Today, I should’ve been packing. The boxes were assembled, the mandate clear: Pack away our winter stuff first, things we won’t need until the Massachusetts chill settles into our wimpy Southern bones.
Instead, while Tom and Max made their first foray to Boston to get the lay of our soon-to-be homeland, I stayed home in Roanoke and I cooked.
Inspired by our recent houseguest, Jes Gearing, who writes a kick-butt vegan food blog called Cupcake Punk, I decided to try something new, an eggplant-gouda appetizer dish I’d sampled at The Isaacs Mediterranean Restaurant last week and absolutely loved. It didn’t hurt that our restaurant manager-friend, Nicole, used to be one of our babysitters, so when I stopped by yesterday and begged to know how they made it, she happily spilled the bones of the recipe.
I used the nonstick griddle on my newish gas range — something I wasn’t appreciating fully until Jes, our soon-to-be tenant, gushed about all the great food she was going to make on it, complete with a spiffy looking picture of our kitchen that she posted on her blog.
Funny how it’s hard to appreciate things until someone else points out the wonders of them to you. I think of that a lot these days as I go about my daily routines — hiking through the near-ripe wineberry patches with Tom and Lucky in the mornings, tending my zinnia cut-flower bed that always makes me think of my sweet pal Frances, yacking at uncle Frosty at his poolside (even though he really should be indoors resting after his radiation treatments — having cancer seems to make him even more hard-headed than before.)
These are the things I’ll miss most about my adopted home of 20 years, a place where you can’t stand in the checkout at Kroger without running into at least one person you know. Or ride your bike up Mill Mountain. Or walk down to Grandin Road, where the new Saturday farmer’s market is hopping. (Foodies, check out the softball-sized shitaakes trucked down from Floyd. And Ashley Donahue’s brownies. And the Amherst County goat cheese. . . . )
It doesn’t matter that I don’t see my favorite reporter-mentor and friend, Mary Bishop, but every couple of weeks. I’m going to miss knowing she’s only five minutes away if I need her. (Who’s gonna bring us sweet-and-sour soup the next time we catch a cold?)
When I first came to Roanoke as a single 25-year-old, I thought I’d be here two years, three years tops. But leaving it has never felt quite right.
Sure, there were bigger and better newspapers I could have tried to work for – though whether I’d still be gainfully employed at them is another issue, never mind being allowed to do the enterprise journalism I’m blessed to do here.
Sure, there were more exciting cities and cooler mid-sized places. Towns with universities and bigger greenway systems and better schools and places where you can get Dogfish Head 60 Minutes IPA on tap. (People at Isaacs, please, listen up! )
But leaving never felt right, especially since Tom’s parents moved here last year, supplying Will with a steady supply of homemade cookies that he picks up daily on his way home from school.
I’m looking forward to my new home in Cambridge — a bike ride away from Trader Joe’s (sorry, it ain’t braggin’ if it’s the truth) — just as Jes is already planning out the meals she’ll make in my kitchen. But when the year ends, I know I’ll be itching to get back to more than my stovetop griddle here in the ‘Noke, which is a lot more than my adopted hometown. It’s home.
Eggplant-gouda appetizer rolls
(Inspired by a recent special at The Issacs Restaurant and a conversation with its lovely manager, Nicole Coleman. Note: I added the Kalamata paste because I’ve been addicted to it ever since we started the Flat Belly Diet. Sorry, Nicole — if you’re an olive junkie, I think it’s even better this way.)
1 eggplant, peeled, sliced longways and sweated (salted and left to sit for 30 minutes or so, until the water oozes out) and patted dry
Half pound or so chunk of gouda cheese
Olive oil for copious brushing
Kalamata olive paste (pitted and pureed with garlic, to taste — I use about a half cup olives to 2 cloves garlic)
1. On your oventop griddle — or lacking that, a good nonstick skillet will do — brush on olive oil and then pan-fry slices of eggplant, grilling on medium-high heat and turning over and reapplying olive oil as needed. I did it in batches, flipping every minute or so, until they were pliable and slightly browned (see photo below).
2. Remove from griddle, let cool on a plate.
3. When cool, slather a tablespoon or so of olive paste on larger end of eggplant strip, then place a chunk (about a tablespoon-sized piece: picture a quarter that’s three times its depth) of cheese on top. Wrap the eggplant up into a roll.
4. Place on oiled cookie sheet and broil for 3 minutes until the cheese is nicely melted but not so much that it’s spilled out all over the pan. (I used my “Low Broil” setting.)
5. Serve immediately, with salt and pepper to taste — and a Dogfish, if you have one, on the side.