So we’re all feeling pretty crazy by now, yeah? The summer was a tease — lower Covid case counts, outdoor gatherings six feet from friends and family, the warmth of the sun on your skin.
But now? We’re in the shit, friends. It’s winter. We are once again trapped in our homes (if we’re being smart!) and clinging to whatever shreds of sanity remain. I, for one, am throwing the whole goddamn book at my mental health: I am taking my Lexapro and FaceTiming my therapist and cooking nourishing meals and doing yoga and trudging down to the exercise bunker (i.e., an unfinished Pittsburgh basement with a treadmill) to jog for 30 minutes. Am I also drinking and consuming record quantities of sugar? Oh yeah! These things (I hope) balance themselves out.
Amid all of this, my cooking has simultaneously become more repetitive and more creative. Some days, you just have to get through it. Other days, it is essential to break free.
My husband is very into tuna melts, which I think are gross. Prior to the pandemic, I had never made one, because hot canned tuna is disgusting. But he used to venture out once a week to some greasy spoon in Downtown Pittsburgh for a tuna melt. He began working from home when the lockdowns started in March. No more tuna melts.
So I started making tuna melts, based on a Carla Lalli Music recipe from an April newsletter from Bon Appétit. Chop a shallot, cover in lemon juice, sprinkle with salt. Let that sit while you do the rest of the prep. Chop one to five ribs of celery; this depends on how much you like celery (the correct answer: a lot. It’s underrated.) and your celery’s proximity to death. If that shit’s about to go bad, you’d best put the rest of it in your tuna salad. If you think I’m wrong, you can make your own damn tuna melt, which will inevitably be less delicious.
Toss your celery in with your salty lemon shallots.
At this point, if you have a food-motivated cat, that cat will be in the kitchen, figure-eighting around your feet and asking to be trampled. This is because the cat has come to associate the chopping of a shallot with getting to lick empty tuna cans. She is not wrong.
Drain the tuna and add it to your shallot-celery mix. Surrender cans to cat. Add mayonnaise, sriracha, horseradish, some chopped pepperoncini or chow-chow, and salt and pepper to your liking. Mix, taste, adjust seasoning.
Smear tuna salad on a slice of bread. Top with white cheddar and another slice of bread. Then add some butter to a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and grill till toasty on both sides. Serve to ungrateful family. Repeat.
As you can see, 20 consecutive days of yoga have not fully centered me. I feel crazy! I am tired of cooking. And I love cooking! My husband’s birthday was in mid-December, and I always make whatever he requests for his birthday because that’s just what you do if you care about other people.
This year, he asked for lemon meringue pie, which sounded like a fun challenge at first. And then I settled on a recipe, which reminded me why I am and forever will be firmly on Team Cake. Cake is both easier and more delicious. Why would one try to make a pie crust from scratch when grocery-store buttercream is an option?!
Anyway, whatever. Because I possess a stand mixer and at least nine spatulas, I’ll agree to make you whatever dessert you want for your birthday. Just in the last month, I’ve made four birthday babkas and one lemon meringue pie. Tucked in there was a for-the-hell-of-it tiramisu. Like I said, sugar is part of maintaining my mental health.
I made the pie dough, threw away half of it after it got all gooey, and successfully rolled out and situated in a pie dish the remaining half after chilling it for a few hours. Ten minutes after it was supposed to be done baking, it was still, in the words of Paul Hollywood, “a bit pale,” which I know from watching every season of GBBO is not a good thing; no one likes a soggy bottom. So I sat sukhasana in front of the oven and waited.
Like most 30-something white women with generalized anxiety disorder, I’ve been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift and doing yoga with Adriene. Head over heart. Heart over pelvis. Why won’t this crust turn chestnut brown!?
After a 30-minute standoff with the crust, I kicked up the oven temperature 25°F and it finally turned brown.
The pie was good, I guess, but it was still not cake. If you’re feeling under-sugared and in need of a dessert, hit me up. By the time I get vaccinated, I hope to be able to contort myself into crow pose and bake a pie crust without having a breakdown.
But tuna melts? That routine dies with the pandemic.