Snow Day Sweet Potato Hash, Or: Why We're Here


Oh, hello This picture is terrible. Future ones will be better.

It’s a snow day. It seems like a good project day. 

I’ve been cooking more in the last few months, and I’ve begun to bore Twitter with tweets that amount to “[thing] might have too much [thing] in it.” And believe it or not, I tweet that kind of stuff only about one tenth as much as I think about it. So for those of you who prefer to buck conventional internet wisdom that nobody cares what you had for breakfast, this is literally a discussion of what I had for breakfast. (It won’t always be breakfast.) 

I woke up this morning with a half a package of diced sweet potato in my fridge from making this peanut stew, which I absolutely adore, and which I always doctor up with sriracha. (As I do with many things.) I knew I wanted something with bacon, because it’s a day whose name ends in “day,” so I was thinking about eggs and bacon, and then I was thinking about something to sit next to an egg and a little bacon, so I thought about making a little sweet potato hash. I’ve never really done this particular thing, but it seemed like it should work, right? Ehhhhh, a little onion, a little pepper, a little … hmm, not brown sugar. My brain at work!

So I mentioned it on Twitter, and I got two crucial pieces of help.

Kevin gave me the answer to what had been kicking around in my head, which was that I wanted something a little sweet but not brown sugar, and that I wanted something besides sweet potato and onion. Apples were exactly what was missing. And in my head, I was thinking … cumin? Cardamom? Not cinnamon, exactly. I was all around it. And when Rachel said “garam masala” – which is a savory spice the guy at my spice shop once told me to try in cookies, if that gives you an idea of how versatile it is – I knew she was right. 

I’d also pretty much already decided one of the two pieces of bacon I was cooking in the oven should be crumbled up into the hash, and that I’d put a poached egg on it, so they were right in the same place I was. 

Let me pause for a moment before I start cooking and explain why I called this “The Opposite Of Less.” First, read at least the first few paragraphs of this, so I don’t have to type it again, because it’s very hard and it almost broke me the first time. 

So, that, right? Okay. 

This is not the point of doing this, nor is it what it’s about, but I’ve finally started seeing those numbers move in the right direction, which I always believed would be the result of my development of superhuman strength and discipline. When I was growing up, the conventional wisdom really was “character defect.” I cannot tell you how true – and how basically unchallenged – this was. 

I remember one time when I was at a Weight Watchers meeting with my mom when I was in middle school (they had a Youth program), and she took care of something or other, and I went next door to the grocery store to buy some Weight Watchers-brand ice cream. Like I said, I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, tops? When I went through the line, the young guy working the register said to me, “What are you going to do? Take this home and eat it with a big cake?” Somebody nearby said something to him, like his name, or “hey,” or whatever the mid-‘80s version of “not cool” would have been. And he shrugged, and he handed it to me, and he said, “What? That’s what they do.” Like I said, I was maybe 12?

I can’t tell you how much bare-knuckled meanness there was, even for me, with incredibly kind people in my life. Really. Truly. And the conventional wisdom was, “This is allowed, because you are a bad person.” This didn’t come from my family (my parents always, always, always both told me they loved me and tried to help me be healthier), and it didn’t come from my friends; it came from everywhere. And there’s only so long you can hear that as a 9, 10, 12, 15-year-old before you cannot unbelieve it. And so the quest becomes: less. 

For a very long time, it seems to me, all of the advice from doctors and books was around the idea that I was self-indulgent – that I gave myself too much and didn’t know how to do without and didn’t know how to suffer. That I was a ball of self-pampering, you know? There is an extent to which the advice really was, “You can’t expect to treat yourself this nicely all the time; you have to learn to deny yourself.” Right?

How I wish I had called bullshit on this much, much, much earlier. I was so painfully far along in all of this when I realized that I denied myself the things I wanted all the time. I wanted to be normal, I wanted boys to like me, I wanted to be comfortable, I wanted to buy clothes where everybody else did – I went without my whole life. And when they offered me a solution that was pure, distilled, unaltered self-denial, when they let me not eat for 12 weeks, just like Oprah, I was great at that. I killed at that. It was performative self-discipline, and I killed it, and I wasn’t even 18. 

But when it wasn’t that, what it became was a suggestion that you drain all the joy and all the pleasure out of food. All those exchange plans, like Weight Watchers was then, relied on eating off exact food lists, so they’d recommend things like a poached egg on dry white-bread toast with an orange on the side. 

Have you ever actually eaten a poached egg on dry white-bread toast other than when you were perhaps recovering from something gastrointestinal? Or a plain skinless chicken breast? I still remember you could have six Saltines instead of a piece of bread, but you could not have a Ritz cracker, presumably for the rest of your life. There is a very real way in which this was a version of [social/cultural] prison food, birthed from the notion that what was terrible for people like me was liking to eat, and if you could only make us dislike it or not care about it, that was the battle. Remember “eat to live, don’t live to eat”? First of all, “eat to live” sounds like what you do on Survivor after you lick water off your tent. And I never lived to eat, but if a person is living to eat, it seems to me the problem isn’t what they’re eating – it’s how they’re living. I mean, can you imagine? “Your only joy comes from food, and this is making you fat, so the obvious solution is to stop getting joy from food so you’re not fat.” There is another problem, Magnet Slogan, and it’s in your first independent clause, so come back to me when you get it. 

Listen to me, because this is the most important thing I’m going to tell you about myself and this whole thing: if I gotta eat several times every day for the rest of my life, you’re fucking right I’m going to like it. I take nothing away from people for whom incredibly rigid plans are effective or lifesaving, because nothing is true for everyone. But for me, learning joylessness and drudgery surrounding a daily habit – or joylessness and drudgery interrupted by WHEEEEE TODAY I GET A COOKIE – ain’t happening. That’s not me, and it will never work. 

You know what’s been working in the last couple months? 

(You’re going to love this, because it’s super ironic.)

Doing a lot more for myself. I sleep more. I get my nails done. I buy clothes I like. I get my hair cut at a better place. I keep my house neat. Because at some point, it occurred to me that what all the things I struggled with – I was disorganized, I didn’t eat well, I didn’t take care of myself, I felt slob-like – came from the fact that I put no energy into anything if the main beneficiary was myself. I have done some wackadoo things for my friends and my family, but I could barely be arsed to make myself breakfast, because who cares? Only me.  

Okay, we’re going to talk about all this more, but for now, here’s what I did. Measurements are approximate, obviously. What is this, Paris, France? 


Snow Day Sweet Potato Hash: What I Did

1 thick slice of bacon
1 c. diced sweet potato
¼ c. diced onion
a tablespoon or so of red/yellow/orange bell pepper, diced small
about a quarter of a Granny Smith apple, diced pretty small
a healthy sprinkle of garam masala
½ t. canola oil
salt and pepper
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400. Put the bacon on some foil on a sheet pan (it might make sense to make more than one slice, since you’re doing it). Stick it in there about 25 minutes before you want to eat breakfast; you’ll cook it for about 20. 

When the bacon has about five minutes to go (when it’s been in for about 15), cut up the onion and pepper and apple, and put the sweet potato in the microwave until it’s quite soft. (This took my microwave a total of three minutes. Obviously if you like a little more crunch, you can cook it less. This is verrrrrry unscientific.) Get the egg-poaching water, enough to cover or just about cover your egg, up to a bare simmer (just the bubbles coming up off the bottom). Around this time, you can pull out the bacon and drain it on a paper towel. Take about a half-teaspoon of bacon fat, or whatever you have, and put it in a little skillet. Add about a half-teaspoon of canola oil. Saute your onion-apple-pepper business for a couple of minutes, sprinkling it with some garam masala and salt and pepper.

Somewhere around here, slide the egg into the water (you’ve seen this done, right? out of a little bowl so it doesn’t spread out too much?). I went back at this point and put the sweet potato in the hash and scooted it around for a while while the egg cooked, and I crumbled up the bacon into it. I poached my egg for about four minutes, spooning the water over it a couple of times along the way to make sure the very top got done. Then the hash goes in a bowl and the egg goes on top.