Eat | Read with Amy McDaniel
What I’ve been eating:
For most of my life, I’ve been excluded from the general enjoyment of Greek salad because I don’t eat olives, and you never know whether the olives will be whole and easy to pick out, or whether they’re gonna be all up in there.
Well, sometimes, you do know because you see an order of Greek salad arrive at a nearby table at the Atlanta Fish Market on Christmas Eve (not the table where a joyless couple sits silently, the woman making slow work of a crab leg bigger than her head, the man staring at his phone), so you can verify that a small handful of whole olives are kind of to the side of the main salad, the “main” in this case being a sizable rectangle of feta, glistening with olive oil.
Bite by bite, it still tastes mostly like Greek salad, but feta in planar form, unlike the crumbled shit, is a serious, adult joy. You can’t bite into a crumble, so it doesn’t have the tiny squeak and the pleasant wetness that intact feta offers. Besides, it’s a little thrilling to have a whole big piece of something that’s normally extruded or extracted or otherwise piecemeal. Like a third of a papaya cradled in newspaper that a cab driver insists you eat while he pumps air in the tires, or a tall wedge of tender Parmigiano-Reggiano the size of a dictionary, served to you and your friend with glasses of very crisp, very dry Prosecco and not one bit else (no bread, cracker, condiment, plate, or napkin; just a sharp knife, cheese, and wine) by the 6th-generation Parmigiano-maker himself (really the -ager, which is affineur in France but you are in Italy right now), Giorgio Cravero, who, if you recall, loves the name Gianni but was bound by family naming traditions when he had his son, Giacomo, and who, by your lights, has the most beautiful wife in all of Italy.
Plus, you can make Greek salad yourself, and plate yours and your boyfriend’s separately, his with olives (the Kalamata kind that y’all think are so special but really taste like the most olive-y of olives), yours, pristinely, without. Big rectangles of feta for you both. That’s what I’ve been fixing all week. I got a salad spinner for Christmas, and it’s made all the difference. Before, I never wanted to fuck with a whole head of lettuce or kale, and I couldn’t get myself to eat out of the $4.99 pre-washed bag of greens that wilt the second you open the bag, if not before. Now, I spin the whole head of whatever and use some immediately and some later, up to a week, still crisp and green. I spin it all. I spin chickpeas, dude. I’ve spun capers.
The dressing for Greek salad happens like this: whisk together the juice of a whole lemon, a crushed clove of garlic, a fat pinch of oregano (dried is fine, seems right somehow), salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil into that as you keep whisking, until it’s just bearable. Greek salad is familiar, old-fashioned, sure, but it isn’t comfort food. It’s bracing and a little uncomfortable. Richard Pryor is enough olive oil for Greek salad. David Letterman, maybe. Stop there. Jay Leno is way too much olive oil—save that for hummus. Whisk it hard.
:You can drizzle some dressing onto the feta rectangle and the tomato slices, which you’ve plated along with peperoncini so they can come to temperature. Feta and tomato should never be served cold. Dress the lettuce, to which you’ve added thin slices of sweet onion, right before serving.
What I’ve been reading:
Our heater broke right when heaters are supposed to break: on the coldest night of winter. We decamped to my parents’ house, where Adam found a John Grisham novel that he hadn’t read, and I picked up a favorite from seventh grade: Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty & The Beast by Robin Mckinley. It was published in 1978 and its for ages 10 and up. The book design is the worst. I didn’t know that then, all I cared about, design-wise, was how pretty and brunette the girl on the cover was.
Instead of talking teacups and snobby candlesticks, like in the Disney treatment (which I also love), McKinley’s castle has “a little singing breeze,” “a very small wind” that ushers Beauty around, and sometimes disapproves and blows more forcefully. The wind has a will.
And as I read, I didn’t remember very much, but sometimes I felt the shadow of a breeze whistle with something softly familiar: the window in the attic, a lost fleet of merchant ships. I don’t think this book would happen now. You can’t have women falling in love with their captors. You can’t have love turning people to princes, and you can’t have someone so baldly recoil from physical ugliness, at least not in books that are also quietly weird.
Beauty is so quietly weird. The book and the character. At one point, she has to resist the urge to start quoting Plato at the Beast. She’s into Homer but not Sherlock Holmes, which is one of the books from the future that she calmly tries to read. Like, nothing was magic about where she came from, but she’s pretty calm about the magic she encounters at the Beast’s castle in the forest. Anyway, I’m telling you, it’s weird, but quiet. It’s stirring. That’s a word you don’t hear anymore—too pallid, I guess. But I liked then and I like now to be stirred.
I’ll leave you with a pre-Beast passage:
When spring came I dug up the garden and planted it, and weeded it, and prayed over it, and fidgeted; and almost three years of lying fallow had agreed with it, because it produced radishes the size of onions, potatoes the size of melons, and melons the size of small sheep. The herb border ran wild, and the air smelled wonderful; the breezes often stirred the piney, mossy smell of the forest with the sharp smell of herbs, mixed in the warm smell of fresh bread from the kitchen, and then flung the result over the meadow like a handful of new gold coins.
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