You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds?
In my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher occasionally phoned it in by insisting that we read our quote-heavy, rigorously formatted, and anxiously conventional critical analysis of American literature aloud for the duration of the class. Realizing that nothing — not even the most pedestrian thought about Jack Kerouac — was safe from the judgment of our peers, we learned to avoid public humiliation by including longer and longer quotations from our books, sometimes lasting for pages, and then reading them as quickly as possible.
I can’t remember any of the books I read for those essays, or any of the mundane conclusions I drew from skimming them (and then having a screaming match with my dad when he found out I required extensive writing assistance from him the night before the essay was due). I do, however, remember one particular recitation by a classmate who, years later, decided to hunker down and work for the Duke Global Health Institute after overdosing on Anne Sexton at Columbia. Her essay was on Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast At Tiffany’s — or what we in the blogosphere now know as The Book They Made Into a Movie With Audrey Hepburn in All Those Great Outfits That We Want to Emulate with Stuff We Got From the Sale Rack at Anthropologie. Anyway, I hadn’t even seen the movie at that point, and certainly hadn’t read the book, but did both by the end of that week after hearing my classmate quote one of the earlier conversations between Holly Golightly and the narrator:
You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is.
Now tell me, what day in a 15-year-old’s life doesn’t feature the mean reds as its centerpiece? Who among us, upon hearing or reading those lines for the first time, was not struck with an immediate and overwhelming sense of identification with this fictional teenage call girl sprung from the id of a fabulous Wunderkind? And who among us ever, ever stopped feeling that way from time to time? Because I know I still do. I feel that way all the time.
I felt that way today, in fact. I had such a wicked case of the mean reds that I called JM something like five times and barely said anything each time he picked up. I grunted. I complained in monosyllables and then pouted silently. My conversational path was one of passive destruction. Sticking a petulant knife in one of our developing creative projects, I verbally twisted until the thing bled to death. I complained some more. And JM listened patiently the whole time, asking questions and expressing concern, behaving like a man who knows that you don’t touch the mean reds, you don’t prod them or pry them open, and you certainly don’t threaten them with a stick. Actually, what you should do (and what he did) is encourage the afflicted party to have fun while she takes pictures of what she just cooked, especially when what she just made is piping hot, sprinkled with parmesan — and, of course, bright red.
-1/3 cup chickpea flour
-1/3 cup water
-1/4 teaspoon sea salt
-1 or 2 shakes (or a small pinch) of ground cumin
-1 red bell pepper, with the stem and seeds cut out of the center
-2-3 tbs grated parmesan
-1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
-4 tbs oil (I used olive)
Turn on your broiler, kiddo. While it heats, rub a generous amount of oil on the outside of your pepper and put it in a pan, setting aside. Then, in a mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of oil, the water, the salt, and the cumin. Add the chickpea flour slowly, stirring constantly, so that it mixes into the liquid smoothly. I let the batter rest for about thirty minutes at room temperature, but some people prefer to leave it out for a couple of hours. When the broiler is hot, put the pan in the oven. Turn the pepper occasionally so that it roasts on all sides, browning and blistering on the outside, for about 20 minutes total. Take the pepper out to let it cool, but leave the broiler on. When it’s cooled enough to handle, chop the pepper and put it on a plate with the olives. Keep the cheese nearby, too, so that assembly is easy at showtime.
Take a cast iron skillet or other oven-safe number (no plastic handles, comrades!) and put a tablespoon or two of oil in the bottom. It should be pretty oily, to prevent sticking. Let the skillet heat over a medium-high flame on the stove and, when it’s good and hot, add your batter and swirl it around until the bottom is evenly coated — as usual, you will need at least seventeen layers of fireproof fabric between you and the handle if you’re using cast iron. Or just an oven mitt. Your call.
Fry the socca until the edges are golden brown and the surface is no longer wet, then flip. Cook for 1-2 minutes and then turn off the heat. Top with the peppers, olives, and cheese, and put the skillet on the top rack in the oven. It will only be a few minutes before you can’t stand it anymore, take it out, and devour the whole thing in the same amount of time it takes to tell JM you’ll call him back. Actually, I left out the part about spending 20 minutes taking pictures while he was on speakerphone, but I guess I just told you. So now you know everything.