It’s been a thoroughly draining week, intellectually. Emotionally too, actually. And, the idea of trying to say something remotely intelligible or amusing seems more than a little out of my league, at present.
On the way to trying to become a doctor of philosophy, there are many hurdles you have to clear and people you have to convince. (Including yourself. There’s a lot of convincing of yourself that you can, in fact, do this, in spite of the daunting monolithic-ness of the task at any given moment.) Last week I had another one to fling myself over in defending my dissertation proposal.
I did it. Hurrah! Which puts me, finally, in that category, which I’ve always been somewhat confused by, known as ABD. All but dissertation. I always used to hear that and think, what? All but dissertation? But, isn’t the dissertation kind of the whole thing? Answer, no. Not even remotely.
In order to defend my thesis proposal, I had to convince quite a few people to be willing to push with me, to stretch their ways of thinking about questions of nutrition, culture, and community and trust me to come at them from an angle they are wholly un-used to. And, now that I’ve convinced them, I have to actually do it, and prove to them that it was worth the stretch.
Not only that, but in order to give the defense itself, I had to overcome a major resurgence of a fear of public speaking. One that used to be my constant reality when I was younger – all through middle and high school, the idea of speaking in front of a group was about as terrifying to me as facing down a pack of rabid grenade slinging baboons (those things are vicious) while balancing on a rotting tree branch over a thousand foot deep gorge – but, which I had completely gotten over, until last week.
Last week, each time I practiced speaking in front of other students, or imagined speaking in front of my committee, or even practiced in front of Joel, my heart started careening, my hands started shaking, and my stomach tied itself into a boy scout brigade’s worth of knots. And, nothing I could do seemed to help convince me that there wasn’t any need to be quite so nervous.
These things happen, I suppose. And I did survive. But anyway, the mental strain of pulling myself together left me feeling like my brain had been forced through an antique brass pasta extruder (that’s a real thing, by the way).
Spending much time thinking about food was definitely off the table for most of the week.
Even now, with my brain still resembling some type of lumpy conserves, I feel like I’m re-approaching it a little slowly. I’m taken in by the elegant allure of the simple. Clear, bell-like flavors. Unfussy preparations.
These sweet potatoes fall easily into that camp. After poking them vigorously with a fork all over (an energizing little procedure, I find), you stick them into the oven, and they take care of themselves. Just short of an hour later, when you take them out of the oven, and split open their slightly shriveled shrunken jackets you will find a gold mine of steaming, sweet flesh. A pinch of salt brings out the complexity that lies within that sweetness, hints of nuts and honey and apples and malt.
And because simple can’t possibly object to the grace of a well-placed accent, this is when you nestle in a generous pat of lime butter. (Which you made because it popped into your addled brain and sounded amazingly good. And didn’t seem like it would be that hard, just stirring a few things together.)
The butter melts into rich fragrant pools. The citrus tang of the lime makes the soft sweet potato seem all the more mellow and comforting. It’s like a brief trip to a more sophisticated, and fabulously tasty, preschool snack time. Which is about what my brain needs right now.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Lime Butter (serves 4)
- 4 Tbs. salted butter, softened
- the zest of 1 lime
- 1 tsp. lime juice
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- sea salt
- Using a wooden spoon or a fork, beat together the butter, lime zest, juice, and coriander until well combined. Scrape the butter into a single mound, and either cover and refrigerate in a bowl, or else use plastic wrap to roll it into a log, wrap it, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Turn your oven to 400F. Wash the sweet potatoes and poke them all over with a fork. Stick them directly on the rack in the oven, and put a baking sheet on the level underneath them to catch any juices that bubble out and drip.
- Bake for about 40-50 minutes, until they are totally soft and the skin has become somewhat shrunken. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Put them on plates, split them open, sprinkle with sea salt, and add a nice pat of lime butter to each to melt all over the insides. Serve.