Giving a new meaning to retail therapy, Umami Girl tries on a little bit of crazy at a high-end shopping mall in Jersey. Not one to pay full price for anything anymore, the only purse she scores is made of phyllo, stuffed with fava greens, radish greens and Gorgonzola Dolce. It’s crazy all dressed up, and she likes it that way.
Isn’t it odd how fleeting moments of intense clarity tend to slip in from nowhere and change the way we see things? Like a baby who wakes up from a two-hour nap looking noticeably more mature and totally nonchalant about it, many life-altering experiences arrive unannounced and unadorned, in the spaces between major events. And though our minds can cast any subject into stark relief this way, let’s be honest here. Isn’t it infinitely more compelling when the subject is ourselves? Who doesn’t love to bask in a good burst of sun-drenched self-awareness from time to time?
Since most of us don’t get report cards anymore, these moments of punctuation can be useful and encouraging — an occasion to gauge how much we’ve grown, without having to pay a therapist or even leave the house. (Although sometimes it does help to head to the nearest high-end indoor shopping mall.)
An occasion to gauge how much we’ve grown. Or, for some of us last week, to gauge how crazy we’ve grown. Which is almost just as good, only a little different, and not worse. See?
Though always a deeply ambivalent one, I am undeniably a Jersey girl — born, raised and returned. And I think we can all agree that if anyone on this grayish-greenish earth should feel in her element at a high-end indoor shopping mall, it’s a Jersey girl. I certainly knew my way around the Food Court in high school, I’ll tell you that much. Hells, I didn’t just shop at The Limited — I worked there. And when I wised up to the fact that no self-respecting college-bound Jersey girl would deign to work at The Limited, I quit. And started working at The Museum Company. Because I was classy like that.
Well, fast forward umpteen years to June 11, 2009. A certain retired Museum Company employee begrudgingly leaves her house to avoid inhaling copious quantities of drywall dust. Barred from home, baby in tow, for an entire rainy day, she enters her local high-end indoor shopping mall for the first time since 2006.
My friends, this former shopperkind finds herself a stranger in a strange land. She doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or throw up a little in her mouth at the sight of all the very unspecial clothing at very unreasonable prices. Her stomach lurches as she walks past the Chanel store. The approach of the perfume lady activates her fight or flight response. Still, always willing to do her part to keep the economy afloat, she purchases an asiago breadstick from Au Bon Pain. (The kind they give you for free if you’re the type to spring for the soup.) When she tries to return an ill-advised and unworn $250 pair of jeans bought three years ago, the sales clerk swiftly denounces her sanity. And she has to admit, she would tend to agree.
In a flash of insight, right there at the Bloomingdales counter, suddenly she can see the signs of her departure from the herd — which, to be sure, is not a pasture-finished herd anyway. She remembers the incidents, increasing in frequency, when she’s looked around in your average food market, decided she didn’t want anything they sold there, and walked out empty-handed. She contemplates with fondness the idea of shopping for all of her family’s food in her own garage, and smiles to realize that with CSAs and buying clubs aplenty and a toe dipped into gardening, that vision is pretty darn close to reality now.
She’s grown, alright. Grown crazy. And she likes it that way.
Still, crazy likes to look cute — at least on the days she has time to shower after the gym. Crazy even likes to dress up once in a while. Crazy likes a pretty little purse, preferably made of delicate phyllo dough and stuffed with spring’s strange, fleeting fava and radish greens and a bit of Gorgonzola Dolce. Delicate yet piquant, it’s the kind of crazy you’ll aspire to. A little indulgent, it may even make you pause for a moment in the solitary glow of newfound self-awareness.
But don’t forget, this is crazy all dressed up. When you look this good, it’s a real waste to keep it to yourself — and after all, isn’t it the culture of waste that started us running in the first place?
So go ahead and lay your crazy on the world, okay? Believe me, friend, I’ll see you out there.
Phyllo Purses with Fava and Radish Greens and Gorgonzola
(Based loosely on a recipe from The Best of Fine Cooking Appetizers Holiday 2007, The Taunton Press)
Makes 18 substantial hors d’oeuvres
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, with greens if you have them, finely chopped
2 stalks green garlic, or 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch fava greens plus one bunch radish greens, totaling about 14 ounces, thoroughly washed and dried, stems removed and discarded, leaves roughly chopped*
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Zest of 1 lemon, grated with a rasp
8 ounces Gorgonzola Dolce, rind removed, crumbled
9 12×17 sheets phyllo dough (frozen is fine, and this is a standard size)
Special equipment: Baking sheet, pastry brush
* Fava greens are a mild, slightly beany-tasting spring green with a pleasantly smooth texture. They can be eaten raw or cooked and pair well with Gorgonzola. If you’re not as much of a CSA-hole as I tend to become at this time of year or you simply don’t have fava and radish greens, you can substitute fresh spinach, chard, or any other hearty spring greens that you like to sauté. Just be sure, before removing the veggie mixture to the bowl, to squeeze out any excess moisture that may accumulate in the pan.
Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit with a rack in the center.
Make the filling: Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the white of the onion and sauté until starting to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, along with the onion and garlic greens, if using. Sauté for one minute. Add the fava and radish greens (or whatever greens you’re using) and the oregano and sauté until the greens are wilted and a bit soft, about 3 minutes. Remove to a bowl to cool slightly. When slightly cooled, add the lemon zest and Gorgonzola.
(Do ahead: The filling can be made in advance, portioned by heaping teaspoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet into 18 mounds, and frozen. Once frozen solid, transfer to a zip-top bag and keep for up to three months.)
Prepare the phyllo dough: Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave at medium power for one minute. Lay the nine sheets of phyllo dough on the counter, covered with a damp kitchen towel. Remove one sheet of phyllo from the stack and lay it on a large cutting board. Brush it lightly with butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo. Brush lightly with butter. Repeat with one more sheet of phyllo and brush lightly with butter. You will have three stacked sheets of phyllo, each brushed with butter. Cut the stacked sheets in half lengthwise and into thirds crosswise, forming six equal rectangles.
Spoon a heaping teaspoon (a table teaspoon, not a measuring teaspoon) of filling into the center of each of the six phyllo rectangles. With each rectangle, pinch the phyllo closed around the filling to form a little purse. Place on a baking sheet.
Repeat the phyllo layering, filling and pinching process two more times to form a total of 18 purses.
Bake the purses for 18 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve immediately, tied with slivers of garlic green if you wish.