I’m going to be at AWP! Also: Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Sneaky Spinach Quesadillas.

It’s been awhile. I won’t bother you with excuses because they all boil down to: I’m busy and tired and a lot of the time all I want to do is collapse on the couch and watch the entire second season of Scandal and eat my body weight in potato chips. (That is a play-by-play description of last weekend.)


I am not kidding about the potato chips.

Some things that have happened: I went home to Alabama for five days and saw lots of people I love and spent time with my brothers and my grandma and it was wonderful. My parents also threw a belated wedding reception/celebration for the husband and I, who if you weren’t aware ran off to Niagara Falls and got hitched last July, and it was beautiful. My aunt came down from Wisconsin to officiate a blessing ceremony, there were people there who I haven’t seen in ages, and it was an all-around incredible night. My kindergarten teacher was there, guys. No joke. Also, the open bar included margaritas because my mother knows me well. Mom, you know how to throw a party. Well done.

A sorta-blurry surprise photo of me, my mom, and my grandma. My grandma who, by the way, is a rockin' 93 years old.

A sorta-blurry surprise photo of me, my mom, and my grandma. My grandma who, by the way, is a rockin’ 93 years old.

Writing things that have happened: Not much. I have only one story currently out for submission, but I have several more in revision, so hopefully I can get those out there soon. The story I have out is really long (just under 8,000 words), and it also involves ghosts and at least one guy in a cape, so it’s been having trouble finding a home. However, almost every rejection I’ve got for it has been a complimentary, we-hope-you-send-us-more-of-your-work rejection, so it must be doing something right? (Just got one from One Story two days ago, which was awesome even though it was a rejection.) The folks at Hayden’s Ferry Review were even kind enough to ofter an editorial suggestion in their response when I submitted the story to them last year, which I ended up using when I re-edited the story for this round of submissions. Let me tell you, responses like that excite me almost as much as an acceptance. It feels so good to know that your story has really been considered and thought about, and that someone thought your story was good enough to be given that amount of consideration. And from an editor’s standpoint, I also know through my work at Nashville Review how difficult it sometimes is to even find the time to write a personal note to a submitter. That’s a special thing.

Fall-2012-2Speaking of Nashville Review, I will be at AWP next week(!) and one of the things you should come to is NR’s Off-site reading at the Back Bay Social Club from 3:30 to 5:00 on Friday. It’s only half a block away from the Convention Center, it’s free, and you’ll get to bask in some amazing words by the likes of Bianca Stone, Ben Loory, Joellen Craft, Bryan Furuness, and Rosanna Oh. So come hear some great prose and poetry and say hi! I would tell you that you would be entered in a prize raffle or something by mentioning you saw this on my blog, but you won’t. I will, however, be like, “Holy crap, thanks for reading my blog!”

Changing the subject, let me tell you a story about this one time that I tried to cook a recipe that involved grating some uncooked sweet potatoes. First you should know I have zero coordination or strength when it comes to wielding knives. Second, you should know that I have baby-soft, lily-white hands because I have had a privileged life and I am a writer and manual labor/general handiness is absolutely nowhere on my resume, unless you count typing as “working with your hands.” While cubing sweet potato for enchiladas, I have completely lost feeling in my cutting hand, I guess because of the pressure I’m having to exert to cut the damn things?, and I didn’t regain it for about an hour. While cubing butternut squash for this amazing warm salad recipe a friend gave me, I developed a huge friction blister on my palm that I didn’t notice until it popped and started bleeding because my hand had, once again, gone numb. I have also sliced my fingers a-plenty. You can tell I cooked last night if I have a band-aid around at least one finger. Cut (ha-ha punny! I’m a writer!) to me finding this recipe for Sweet Potato Quesadillas and reading, “4 cups grated peeled sweet potato (about 3 potatoes).”  I was like, no probs, I’ve got this cheese grater.


I grated my knuckles, guys. I grated them so much. It looked like I had a fist fight with, well, a cheese grater. My husband and I probably ended up ingesting some of my knuckle-flesh. You might be thinking, “How hard is it to keep your knuckles away from the cheese grater?” And if you are thinking that, it means you don’t know me at all. I once made myself bleed while playing a game of pool. And not because I was hustlin’ and the bikers I was playing against took offense and a bar fight broke out. It was a calm, civilized game in a friend’s father’s basement game room. There was no violence. Pool is not a contact sport. And yet I somehow managed to bleed.

Anyway. The aforementioned Sweet Potato-Claire Flesh Quesadillas were actually incredibly tasty, and I was saddened that I would not be making them in the future in order to retain my fingers.

Until now, that is. Because FOOD PROCESSOR!!!!!!!


Cuisinart Elite Collection 16-Cup Food Processor, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. Adjustable slicing disk with 6 widths.

2. Two-sided shredding disk for fine and medium shreds.

3. Three bowls for multi-tasking!

4. Dough blade and dough setting for kneading dough?!

5. Puréeing things.

6. Dishwasher safe.


Guys, this might be the best thing that has ever happened to me, aside from meeting my husband or whatever. My life in the kitchen will never be the same. I have been having dreams–actual dreams–about all the things I can make now that I don’t have to worry about cutting off my fingers. (It also takes me a REALLY LONG TIME to prep anything that involves a lot of cutting or dicing because I have to be So. Very. Careful. But, no longer!) So, while I was fantasizing about what to make that will utilize my new food processor to its fullest, I remembered the aforementioned delicious but ill-fated quesadillas, and I knew I had my first dish.



(The bowl on the right is cheese, which, for once in my life, I didn’t buy pre-shredded! Yay, blocks of cheese!)

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I also decided to mince my garlic and chop my onion in the food processor, just because I could. That, however, didn’t work out so well. What I should have done is pulse the onion a few times to chop it to my satisfaction. Instead, I left the processor running as I added it through the feed tube, which resulted in this:


Onion pulp.

There is a learning curve.

I used my onion baby food anyway, though, because I didn’t have another onion. Remarkably, it turned out fine.

So, thanks to my food processor, I bring you:

Sweet Potato-Black Bean-Sneaky Spinach* Quesadillas


(Recipe after the jump)

Based on the Sweet Potato Quesadilla recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, with additions

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (except I did 3, because GARLIC, you guys.)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus a little more for making the quesadillas brown and crispy
  • 4 cups peeled and grated sweet potato (about 3 medium potatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • big pinch of cayenne (a little more if you like it real spicy)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • a couple handfuls of baby spinach (add more if you want)
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 tortillas, the big ones
  • Some salsa, your choice
  • Sour cream, if you want it

*I call it “Sneaky Spinach” because I can trick my husband into eating spinach this way. He didn’t even realize it was there until I told him. Success! (This could probably work on kids, too. There’s a joke there about my husband essentially being a kid, but I shall refrain because his child-like spirit is one of the things I love most about him. Dawwwwwwww. (But don’t you dare color on the walls, Todd. I’m serious.))

You’ll need a pretty large sauté pan with a lid for this.

Sauté the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil until the onions are translucent. Add the grated sweet potato, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne. Cook, covered, for about 8-10 minutes or until the sweet potato is starting to become tender, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. (You may have to let the sweet potato cook down a little and then add the rest of it, depending on the size of your pan. I had to.) When the sweet potatoes are getting tender, mix in the black beans and spinach and cook for a couple more minutes, until potatoes are done, the beans are warmed through, and the spinach is nice and wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.


Notice the mess I made of my stove. Be careful stirring.

To put the quesadillas together, lay a tortilla on a plate and spread a big scoop of sweet potato filling on one-half of it. You should leave about a half-inch of space between the filling and the edge of the tortilla, otherwise things will get real messy in the skillet. Don’t heap the filling too high either. Generously add some of the grated cheddar on top of that, then fold the empty half of the tortilla over the filled half. Assemble however many tortillas you want to consume in one sitting. (See note about leftovers below.)

In a heavy skillet, warm just a little bit of vegetable oil over medium heat. When it’s warm, carefully add one quesadilla at a time (or two if you’re feeling coordinated and your skillet is big enough). Cook for one or two minutes, until the cheese is melted and the underside of the tortilla is nicely browned and crispy. (Watch out! Don’t burn them!) Carefully flip the quesadilla on it’s other side and cook another minute or so to achieve brown crispiness. Remove to a plate, and repeat with remaining quesadillas. Add a little more vegetable oil between quesadillas if your skillet gets dry.

Serve immediately, topped with salsa and sour cream, and get ready to make some guttural pleasure-noises.


A note on leftovers: If you want, you can go ahead and cook up all the quesadillas and wrap up any uneaten ones in the fridge. I, however, do not particularly like soggy leftover quesadilla. Instead, I’ll store any leftover filling (which if you’re cooking for two is probably a good bit) in some tupperware and then make lazy microwave burritos out of it the next night. It’s really good this way, too, and you don’t have to dirty your skillet again. Enjoy!


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