Hey all! This is Jonathan, a sometimes contributor to Eating on a Napkin. If you’ve read my posts and are used to/maybe enjoy their rambling style that takes a theme, runs with it, forgets it, then returns to it hoping that you haven’t noticed that I’ve forgotten it, then you have something to anticipate. If not, prepare yourself for something either personally meaningful or entirely meaningless. Either way, you’re in for a space of emotional intimacy that may or may not be awkward for you.
Sometimes you make plans to be awesome, but then you forget to be awesome and are sad instead. Maybe you don’t become sad, but you end up being something other than awesome, like engendering a dormant mode of awesomeness that broadcasts your ability to be awesome but never quite fulfills your awesome potential. Take, for instance, me. No more than ten months ago, I was preparing myself to graduate from college with a B.A. in English (“What do you do with one of those?!” you or your mother probably are asking) from one of the most prestigious universities in all the land. I knew what I wanted to be and had mapped out a four year plan (or so. I’m not great with planning, but I had a more or less concrete plan to do something) to become a teacher and maybe get my M.A. along the way. This process included being a substitute teacher for a bit of time, saving enough money to pay for my return to school, earning a single subject credential so that I could teach high school English (advanced, honors, or A.P., please), then actually teaching.
The disjunction between reality and expectation is startling, though.
(Before I move on, please don’t think this is going to be one of those things where I whine for pages and pages on end. “Where is my life going? What am I doing now? Will I EVER FIND LOVE?!?!?!” I definitely wouldn’t say/haven’t said to myself, shoving cookies into my sad mouth. Puh-lease. This is neither the second act of a rom-com nor a painful bit of nihilist angst.)
I’m one step into that plan and am already beginning to question it. In case you have never thought about it (as I evidently had), being a substitute teacher is hard. You constantly have to reconcile your desire to be an awesome person that personally connects with each and every student with the fact that there are strict disciplinary and formal structures in place with which you may not agree. These modes of behavior are not exclusive, but they are frequently at odds with each other. Teachers may or may not run classes the way that you would want to, but you have to respect these methods. Not only do you have to compromise personal pedagogical and disciplinary approaches, but sometimes you have to be an outright jerk whose public persona is significantly at odds with your personal/private/intimate self. The disjunctions inherent to being a substitute teacher, or at least inherent to my vision of being a substitute teacher, wear away at me. It makes me my less awesome self. It makes me question my desire to be an actual teacher, one who has to deal with 150-odd students every weekday for 180 days of the year.
Which brings me to pears.
I had a particularly heavy lunch this last Saturday and decided that it was more appropriate for me to have a lighter supper. Thus, I figured a salad was in order. I was totally ready to buy some ingredients for dinner: pears, kale, and some balsamic vinegar for a wonderful-sounding, grilled salad (grilled pears?! Grilled kale?! Ricotta?! Come to me, please!!!). When I got to the store, I realized that the available kale was wimpy, and so were a bunch of the other bitter greens I could have used. I picked red chard instead. That was cool, I guess. I could grill the chard instead, or maybe just dress it lightly. I didn’t need kale.
But then as I was driving home, it started to rain. There went the possibility of grilling (for your information, no, I do not have an indoor grill). I was in a poop mood, from the rain, from my existential crisis, from eating too much at lunch and then regretting it. Then, wonder. The smell of petrichor filled my nose, reminding me of days long past spent sipping tea in my room and doing chemistry or calculus, listening to Feist or Death Cab or some other band I was way into back in those days (high school! Four years have passed swiftly). I became happy as I remembered the feeling of security that defined/defines high school in spite of any sentiments I had to the contrary. Sigur Rós’s “Hoppípolla” came on the stereo, and there was no way I was going to continue to feel bad.
It was one of those moments where I forgot how bad I was feeling, or how weird of a week/month/year I was having. Even as I was fully aware that the joys of both olfactory and aural reactions were going to leave me, I was reminded of how awesome life is and could be. It didn’t really matter that being a substitute was possibly less than ideal, or that I wasn’t sure about what I actually wanted to be when I grew up (if ever I did), or that the rain was prohibiting me from grilling. I was literally feeling ecstatic, beside myself.
Things are sorting themselves out, and the disjunction between potential and manifested awesomeness is diminishing. I’m learning how to adapt myself to imperfections and to the reality of things. I also learned how to roast pears. They’re pretty swell. This hot mess of a person is slowly becoming less hot, less messy, more inclined to draw in MS Paint-y.
Swiss chard salad with ricotta and roasted pears, adapted from The Gouda Life
Note: This recipe, as written, makes about 4 servings.
Bunch of red chard (or however much is appropriate for the number of people you’re serving)
Pears (choose pears that are slightly under-ripe and firm. Again, buy based on quantity of people. I found that one pear per person worked well)
Ricotta cheese (I recently made Smitten Kitchen’s successfully, so I’ll suggest that. I recommend about 2-3 tablespoons per person)
For the dressing:
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 t honey
1 t vanilla (or, if you’re adventurous, more)
1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a sheet pan with foil, parchment paper, or a silicon mat.
2. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, seasoning to taste. Feel free to adjust proportions and quantity based on the number of people you’re serving.
3. If you want, peel your pears. If you can’t tell by my illustration, I did not peel the pears, and they turned out just swell. Core and slice into quarter inch slices. Coat with dressing. Reserve excess dressing. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until tender.
4. Wash your swiss chard. Tear or cut off the leaves from the stem. Tear or cut leaves into bite sized pieces and place into bowl with extra dressing. Slice stems into quarter inch pieces. Put in bowl with leaves and dressing. Toss lightly. The leaves hold up well, so feel free to do this step as the pears are roasting.
5. To serve: place a healthy amount of chard into the center of a plate. Fan out six or seven slices of roasted pear alongside the chard. On the side, dollop a healthy serving of ricotta. The adventure of eating this salad is making different flavor combinations. As an alternative, you can definitely just roast the pears and eat them alongside the ricotta as a dessert. I’m not going to regulate your red chard consumption.
And now for more MS Paint (I admit: it’s actually Paintbrush, but MS Paint is way better) magic: