Cheers to the simple things. I signed almost every book this way. Telling you this makes it sound cheap. Though I hope it’s not. Words matter. And these 5 words matter greatly to me. I thought a lot about what I might write. Permanently. In pen. Can I tell you how terrifying it is to write in a book that’s not yours? Are you sure you want me to sign this thing, I kept thinking to myself. That’s beside the point.
This post was created in an ongoing partnership with Alexia. A chef once told me to source the things that others do better. That’s how I feel about Alexia’s fries and sides. To see how they are shaking things up with chef-inspired flavors, real ingredients, healthy alternatives, and surprising recipes, follow Alexia on Facebook and Instagram, or check out their website. Thank you for supporting the brands that support me.
To a neighbor I grew up with, I wrote, “Cheers to the simple things, like being a good neighbor,” a slight derivative of the note. She was a really good neighbor to my family growing up, and even now. Writing that out took me back to a conversation 12 years ago with a friend in college. We sat on her dorm room bed, in a room barely lit by Christmas lights. She wanted to do big things in far away places. And she wanted to do them now. The only thing holding her back was 3/4s of college.
I get pretty nervous about handing out advice for fear of severing a friendship with words they never wanted and maybe never needed to hear. But on this night, I went against my better judgment and told her, “If you can do the small things well now, you’ll be ready for the bigs things later.” I’m not sure she liked hearing that. I know I wouldn’t have.
Isn’t it ironic? That’s what Alanis Morissette said over and over again through my foam padded headphones in 5th grade. That aforementioned conversation was about her then, but it’s about me now. History is fluid like that. It’s ironic like that, too.
The simple things are the small, ordinary things. Like being a good neighbor. Like making dinner night after night. Like showing up to work and dusting off the window sills. (Mine need dusting so badly right now.) I’ve always thought the simple things are the hardest things to actually pull off. They’re far less exciting, usually. And some days, they feel like drudgery.
I wrote about this in the book: My mom made us dinner almost every single night. We ate together at the dinner table even on nights when soccer practice ended at 8:30pm. That table was sacred. Though we didn’t know it then. Maybe that was because of our 8-year-old boy humor, something none of us ever outgrew. Toot. My mom could have done 1,000 other things from 6pm till whenever dinner was ready, but she chose this. (I talked about this more in this podcast.) At the end of another long day, I’m certain it felt like drudgery to her. I know this because she swore she didn’t like to cook. She also swore that she wasn’t a great cook. For the record, she was (and is) a great cook. I know this, too, because I sometimes feel this way.
I still wonder—can you do the big things well without the small things first? Time has made all my pat answers more blurry. And yet, I signed every book Cheers to the simple things. There’s ordinary magic in putting dinner on the table. In composing something out of the random leftover bits in the fridge and the reliable staples from the pantry. Like these Sweet Potato French Fry Tacos. It’s Thursday. I just got back into town with no time to plan ahead. I have Alexia Sweet Potato Fries in the freezer, a couple cans of black beans in the pantry, pickled red cabbage from who knows when, mayo, chipotle peppers, a rouge lime, and a hunk of cotija.
We meet around the dinner table again, which also makes me wonder—what if the big things are the little things? Maybe that’s the margarita talking. Either way, cheers! To the big things, the little things, and the simple things.
Sweet Potato French Fry Tacos
These tacos are a recomposition of the sweet potato tortas recipe from my book, The Minimalist Kitchen. I got the idea of serving fries on a taco from a local restaurant who serves fries on their gyros. If they can do it, so can we. To learn more about recomposing meals, head this way.
- 1/2 a bag (7.5 oz) Alexia Sweet Potato Fries
- 1/4 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. chili powder
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- dash of cayenne (optional)
Quick Pickled Cabbage
Refried Black Beans
- Recipe in The Minimalist Kitchen (pg. 186) or 2 cans storebought
Chipotle Mayo Sauce
- 1/4 c. high quality mayo
- 1 tsp. chipotles in adobo
- 1 tsp. fresh lime juice
- 8-12 corn tortillas, charred
- 1-2 diced avocados
- 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
- 1 jalapeño, sliced
- sprinkle of cotija
Make the fries. Bake the Sweet Potato Fries according to package instructions. Halfway through baking, add the cumin, chili powder, and salt. Carefully stir to coat, and return to oven to finish baking.
Make the quick pickled cabbage. This can be done 1 month in advance. Feel free to sub in radishes or red onions in the pickling solution.
Make the refried black beans. This can be done 4 days in advance. Reheat just before serving.
Make the chipotle mayo sauce. Stir together all the sauce ingredients. This too can be made in advance. Store in fridge and shake (or stir) well before serving.
Prepare the garnishes. Heat to tortillas over a gas flame until charred. Place in a tortilla warmer or cover in a kitchen towel to steam. (If working on an electric cook top, cook in a preheated hot pan.) Prepare remaining toppings. To serve, add a generous shmear of refried black beans to the tortilla. Top with a handful of sweet potato fries and pickled cabbage. Add remaining garnishes as desired, plus a drizzle of sauce.
My sister made spicy pepita seeds once when we were visiting, and I think they'd be really nice on this taco as added crunch. Here's a recipe to try.
TO FIND ALEXIA NEAR YOU
Head this way. If you’re in Minneapolis, you can find it at Co-ops, Whole Foods, Target, Lunds & Byerlys, and Cub.