Sweet solitude with salty potato chips.
Hi hi hi!
My husband Corey was away recently, for work and then a wedding. His trip happened to follow a few back-to-back-to-back visits from our parents, now in full grandparent mode to our nearly 18 month-old daughter Lua.
Anyway, Corey left early on a Monday, which turned into a rare rainy day in LA. Lua and I went for a walk in the persistent drizzle. She now knows how to say “Go away!”—as in, “Rain, rain, go away,” and also “puddle” and “worm.” We watched them squirming on wet sidewalks and learned that her everyday jacket isn’t all that waterproof. We tested the limits of indoor play at our house, and when the clouds parted for 90 minutes in the middle of the day we made a break for the playground.
I couldn’t tell you how we spent the rest of the day after the rain restarted, but I can tell you exactly where I was that evening after Lua’s dinner, bath, and bedtime.
I was standing before a sink full of suds and kiddie cups with a small bowl of salty potato chips, and a freshly made Manhattan. It was bliss.
That moment—and others like it throughout the week—made me think about how the pandemic has ravaged not only our togetherness, but also our alone time. For those of us who live with partners, families, or roommates, Covid didn’t just keep us away from our extended friends and fam, it also confined us to hanging with the ones we live with.
No matter how much we may love them, there can be a sweet solitude to the silence of an empty house when they go out. And also a sense of freedom-lite, as in, the freedom to eat, watch, or listen to whatever you want (eggs, Parallel Mothers, “Poog”), or just gab on the phone in whatever room you please.
The evenings that followed, I continued to relish that quiet moment when the evening stretched out before me. I switched from my drink from a Manhattan to a weaker and sparklier Campari and soda, and more recently even made the refreshing and radical choice of a booze-free Seedlip and tonic.
The point is less about the beverage—or even that perfect little bowl of salty potato chips accompanying it—than a sort of return to oneself.
I also found it mid-week while Lua was with her nanny and I was suddenly famished while running errands. I romanticize the idea of taking myself to a “nice lunch” someplace that serves pillowy lattes and seed-sprinkled salads, and was driving to exactly that café to try it out when I passed Pampas Grill, a Brazilian strip mall spot we abandoned during Covid because it’s a serve-yourself buffet situation.
I studied abroad in Brazil and spent a lot of time there in my 20s (Lua’s name is Portuguese for “moon”), and when I am in a low-blood-sugar situation, I deeply crave rice and beans topped with a picante situation that Brazilians call vinaigrette (but more closely resembles what many of us call pico de gallo) and crunchy toasted manioc flour called farofa.
I busted a U-turn, went inside, and made myself a plate heaping with beans and rice, plantains, garlicky chicken, collard greens, and pao de queijo (little cheese breads made with tapioca flour that you should investigate if you don’t know). I sat alone outside at a two-top, gazing at the parking lot, enjoying Bossa Nova covers of contemporary pop songs while I cleaned my plate. I would have felt self-conscious subjecting almost anyone else to this dining experience, but to me it was perfect.
In many a creative person’s bible, The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron writes about the importance of the “artist’s date”—a couple of hours of inspiring alone time. While my dates were more in the 20-minute range and mostly involved eating, they felt significant because I consciously took them for myself, and really enjoyed them.
I do think a small bowl of salty potato chips and some ice clinking in a glass help set the mood.
I hope you get a nice moment for yourself soon.
Have a good day!
I mentioned it above, but I loved Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers so much … and I think my cocktail-with-potato chips situation helped set me up for the Spanish vibe. I watched it over two nights, partially because I go to bed early, and partially because I wanted it to last. Maybe this qualifies as two artist’s dates?
Almodóvar is a treasure and his Oscar diary, which captures the insecurities and absurd dissonance of the experience, is the only one I want to read. He’s now casting for a movie based on five of Lucia Berlin’s short stories from A Manual for Cleaning Women. I’m sort of slogging through The Nineties now, but maybe A Manual will be next.
P.S.S. (Please send suggestions!)
I assembled a serviceable Instant Pot chicken chili yesterday afternoon and we all ate it together at 5pm—rather than watching Lua eat dinner at 5 and then sitting down with Corey to eat something else after she’s in bed at 7. It was a game-changing experience that made me feel like I won three hours. So now I’m seeking suggestions for your favorite make-ahead miracles—sheet pan dinners, Instant Pot potions, slow cooker go-to’s, whatever! Just reply to this email and I shall receive, and integrate them into a future newsletter.
Ali Slagle’s One pot broccoli Mac and cheese from the NYT cooking app. It is so easy and so good.