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9.11.2015


Pot Pie for Sale
TABITHA BLANKENBILLER



Part 3 in a series where Tabitha Blankenbiller writes about and creates a legit literary recipe based on moments of universal agony or joy in a writer’s life. Humble pie, anyone? [Read Part 1 and Part 2.]


When dinner is okay, we are quiet. We eat it and are content, because it’s food. Grilled chicken, veggie burgers, stir fry over rice. These are the easy, healthy, serviceable standards. Kelly Clarkson on a plate. But every few weeks or so, when time and a decent idea is on my side, there is something truly memorable for dinner. This is when we are rapturous.

A few weeks ago, this was our reaction to Cheddar Biscuit-Topped Chicken. It’s a love child of chicken pot pie and chicken and dumplings, freeing the creamy filling from the confines of oppressive crust and upgrading to pillowy cheddar biscuits. Every bite is savory ecstasy. We ate what was on our plates and went back for more. In the case of my husband, Matt, he returned to the skillet four times.

“You could sell this,” he proclaimed.

I half-laughed, half-shrugged. Yeah. Probably. Should I put out a tip jar?

“No, seriously,” he pressed. “You should be doing this. You need a restaurant. Screw this whole writing thing.”

I think this is a thing that non-writerly loved ones do; when they see you suffering, your frustration, your crippling disappointments, they want to fix it. They don’t understand that process you spent all that MFA time and money honing—the ability to surf the waves of rejection, ride the swells of a hot streak, to keep from drowning in the grind and jealousy. It’s too tough to explain how we learn and unlearn this every single day. So they make suggestions. Well-meaning suggestions. Suggestions that make you want to jump off a bridge.

This suggestion didn’t make me angry, though. Not like the notions that I write something happier, more commercial, less personal, with zombies. This comment knocked me back almost seven years when I brushed against the other dream. I was 24, just married, just laid off. It was 2008, and I’d received my pink slip a few weeks before banks shuttered and the market crashed.

I sat around my apartment with nowhere to be while Matt worked overtime to pad our budget. I refreshed Craigslist job postings with little success. The rare company that was hiring received hundreds of applications, no matter how menial and entry-level the work. If I was lucky I got invited to a giant interview cattle call, where dozens of interviewee clones speed-dated the HR department. Being offered an Administrative Assistant position at Prestige Tile felt like landing a starring role on Broadway.

While my prospects to restart a career I never liked in the first place devolved, my heart wandered to what I’d always wanted to do. My second-story window overlooked an empty commercial space. Glass and concrete canvas meant for shops and cafés to make a little master-planned “village” in this new suburb. A master plan with terrible timing. One day on a whim, I called the number on the For Lease sign. “The developers are anxious to get a restaurant into one of those spaces,” the agent twisted my arm. “They’d definitely be willing to work with you on rent.”

I met her a few days later at the empty glass box. She was small and neat in a red Macy’s dress suit. I was in Unemployed Formalwear: a Sailor Moon T-shirt and recently washed jeans. She unlocked the door and we stepped in, though there was nothing to see. Exposed ceilings, power cords, dust on the floor, a lingering Home Depot smell of fresh building innards. “You can get kitchen equipment pretty cheap nowadays. So many places are closing and throwing their stuff up on Craigslist.”

The next week, I was at the Portland Culinary Institute as a student prospect, waiting in the lobby for a tour. Next to the couches and coffee table stacked with Bon Appetit was a glass case displaying the student’s knife roll kits. They gleamed in the halcyon nest, delicate paring to bone-stomping cleaver. An entire package of purpose. To carry these tools was to have someplace to be, a reason to exist. Pardon me. I have prep work to do.

I peeked into classrooms full of people in white hats and aprons, tasting marinara like poetry. One girl stopped me in the hallway with a platter of glittering cupcakes. “Would you like to try one?” she asked. “We just had a whole class on this new edible glitter.” I could just glimpse this hazy future flickering into focus, of starched uniforms and feasting on stars.

I brought home the application packet. I Googled job prospects and average salaries. Read anecdotes of grueling hours and lost holidays. The investment was huge and the return small. Success was rare and, in the aftermath of my failure, I was hardly feeling like an exception to the rule. The real estate agent stopped leaving me messages as I turned this uncertainty over in my palm, talking myself out of a leap. We could lose everything, and we don’t have anything. Maybe I should just keep looking for a job. Maybe I can do this later.

Nine months after losing my job, I found another one. When I looked at going back to school a few years later, my sights turned to an MFA. I could take my lifetime of writing seriously, maybe even become a professor or something. The prospects seemed small but more stable, the risk more calculated. I felt more certain that I had a book inside of me instead of a restauranteur.

There are a finite number of dreams one person can chase down in a lifetime. Most of the time, I’m sure in my footing. I’ve come far from that girl who was stuck in her apartment with no direction. Far from the girl who applied for an MFA when she’d scarcely typed a creative paragraph since her undergrad classes. Far even from the wide-eyed, heartful exhaustively earnest commencement speaker with Bird by Bird printed on her heart. There’s still so much I want to do, so far I feel I’ve fallen short, goals I question my ability to achieve. It’s on these days that I look down at my plate and wonder just how much someone would pay for a bite. I dream of trading my Submittable queue for a menu. I wish, just maybe, I’d followed the glittery cupcakes.


“QUIT YOUR WRITING JOB” CHICKEN POT PIE

Filling:
•1 tbsp vegetable oil
•1 can cream of mushroom soup
•1 cup milk
•½ cup sour cream
•1 ½ tsp Dijon mustard
•1 onion, chopped
•1 carrot, thinly sliced
•2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
•2 red potatoes, cubed
•2 tbsp fresh parsley
•2 tsp fresh thyme
•1 cup frozen peas
•3 cups cooked rotisserie chicken, torn apart

Biscuits:
•1 ½ cups flour
•2 tsp baking powder
•½ tsp baking soda
•1 pinch salt
•2 tbsp cold butter, cut into cubes
•1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
•1 cup sour cream

Directions:

Heat a cast iron skillet with the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and potato and sauté for another 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add all remaining filling ingredients. Stir and heat through.

Prepare the biscuit dough by sifting the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheddar and sour cream and stir until it forms a soft, but not sticky, dough. Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface, roll or pat out ¼-inch thick, and cut into 10 rounds with a biscuit cutter.

Arrange the biscuits on top of the filling and bake the pot pie in a 400 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the biscuits are brown and the filling is bubbling. Transfer the skillet to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes, then serve.





TABITHA BLANKENBILLER is a Pacific University MFA graduate currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her essays have appeared in a number of journals, including The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Passages North, and Brevity. She also reviews books for Bustle and writes an ongoing series of Food Network fan fiction for The Mondegreen. For more of her work, visit tabithablankenbiller.com, and for a pithy good time, follow her on Twitter at @tabithablanken.


• Authors receive ~80% of your tip, after necessary transaction and administrative fees. Even small change makes a difference. • Recipe adapted from The New Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook by Ellen Brown. • Permalink • Tag: Naked Lunch Menu, Recipes

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