I was readying to ask whether anyone else gets the same absolute rush, the same total thrill, out of a great library trip, like I do. That disproportionate, heart-swelly, irrationally exuberant joy that makes no sense at all, when I staple words to it.
But then I remembered the company I keep. You are book people. I'm betting you get it.
We had a good library run, Sunday.
We stopped by the third of three branches in our itty-bitty system, which, somehow, in five-plus years here, we'd never visited. A movie mission brought us there, and we fully intended a surgical strike. Three-to-five, in and out. We failed, wildly. Or didn't. Depending.
It wasn't much to look at, this library. Frumpy architecture, outdated interior, old carpet, low ceilings, bad eighties flourescents. That flickered. Erratically. I hate that. Tens of thousands of new-to-us books. Several kind, smiling, above-and-beyond employees. The sort that seem to staff libraries, everywhere.
(Where do they find these people? And would they consider running the world?)
In other words: Shangri-La.
Our three-to-five turned into sixty; our "one more errand...", a gold mine. We left with a HAUL. Dozens and dozens of picture books. Six titles from my Must Read list, serendipitously spotted on the Friends sale rack. Two new library cards, for the two youngest readers. A movie. Some music. The general sense of absconding with hundreds upon hundreds of dollars in books. For free. (Well, free, plus several quarters for the keepers.)
I never know, after such scores, whether to sleep with one eye open, waiting until They Find Me Out, or throw a hootenanny for the miracle that is the modern library.
Jury's still out. Let me know if they're coming.
Until they track me down, I revel in all a good library jaunt inspires.
I love the way the kids bicker over who gets what book, when, in the car, on the ride home. The way every walk by the newly primped book basket leads to a little zing of delight. The way it tugs, and calls, and leads us to plop down, all day, to devour the goods. The way one book leads to another, and so on, and so on, like Heather Locklear on hair care. (Who knew Fabergé beat Facebook to the whole she-told-her-friend social media punch? Then totally failed to capitalize. Shame.)
I love the way a new onslaught of books infiltrates our days. How I walk into this yogi practicing her pose, while shouting out, "I'm just pulling out the good one." Then watching the one stretch to six, seven, eight. (Sixty-minute surgical strikes. Eighty-seven minute hours. One good book, eight titles strong. She and I share a similar number sense.)
I love the way that new rush of reading spills over into our own stacks, a match set to hay. Caught later that night in the office, finishing taxes while bedtime beckoned, I realized no one was coming, or nagging, or even noticing I wasn't present. Instead, if I listened closely enough, I could hear Zoë reading Oh The Thinks You Can Think!, across the hall. To herself. Out loud. Giggling over every page.
We own it. Have, for years. Dusty, it was. Hadn't seen so much as a second glance in ages. But reading's a snowball, all momentum; story-love, a beast that begs feeding. The library set the small ball in motion, and on and on it rolled, gaining speed, biggering, right up through bedtime. Until it ran roughshod over our own old familiars. And swept them up, also. A+.
The only bit I didn't love was the way we were sucked into the vortex, and walked through the door at 5:19. With no dinner plans, save hungry bellies, tic-tocking-clocks, and Hubbard-worthy cupboards.
It happens. To me, anyway. Maybe, probably, you're more organized than I. We keep our afternoons purposefully clear, but still, we wind up up against it. Often. No time to plan, less time to cook. Seriously in need of fast food. I think we can all agree that this is why the universe invented fast food, yes?
Although, definitions may vary.
Fast food, for me, looks like this: A pile of pears and a wedge of sharp cheddar. Paper-thin salami plus a rollicking salad. Apples and peanut butter. Chips and salsa. Avocado on toast. Fruit and yogurt. Eggs. Obviously. Hard-boiled. Soft-boiled. Omelettes. Over-easy. The perfect contender. Hot or cold. Dressed up or down. Draped over leftovers. Endlessly versatile. Nearly-instant. So totally my kinda food.
(To clarify: We eat the drive-thru sort, also. Our Chicago foray found us at Wendy's. Twice. It's just that, at home, I've yet to find any food faster, or better, than that list above. Fried eggs, after all, make the pizza guy look like Rip Van Winkle. )
As Spring unfolds (weather notwithstanding), and the light lingers, and afternoons fly by, I find I increasingly turn to fast food. I can't tell you the numer of times I've looked up, sure it's 4 p.m., shocked to see that it's six. And still, there's the constant chorus. Please, just one more purple dragon on the driveway? Two more minutes, hula-hooping? Another round of Forbidden Desert? Picture's almost done! Puzzle's so close!! Can we carve wax like in Chicago? Now? PLEASE?
Clearly, I have boundary issues.
Or: Oh dear. Seems the compost bowl's full. Hard to prep dinner with no room for trimmings. Best get that out first, but gosh, those tulips. Those hellebore. Those daffodils! Snap, snap. 6:42?! Impossible.
Or: Really? Snow in mid-April? Because, ya know, snow and taxes go together like... gophers and stilettos. (Oh, Ohio.)
Or the tooth! Lost. Finally. And, as planned for months, a tooth cake to celebrate. (Yes. Irony.) One simply cannot schedule these things. Dinner takes a back seat. Priorities, people.
Anyway, 101 easy excuses for why dinner isn't ready, or underway, or even a nascent concept. It's a year-round occurrence, at least around here, but Spring's when I reach for fast food most of all. For eggs, in all their iterations. Post-library, we scrambled up a skillet-full. Tonight: olive-oil fried. Many a night, we turn to a hearty house favorite known here as Basque Pie, more properly called a chorizo tortilla.
This is a tortilla in the Spanish sense, i.e. eggs, potatoes, and onions, bathed in olive oil. Only, being Basque, there's chorizo, also, the glorious dried paprika-spiked sort. Diced, the rusty nubbins of pork cook alongside the potatoes and onions, oh-so-slowly, rendering their vivid, flavorful fat, which works its way into everything. When all is melting and tender, in go the eggs, well-seasoned with salt, just a bit heady with smoked paprika.
The whole skillet then slides into the oven, where it requires exactly nothing, until the timer beeps, twenty minutes later. No poking and prodding at the stove. No hold-your-breath flipping, mid-cooking. Just bake, let cool for a few, invert. Presto. Dinner. And what a dinner.
Tender and toothsome, in parts mild and intense, it is warming and porky and filling and fine. Basque pie's savory in all the right ways: spiced but not spicy; protein-rich, produce-laden; deeply meaty, but mostly not meat. Some of us like a slice tucked in a sandwich. Others, sidled alongside a salad. Either way, it's in regular rotation. It's been on our menu for more than a decade.
True, this is no two-minute egg dish. It takes a hands-off half-hour and change. But because it holds so brilliantly, and makes excellent eating hot, warm, or cold, I can (and do) make it anywhere in the day, as time and attention and sidewalk chalk allow. And the only thing faster than scrambled eggs are eggs already, decadently, soulfully bound up and baked in a cake. A cake that doubles as dinner.
Basque Pie (Chorizo + Potato Tortilla)
adapted from The Basque Kitchen, by Gerald Hirigoyen
Hirigoyen's original calls for 5 ounces of chorizo, piment d'Espelette, and minced parsley stirred right in. The chorizo I buy (this, but half as much at well-stocked supermarkets; not the raw, fresh Mexican chorizo) comes in 8 ounce loops, and if I don't nip a few ounces for migas, I often use the entire rope here (no one complains). I've always used smoked paprika in place of the piment, and adore it. And parsley? Definitely ups the curb appeal, but a no-go with my littles; I set out a bowl, for the green fiends. Smoked paprika is distinct from the standard sweet Hungarian variety, with a pronounced, lovely smoky flavor. It's available at most well-stocked supermarkets and any spice shop. Wonderful over egg salad, deviled eggs, roast chicken, roast potatoes...
Excellent hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. Leftovers are grand. Perfect picnic fare.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced (or 1/2 large onion; roughly 1 1/4 cups)
1 pound potatoes (waxy or russet), peeled, cut into 3/4" cubes
5-8 ounces Spanish dried chorizo, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked spanish paprika
11 extra-large eggs
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a large, oven-proof skillet (I use a 12" non-stick with a metal handle), warm oil over medium heat. Add diced onions, cubed potatoes, chorizo and salt, and stir to combine. (In practice, I warm the oil, then add onions, chorizo, and potatoes, chopping and adding as I go.) Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender to the core. (Test a few by knife-tip.)
While potatoes + co. are cooking, crack eggs into a medium bowl, and whisk to break up yolks and combine. Measure paprika into a small bowl, add a teaspoon of water, and stir to combine. (This prevents paprika from clumping in the egg.) Pour paprika slurry into egg, and beat again, until combined. When potatoes are tender, pour eggs over potato mixture, and stir a few times off-heat, to incorporate.
Place skillet in pre-heated oven. Bake 18-20 minutes, until center is just set, and edges are golden. Let cool 5 minutes, then run knife around edge, and invert onto a large plate. Excellent hot, room temperature, and cold.