intend it to at the beginning, and I think it’s because there are so many factors all the damn time. All the time. This time around, it feels like all of them converged into a killer cold: one man’s fever, another’s confusion, one’s nausea, with sore throat and congestion and ear pain.

This past Friday marks my first visit to the coffee shop near my apartment in which I did not share anecdotes with whomever made my Americano. Even my eyebrows were disheveled, the veins at my temples pulsing at the pressure they were housing.
Almond Joy Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
I likely shouldn’t have operated any heavy machinery, but desperate times, man. I don’t know why I put three kinds of coconut and mini chocolate chips in my shopping cart at Target, but I totally did. When I reached the cashier, I dearly wished for somebody to help me lift everything onto the belt. That night, I called my mom, and she got an earful before my own ears submitted to pain bubbles once more.
Almond Joy Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
Flash forward a day, and I have newfound energy. I am getting a breath of fresh air, and I like the way this building perks unassumingly. In the car, I have these cookies packed for someone, unsure who it is I will run into. I end up sitting across from my dear friend, Kirk. It will never not be surreal that we are in the same place again.

We break the cookies into pieces, discussing how we remember things and how we express them and how my ears seemed to close me off from the world for a bit [and how I think it was so I could think for a minute]. Sometimes, you need to come back to yourself. It can be quietly. It can be in a bubble. And there are cookies waiting for you when you return.

Thinking fondly of Almond Joys: these are crispy, crackly, crunchy, chewy almond-coconut rounds, speckled with dark chocolate and browned at the edges. They are vegan and they are free of glutinous stuff and they are that way because the ingredients combine that way to taste how I suspect might be best. And all of it together at once feels better again.