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When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: Exactly what you want, when and where you want them.
Today: A gift for a neighbor, a party snack, and an excuse to bring the retro cheese ball back.
I open the front door and step onto the porch in all my sick mama glory: plaid pajama bottoms, pink cashmere socks, cooking clogs, a grandpa sweater, a Sriracha t-shirt, two scarves. My nose is so red that it shines through the green papaya enzyme mask I put on my face an hour earlier. My pockets are filled with dirty tissues. My hair is in a tangled top knot. I look left. I look right. All clear.
You got the drugs?
Ten-year-old Jacob gives me the codeine and a spoon. I hand him the cheese ball with strict instructions. Jacob, your mother thinks she's not going to like this so you need to give it the hard sell. Three different cheeses, butter, mayonnaise, cream cheese, garlic, shallots. And then I rolled the whole thing in fig jam, chopped pecans, and dried cranberries. Tell her to scoop it into her mouth with the buttery crackers.
Six-year-old Eli stands back, watching my every move. He looks concerned.
Eli? I'm not going to die. I promise. I just need some drugs. And your mom is my supplier.
The night before, Eli’s neighbor, Marietta, was whisked off on a stretcher. She never came back.
Eli, Marietta was old.
Just 20 minutes before he was sobbing in his mother's lap, worried that I was going to die too.
Sweetie, I am young.
Eli doesn't look convinced.
Well, I'm young-ish.
I tousle his hair.
And I'm super healthy.
He smooths his hair back down.
Plus, I've been eating a cheese ball for two days straight. I think it's killing my virus.
I was at Eli's birth. There was this terrifying moment during labor when his heart rate dipped.
I will be here tomorrow.
They flipped the scary lights on. Doctors and nurses rushed in.
I promise, Eli.
To try to loosen the cord around his neck, they turned his mama onto all fours and had her drop down to her forearms.
I held her until the amplified boom boom boom of his heart filled up the room again.
Okay, Phyllis. See you tomorrow.
I watch the boys carefully walk the cheese ball home to their mom. Within 5 minutes I get a text: I take it back -- this cheese ball is fucking delicious.
I decide my work is done for the day. I get in bed and listen to my kids navigate the mama-free kitchen. A knife is pulled. A glass is broken. Someone squirts someone else with the honey bear. I am dizzy with the flu. And then I overhear the most beautiful words in the world.
Let's tuck mom in.
They pat my pillow, pull the covers up to my chin, give me 100 kisses good night.
I lie in the dark, imagining the ants crawling in the honey and the shards of glass on the floor. I take a teaspoon of codeine. I will be here in the morning to clean up the mess.
Makes 4 large cheese balls
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 5 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped
1 teaspoon creamy Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apricot jam (any large chunks removed or chopped up)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha (or Tabasco), to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
5 cups grated cheddar cheddar (I recommend a combination of mellow and sharp)
1/2 cup creamy blue cheese (I use Mountain Gorgonzola)
To roll one large cheese ball:
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
2 tablespoons fig jam
Photos by Phyllis Grant