On the road: pizza and hummus and temptation

Armed with a new audiobook, I hit the road for my first 2015 road trip. I travel very often, and one of the barriers to my no-restaurants year was to negotiate being away from home and maintaining my restaurant abstinence. It was only six hours from home — and for a road trip warrior like me, that isn’t too bad — and I didn’t need to take a cooler or make much in the way of plans. I stopped a few hours from home for the best hummus in the whole wide world, some crackers, and a pile of groceries to enjoy with the pal I was headed to visit.

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I wasn’t sure what to make, since we both have a few dietary restrictions and I wasn’t too familiar with her kitchen, but I found a solution in homemade pizzas. Everyone likes some sort of pizza, right? We giggled, and she’d never made one. I’d worked for Dominos when I was a bitty eighteen-year-old for $6.25 an hour, churning out a lot of great pizzas and a few intentional, edible mistakes. We had three pre-made crusts to work with, alfredo or pizza sauce to top with, grassfed ground beef, and sauteed some yellow sweet peppers, onion, and broccoli. My friend’s young son topped his slices with mozzarella only, and I piled on the alfredo sauce.

Late into the night, we talked and talked. I had such a privilege in enjoying a family that is so close to each other, and so very involved in each others’ lives. My friend deeply cares for her sons and her unconditional acceptance of her boys and others in her life is a treat to actually witness, late at night, deep in adult-level conversation. It was great to cook with her while her son hung out; in a way, I felt like we became closer through food. We’d both had devastating eating disorder issues for many years, and sometimes working those things out with another person who has had the same experience can be more detrimental than helpful. It used to be a big trigger of mine to cook or eat with others that had similar issues, but over the years, I’ve felt far less judged and worried about others’ opinions of how I eat, how I look when I eat, or what I choose to eat.

This time, my temptation wasn’t in disordered behavior, but in staying off the restaurant food! I mindlessly ordered some Steak ‘n Shake fries, if only because I was hungry, tired, and simply…forgot, for a few minutes while the kid ordered some food late at night. Being a perfectionist, I had a moment of sorrow at breaking my perfect streak of restaurantlessness. But in the end? I ate about 30 fries, and learning to roll with mistakes and imperfection is a good thing for me.

What an excellent road trip.

(And I very highly recommend the book!)

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Sweet potato pizza crust

After finishing those amazing tamales as my last restaurant meal until 2016, I jumped into working for the night. Rather than spending my New Year’s Eve with friends and family, I spent it with coworkers and screwing with drunk people. The DJ was too apathetic to announce when the clock struck twelve, and I broke a shoe at exactly 12:00. Still, it turned out to be a good night, and I left the building feeling like a rock star and ready to eat everything in sight.

I hit the grocery store, and couldn’t pass up getting myself two cheap, glittery “Cheerful Bouquets” for my table to start the year. I wasn’t sad buying them for myself, or longing for a mister. Cooking for one, as inconvenient as it often is, seemed a special treat, a nice time to reflect deeply on the previous year, and set my intentions for the coming year.

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My dining room is still a mess. And truthfully, I mostly moved the table’s contents to the floor for the picture, because I’m an actual human who was exhausted at five o’clock in the morning. I set myself up with a big glass of water, very much needing to refuel after a long night of sweating and working. I worked hard to create a new dish all my own in my head as I took the stage, without the help of Yummly, Whole30, or Google. I came up with a sweet potato pizza crust topped with ground turkey, sweet peppers, onion, fresh mozzarella, and spices. On the side, I used up some left over baby bellas by stuffing them full of ricotta and thawed summer Iowa sweet corn. Recipe below.

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As I quietly rang in my own 2015, happily alone and bathing in the quiet morning hours before sunrise, I became even more attached to this crazy idea that I won’t eat at a restaurant for one full year. I tried to figure out the specifics: Can I have drinks at restaurants while others eat? (Yes.) Are the authentic, beautiful, savory tamales at the Mexican grocery two blocks away considered “grocery store food” or “restaurant food?” (Restaurant food.) What will I say to people who invite me out to dinner? What about explaining this thing to people I don’t know well enough to invite over without some serious awkwardness in explaining my year off? Should I eat out when I travel? (I’ll use social dining apps first, try to find local bed and breakfast-y places on the much-loved AirBnB, stay with friends, grab some grub from the grocery store to snack on, or, yes, as a last resort, eat at a special and local restaurant.)

I started to figure out that this year will require a leap of faith. I’ll have people into my home that I don’t know as well as I normally would before inviting them over and feeding them, or asking them to do something different and explaining my own priorities this year. I’ll have to trust that I will get through the year, and not already corner myself into believing I’ll quit halfway through when hitting up a restaurant is more convenient or PMS is in full fury.

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All the shit you need for this:

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2tbsp olive or preferred oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2lb cooked and drained ground meat of choice
  • Pizza sauce or marinara
  • Sweet peppers and onion sauteed in butter or oil of choice
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Oregano
  • Black pepper
  • Smoked paprika
  • Baby portobello mushrooms
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Thawed summer Iowa sweet corn (or…your cooked corn of choice)

Sweet potato pizza crust:

Peel and cook one large sweet potato. I used a microwave because I’m lazy, but you could dice-and-boil, roast (yum!), or bake that bitch. Mash and let cool slightly, probably while you do other things like chop vegetables or cook ground turkey. Add two eggs, stir until it has the consistency of cake batter. If it’s too thin from the egg, add in a little pancake mix or flour to thicken.

Brown 3tbsp butter in skillet on medium heat. Drop in 1/4 – 1/3 of the batter, depending on how many and the size of mini pizzas you want. Flatten out into a 1/4″ thick patty, and cook until pancake-finished on one side. Flip, repeat. Repeat process using rest of batter.

Preheat oven to 400F degrees or so. It doesn’t really matter, but 400 always seems like a nice round number for baking things.

To cook garlic you’ll need later: 3-4 tbsp butter, in skillet on medium, until melted. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic, until garlic is soft and butter is browned.

Grease cookie sheet with olive oil or nonstick spray. Top pizza crusts with whatever pizza sauce you like, or leftover spaghetti sauce. Add ground meat of choice (I used lean turkey), sauteed sweet pepper/onion combo, fresh sliced mozzarella, and garlic from above (save the butter for later, just scoop the garlic out with a fork). Top with oregano, black pepper, and smoked paprika. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, just until toppings are hot and mozzarella is melted. Overcooking will lead to rubbery mozzarella — ew.

To make stuffed mushrooms:

Take out stems and dark brown innards of mushrooms with a spoon, being careful not to bust the sides or bottom. Gently cook mushrooms in butter just long enough to soften, top-down, over medium-low heat — about 4 minutes. Flip, cook another 2-4 minutes with the inside down. Plate, fill with ricotta, top with corn, drizzle the rest of that yummy hot garlic butter over the top, and add paprika or pepper if desired.

Pro tip: eat the mushrooms with your fingers and the pizza with a fork.