Patate Pazze

Crazy potatoes.

I found the recipe for this dish, a Campomelano classic, in A Year in the Village of Eternity: The Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy by Tracey Lawson.

I thought, how ironic, the name of this dish, given that it was potatoes that nearly made me go crazy.  Now there’s a food ripe with metaphor.  How witty, how clever I am.

Then I went back and read the entire chapter in which this recipe is featured: The Mountain Gives You Everything.  Lawson explains that it’s a phrase uttered over and over by the residents of this mountainous Italian village, meaning, “in every moment, in every season, the mountain provides all the things you really need; the very essentials of life.”

And just like that my metaphor switched from potato to mountain.

Do I need the crazy potatoes dug up from the earth of the mountain?  No.

Were they there, ripe for the harvest?  Yes.

And when did they become crazy?  When mixed with the greens and grasses that also occur naturally on my mountain.

“Seek and the mountain will give,” says Lawson; to which an aged resident says, “You just need to know where to look.”

But Lawson also stresses that “it’s really a question of knowing how to look.”

I think that potatoes popping up all over the fields of our lives crowd out our ability to look.  Add the wild greens of distraction, stress, and overwhelming life events sprouting up wherever they may and often spreading like wildfire – and it’s a recipe for disaster.

But the wild greens boiled with the potatoes for patate pazze, are used “to flavour potatoes which may be past their best after more than six months languishing in the cantina.”

Did I not respond well to the stresses of my life because I was already languishing?

Or were they sent to me to add some dimension to my life, stir things up, a zesty flavor to respond to?

In any event, I may have found a way around my abhorrence for chopping potatoes.  This recipe calls for boiling the potatoes in their skins, slipping them out once cooked, and then slicing them, which would no doubt be much easier than chopping them raw – no matter how many cranky kids circle my feet.  I’m willing to take whatever the mountain will give.


All quotes and references come from the following:

9781596915022Lawson, Tracey.  A Year in the Village of Eternity: The Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy.  New York: Bloomsbury, 2011.

Wine before Beer

Once upon a time, I wore straw hats and strappy tank tops while I tasted wine alfresco.  I sampled champagne paired with complementary bites of savory food.  I dined with my husband for as long as it took to finish that amazing bottle of wine just shipped from California.

Now I drink beer from the bottle.

The shift started somewhere during my second pregnancy.  The mere whiff of a freshly opened bottle of beer would set me to salivating.  I thought for sure I was having a boy since beer is not the drink that comes to mind when picturing a ladies’ tea.  Plus, I never drank it.  I would’ve fit right in with a bunch of teetotalling ladies in college.  I didn’t really enjoy the taste of any alcohol.

But, as they say, it’s an acquired taste.  A glass of wine with dinner here, some fruity drink there.  By the time I came home from my honeymoon in Napa, I was well versed in obnoxious adjectives like full-bodied, oakey, and well-rounded bouquet.  Eventually I branched out to ‘heartier’ reds.  And by then I was ready for lagers, ales, and now, even the occasional stout.

It only makes sense, really.  If someone were to tell me on my wedding day what was coming down the pike in the next three, five, seven years, there would’ve been no way I could’ve handled it.  Three babies?  Who one by one spirited away a little bit more of my independence?  No more travel?  No more carefree weekends?  No more Monday-night-kill-the-bottle dinners?  Agonizing self-doubt?  Guilt?  Depression?

I started out with the light, fruity stuff; the bright, refreshing tastes of youth.  My tastes changed as the years went by, the experiences deepened.  Spicy zins for when things got dicey.  Bitter hops when the shit hit the fan.  Luckily, I never hit the hard stuff.

I’m not a fine bottle of wine, getting better with age.  I identify more with the wizened old man sipping his beer at the end of the bar, the lines on his face telling the story of where he’s been.  I know my life is not refined as it may have once been.  Lately, it’s been hardscrabble more often than not.  But I might be okay with that.  Now I can handle what life throws at me, more than I may have been able to at the start of this journey.  I can enjoy the acidic bite following a sip of ale.  And I can more readily appreciate the sweet in its stark contrast.


No Salt in this Wound

There really is no point to a saltine – except for the salt, of course.

For some reason, as many other kids, I loved them when I was little.  I think it had more to do with trying to stand it upright in between my top and bottom teeth or shoving it in my mouth in one bite rather than any great gastronomic pleasure.  I didn’t return to them until I carried whole sleeves of them around with me during my bouts of morning sickness three times over.  That’s the telltale sign of a pregnancy, isn’t it?  The white, crinkly cellophane pulled open at the seam, the stack of perfectly pointed squares cascading out into the open, and hopefully, into your belly to quell the ravaging beast that threatens to ruin every waking moment – not just those in the morning.  A friend’s mother says that she hasn’t touched a saltine since her pregnancy over thirty years ago.  I can’t say I blame her.  It is not a pleasant connotation when that’s your last memory.

So, imagine my surprise, when I found myself chowing down on them as I rushed to an appointment in the car.  So light and insubstantial, I was flying through the sleeve with reckless abandon – actually just savoring the salt and waiting for some sort of gratification from the mush that the enriched flour had turned to in my mouth.  I had bought them for the kids, but running late and low on fuel, I needed a quick and easy – if not satisfying – snack.

After I’d downed a quarter of the sleeve, the sharp bite of the salt searing into my tongue, I realized what I was doing.  I was eating saltines!  After a miserable last pregnancy, I avoided at any costs anything that reminded me of those memories that made me shudder.  I gave away all my maternity clothes with great aplomb.  I threw out the sitz baths and lanolin left in the house.  A wicked pack rat, I even sorted through and shredded all paperwork from the hospital.  Saltines fell into this category.  I didn’t fling them out my window, a crazed cracker hail sending birds flying, I just didn’t even think of pulling a box off the grocery store shelf.

In one conversation with my therapist in that first year of recovery, I explained how I felt as if I were grieving a death.  I marked each familiar date, each holiday, each anniversary of some hard memory – noting it, like the rung of a ladder I had to climb to get up and out of this hole.  ‘Okay, I’ve made it past that one,’ I’d say.  I’d survive one set of negative memories at a time and start to wipe them away with new ones.

It wasn’t easy and I knew I wasn’t suffering the same grief as someone who had actually lost a loved one, but, as my therapist so astutely pointed out, I was suffering a loss – the death of my life as I had known it.  Things were totally – in some ways, irrevocably – different.  It was time to move forward with the positive and with this new knowledge and see what would happen.  Life certainly wasn’t over – it was just different.

As was the action of eating a saltine.  I wasn’t a kid crushing one into my mouth as I cavorted on the beach with my parents.  I wasn’t a desperately nauseous woman at the mercy of her upset stomach (and those damn hormones).  I was an adaptable survivor who could do simple tasks again without the crippling connotations once associated with them.

Saltines have never tasted so good.

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