It might surprise you to learn that I’m not a very voracious reader. I’m an airport fiction kind of girl, and the titles I’ve read aren’t Titles, in the classic sense, except where food is concerned. Like my taste in music, my taste in reading veers to the trashy, unless the topic is short enough to fit between the covers of The New Yorker magazine. Did you have higher expectations? I’m sorry.
Actually, I’m not. Because here’s the thing about expectations: they’re bunk. (I’m sure I’m missing a huge point here from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but I didn’t read that book either, and late at night in my faded pink bathrobe, when I do what little reading I do, I don’t care.)
A dear friend recently wrote a sagging email of sorrow. It was a real whopper—the kind of thing that reeks of tears and ice cream, at the very least. She said a lot of the things happening in her life weren’t what she envisioned or hoped for. Her life isn’t meeting her expectations. I nearly exploded with frustration. It still astounds me when people hew to their childhood expectations—not because childhood dreams are bad, but because I think being an adult requires taking the time to dream up something new. It requires forks in the road, even if they’re sometimes dangerously pointy forks. It requires flexibility. It requires adjustment.
No one expects to have a child born with cerebral palsy, or to develop lupus, or to break her collarbone on the 4th of July. No one expects two speeding tickets in the same week.
Then again, no one expects to land her dream job at 25, or feel totally satisfied with her shoe collection. (My mother just sent me this pair.) I didn’t expect to spend the bulk of 2013 working with an incredible chef whose fingerprints will forever be found on my cooking and on the way I approach food. And clearly, I didn’t expect to suddenly have thicker hair at 35.
I guess what killed me about that email—I should probably admit that it was sent months ago, but it’s been tailing me since—was that there are so many things this person also didn’t expect of her life that are positive. She has a thriving career. She has a gorgeous, happy child and a supportive family. Somehow, though, none of those things seemed to matter.
So here’s your holiday assignment, if you’re an expecter: if you find yourself turning into Eeyore while you’re doing your Christmas shopping, or ruffling through your cookie recipes, or digging through the files that have been stored in the garage for five months (which is what we’re doing this weekend), make a list. Make a real list, on real lined paper, the way we did when we used the pads of our digits to communicate instead of just their tips.
On one side of the page, you can whine. I didn’t expect my dog would become such a pain in the ass. Let it out, sister. Why did the contractors forget to put heat in the bathroom? Bitch and moan. I hate that my husband has started to snore. But really give it your best, okay?
Then, when you’ve wrung out the bad stuff, turn the paper over. On the fresh side, jot down the good things. I didn’t expect to write a cookbook using recipes from this website that could theoretically raise money for lupus research. Dig deep. I didn’t expect to be able to do a chin-up at all, even if my husband was holding enough of my body weight to make him sweat. And include the small stuff. The glue is holding on the teapot that shattered on the way back from France!
Are you done yet?
There. Read both sides again. Now, put the paper up somewhere where you’ll see it fairly often, sunny side out. This is how I live; the hard things are there, but I only look at them when I need to.
On the harder days, I turn the paper over, and scribble the most recent offense down with a dull pencil, so the lead smears into the cracks of my left hand. Then I get out the cast-iron pan and make a bacon-studded hash that looks like just potatoes and eggs, but is really made with golden beets and celery root. It’s a sneaky sort of breakfast, and it looks a bit homely, but the flavor always beats my greatest expectations. And it reminds me, like I wanted to remind my friend that day, that there is always, always a bright side.
You just have to get good at finding it.
Golden Winter Breakfast Hash (PDF)
Simmered until almost tender and seared in bacon fat, golden beets and sweet celery root make a delicious, golden-hued alternative to the traditional potatoes in breakfast hash. Add a bit of goat cheese and a poached egg, and you’ve got a breakfast that will turn any dull day around before it even starts.
To peel celery root, use a heavy-duty peeler to get every bit of skin and dirt off, or simply use a small, sharp knife.
If you’re concerned about timing, cook the hash completely and let it sit in the pan, covered, while the eggs poach. The hash won’t mind.
Active time: 20 minutes
1/2 pound good bacon, cut into 2” pieces
3 medium yellow beets, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 baseball-sized celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (no stems)
2 large eggs, poached
In a large cast-iron pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning and rearranging occasionally, until crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, eating about half of it casually as you cook. (Seriously. Who can wait?)
Meanwhile, combine the chopped beets and celery root in a saucepan big enough to hold them comfortably and add about a tablespoon of salt. Add cold water to cover, then bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root is almost tender but not ready to fall apart, about 8 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside.
Drain about half the fat off the bacon pan and discard. Reheat the pan over medium heat. When the fat begins to sizzle, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, season with pepper, and stir to combine. Scoot the shallots to the edges of the pan and add the cooked vegetables. Cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, or until the beets and celery root have formed a nice brown crust. Stir the vegetables and cook again for 3 to 5 minutes, undisturbed, or until the mixture is nicely browned all over and the celery root is soft.
Crumble the remaining bacon and add it to the vegetables, along with the goat cheese and parsley. Season to taste, if needed, and serve in two heaping bowls, each topped with a poached egg.