New year, new sweet potato recipes 1/18/2022

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Happy Tuesday, friends! I hope you’re all staying warm, and had a nice cozy time during the little weather event this past weekend.

Half of my mind is still in warm Florida, partly because I’m coveting that warm weather (though the internet tells me it’s not nearly as nice now as it was when we were there), and partly because I spent a lot of time during our vacation thinking about what I need out of my life right now, and now that I’m back in my real life, I’m working towards implementing all that.

Much of my reflecting had to do with my relationship with R&R. Pre-pandemic, I think Dusty and I each worked 50ish hours/week on R&R stuff between the actual hours the market was open and all the non-market-hours behind-the-scenes stuff. It felt like a lot, but without other major commitments in our lives it still left room for lots of play, lots of cooking, and lots of eating.

With the advent of the pandemic, our work hours skyrocketed. There were weeks when I think we put in nearly 100 hours each, and 70-80 was the norm. It displaced everything else in our lives — which was kind of fine, because so much of life was being displaced anyway, and it was reassuring to have something concrete to be doing. But we also thought it would be temporary. As the weeks turned into months and now we are approaching two years, I think we allowed that pace to become habit, and lost the ability to see what work was necessary versus what could wait. I’ll always have a never-ending to do list — that doesn’t mean I should never take a break.

Our firsthand experience of the Great Resignation was probably a necessary jolt for us — we had so over-committed ourselves that we didn’t have the extra bandwidth to handle that kind of shift — but in retail (and in life), I think you always need to be reserving a little extra bandwidth for the unexpected. An emergency fund of time and energy, if you will.

In November and early December, working All The Hours was, I think, legitimately necessary (though thanks to the reduced store schedule, that was typically more like 10 hours/day rather than 13 or 14) to provide coverage and get our newbies trained. For the last few weeks, though, it’s become clearer to me that I don’t have to be there all the time — we’ve got a really solid and capable staff right now, and they’re able to operate independently a whole lot of the time. It’s become pretty normal that I can feel good leaving around 5pm many days, and it’s amazing!

But there’s also all this guilt! I have so many things on my to do list! If I can work on them, shouldn’t I?

And I’ve decided that the answer is a hard No. Because of my tendency to creep — I’ll just stay till I’ve finished this one thing — I’ve made myself a weekly schedule, making sure to block in all the things that have to be done on a weekly basis, and providing plenty of squish time for when things don’t go quite as planned — but also firm quitting times, and two days of almost no R&R work (one for leisure, one for other projects).

But I also know that shifting routines can be hard, and often takes deliberate effort, even when the shift is much-needed. I’m pretty sure that without deliberate effort, I’d spend many of those reclaimed hours lying on the couch watching TV. A little of that is good for recovery; too much and I’ll feel worse than I would if I just kept working.

A picture of a dinner plate containing a pile of roasted sweet potato cubes covered in dressing and chopped herbs on one side and two small browned lamb loin chops on the other.

Almost Alice Waters’ Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad + Pecan Meadows pan-seared lamb chops.

So part of my plan — pick and make one “stretch” recipe a week as part of a fully planned dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy or hard, but it has to be somehow outside my comfort zone, either in technique or flavor, and it has to be deliberate — for the sake of cooking, not just for eating.

This inaugural week my endeavor was Alice Waters’ Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad (adaptation here, original in The Art of Simple Food, which you might consider picking up a used copy of — it’s such a classic). Served with garlicky pan-seared lamb loin chops.

The loin chops were great. The sweet potatoes….I’ll try again.

I definitely undercooked them. I just couldn’t freaking believe such small pieces weren’t done after 35+ minutes and they seemed tender enough when I stabbed them with a fork and I didn’t want them to be falling apart mush when I mixed them with the dressing. They weren’t, like, crunchy, but the texture wasn’t very enjoyable. Next time I’ll set the oven to 400 and be very sure they’re fully cooked, even if it means risking mush.

I also did not have any saffron on hand, but didn’t realize this until it was actually time to add it — I was so sure we had just bought some. I checked my Amazon history — we did just buy some, in the summer of 2020. Did you know that was like a year and a half ago? I, also, thought that was approximately yesterday.

Dusty later told me that I should have just subbed calendula flowers — because that‘s a thing we have on hand — but I definitely didn’t know that. I just upped all the other spices a little bit.

Anyway. The end result was a dish that was fine, but definitely not amazing. It was doubly disappointing because in the back of my mind I was being real sneaky by making this my leisure activity because I knew I could also use a photo of the final product in this newsletter. Stealth working!

I’m obviously still using the photo. You can’t tell from that alone that it wasn’t a major victory, but I’d feel weird acting like it was.

Having secured more saffron, I may try again. We’re entering the time of year when the most exciting kitchen projects are those that use the familiar winter ingredients in ways I haven’t before experienced or experimented with. I’m also thinking about this baked ricotta with sweet potato, or this root vegetable kugel, or — for something that seems to me way out of left field — this sweet potato and garlicky swiss chard bucatini with blood orange goat cheese sauce. Or! — and I almost didn’t find this one because none of the words are the words I’d use — this silverbeet and ricotta-stuffed kumara (silverbeet = chard; kumara = sweet potato).

I mean — I really enjoy a roasted sweet potato loaded with nothing but butter and salt, and it’s an easy, delicious side (even if the roasting takes a minute) — but I’m sure I’ll eat many of those over the next couple of months even without being deliberate about it. And maybe not every sweet potato dish I make will be as delicious as something simpler would have been — but hey — experimentation is its own kind of delicious!