Butternut squash, sage and ricotta calzones with hazelnut crust (or, Hot Pockets for dignified adults).

This is a tale of two underdogs: butternut squash and calzones. The first sidelined by its latte-plundering brethren; the second chronically, confusingly overlooked. In a world where Hot Pockets can turn a profit, I can think of no reason calzones aren’t killing it. Made in miniature, they’re a handheld dream for packed lunches or frozen dinners. A dignified way to dough on the go.

My epiphany came at Emily, a Clinton Hill pizzeria. The pies hit the spot, but the real star was the s’mores calzone that’s become the restaurant’s calling card (or at least its face on Instagram). It’s exactly what it sounds like: a full-size pizza topped with dark chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, folded and baked until charred on the outside and molten within. I mean. It’s just rude to serve something like that after a meal. Next time, I’m getting one for dinner.

In the meantime, I’d like to keep things a little (a little!) more sensible. So I stuffed my homemade calzones with the flavors of fall: butternut squash, sage and lush roasted garlic ricotta, all wrapped in a hazelnut crust.

These are a hard sell. I get it. There’s homemade pizza dough (yeast! Toasted nuts ground into powder!), pre-cooked veggies, and serious wrist calisthenics. The good news is that I made them four times, and start to finish, they’re ready in two hours. If you can’t commit to that, the dough and the squash can both be made ahead, trimming assembly to 30 minutes. The best news is that they’ll keep for months in your freezer — meaning if you put in the time now, you’ve got seven deliciously dignified Hot Pocket nights ahead.

Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta Calzones

I am not a precise cook. This is not a precise recipe. The only thing you should be measuring is the dough, which I’ve broken out separately below. What’s key is slicing the squash into thin, layerable strips and letting the garlic soften to where you can mash it with the ricotta. These cook quickly in a hot oven, which keeps the dough from drying out — and don’t skip that last oil rubdown, okay? Does a body good. Flavors by Martha; form by Emily; engineering by me.

1 butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
1 head garlic
1 recipe Hazelnut Pizza Dough (below)
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh sage leaves, torn into small pieces
A handful of finely ground yellow cornmeal
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Heat oven to 400. Peel and slice squash, toss with a few glugs of olive oil, arrange in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt. Lop off the end of the garlic so the cloves are exposed (no need to peel them), drizzle with oil, and wrap in foil. Bake for 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make your dough. Let it rise on top of your warm oven while the veggies roast. When it’s doubled in size (about an hour), divide into eight balls.

3. Mash the roasted garlic (squeeze from the bottom and it’ll ooze right out) into the ricotta. Add the sage, a healthy pinch of salt, and cracked black pepper to taste. I added five cracks per calzone. Say crack again. Crack.

4. Grease two baking sheets lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pat dough balls into 4×8″ ovals (four should fit on each sheet). On one half of each oval, layer a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, a few slices of squash, another blob of ricotta, and more squash. Fold the unloaded halves over and press edges firmly to close.

5. Rub sealed dough balls with olive oil. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Eat and feel dignified.

Hazelnut Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water (110 degrees. Think bathwater, not tea water. Would you give it to a baby?)
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
Heaping 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and cooled
1 ½ teaspoons salt

1. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast. Stir and set aside. If it doesn’t look foamy and rebellious in 10 minutes, start over.

2. Pulse hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until finely ground. A few nubs are fine, but it should be mostly sandy in texture. If you get to the nut butter stage, start over. (And put that ish on some toast tomorrow morning.)

3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, ground hazelnuts and salt. Pour yeast mixture and olive oil over top, and stir until a dough forms. At this point, knead on a floured surface, or do what I do and push it around in the bowl, adding flour until it Feels Like Pizza Dough. Very technical term. You should mess with it for a good 5-8 minutes, and you’ll probably add another 1/4 cup of flour.

And you know what? If you wanted to halve the filling, I bet leftover hazelnut dough would make a killer s’mores calzone. Just do yourself a favor and don’t eat dinner first. It’s the adult thing to do.

The gentrified side of the street.

This one.

I live in what brokers would call a “up-and-coming” area. (There’s no G-word in Brokerese.) It’s scrappy, but not slummy — a true neighborhood, with enough general stores and Pinterest-y cafes to feel sufficiently Brooklandia. I’m feet from fast trains to and from the island, blocks from Prospect Park and downtown, and minutes from dollar oysters and expertly made Manhattans at my spot around the corner. The essentials, you know?

For as much as we love to hate on the G-word — and as ill its effects on longtime residents who can no longer pay the rent — it’s not all bad news. Gentrification is as much about the cop stationed outside the ATM as the landing of Starbucks (for the record, we’re all mad about that). It’s a conscious effort the city makes to improve communities formerly underserved and overrun by crime. As intended, it makes life better for everyone.

But it’s a process, and not without its tensions along the way. My block pays witness to that: one side new-age gentry, the other a raucous bastion of hood. I’ve never felt personally threatened, but I’ve spent a few nights tossing and turning in my front-facing apartment as the street action raged into the wee hours. 2am. 3am. 4am. Good God, are these people still awake, filling the night with cackled obscenities? I were true gentry, I’d huffily slam the window and swan back into my air-conditioned apartment. As it is, I need the breeze.

So I hear a lot. A lot of “fuck you,” a lot of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” and a lot of open-window domestic disputes. The vibe errs more rowdy than violent, but a few sound effects have made me wonder if I was turning a blind eye — or pillow-smothered ear — on humanity. A recent night left no doubt in my mind that something was off. I awoke to a dreadful chorus: rhythmic hoots, piteous feline yowling, and shouts of, “My money’s on the black one!”

I cracked. I called 911, slurring a half-conscious explanation from under my covers. In the moment, I knew I was doing the right thing. This wasn’t about stifling the community. It was about protecting it from destruction that arose — however organically — from patterns that could and should be changed.

By the time the cops came, the crowd had dispersed, but the guttural meows had not. No arrests were made, to my knowledge. The cats were removed from the scene. I wasn’t contacted for more information, but by then I was far from sleep, so I made bread pudding. The next day, my girlfriends came over for brunch. What a princess, right? Why don’t I go back where I came from?

That’s not the solution. Nor is my keeping my mouth shut when shit gets real. And that’s the undisclosed cost of life on the gentrified side of the street — a responsibility to see the evolution through. What’s more, I can’t expect my catfighting neighbors to see things my way, no matter how pleasantly we wave as I pass in my business-casual attire. Things look different from over there. One man’s cup of sugar is another’s trod-on petunias.

There’s nothing to do but wave when the waving’s good, and follow my gut when it’s not. And to know that being neighborly isn’t as simple as doling out bread pudding. Luckily, we’re moving into a season when I can close the window. I just hope we can find a way to keep the door open.

Roll with the parsnips.

You may recall my sordid affair with a guy named Joe. At the height of my lust, I’d have walked 20 blocks out of my way just to see him for five minutes. Only now, nearly six months past our expiration date, can I see how strange and lopsided our relationship was.

I’d have been glad to get in and get out, but Joe wouldn’t let me off that easy. Every tryst was an ordeal that would monopolize my day. He’d force me to come at weird hours — early Saturday morning, say, or late Tuesday night. I showed up one Friday evening after work, and he made me wait outside. He was “at capacity.” Whatever that means.

I’d draw lines before I went in, but always found myself pushed over them. He’d murmur sweet nothings like “cookie butter” or “two-buck chuck” — and I’d obey, even though I was fairly sure I wasn’t that kind of girl. When I wanted to leave, there was always a fuss. I’d spend as long getting out the door as I did with Joe in the first place.

And you know what? His zucchini was not that impressive.

Joe and I have parted ways. I don’t miss him. These days, I don’t buy much at any grocery store </metaphor!!!>. I’ve become the kind of yuppie who loyally sources her artisan foodstuffs and, on Saturdays, rises and shines for the Greenmarket — where you’ll find me squeezing tomatoes, stroking chard and rooting around for the eggs with the best color scheme. Because priorities.

Priorities.

Or I try, anyway. Because farmer’s marketing does not come naturally to me. I’m a meal planner, a recipe reader, a multi-tracked-grocery-list-maker. What’s more, I’m old-fashioned at heart. I feel guilty squeezing your tomatoes and taking someone else’s home. I grow anxious letting a handsome pile of produce beguile me into a plan — I’d sooner arrive with one in mind.

But I’d like to be the kind of person who shops at farmer’s markets. And slowly but surely, I’m learning to roll with the parsnips. Even the man-made impulse buys rarely fall short — I cave to wine-soaked cheese or duck prosciutto, and with minimal effort, I eat like a queen. The only loser is my ever-expanding list of Ambitious Kitchen Projects. But that’s a list that only I can see. And honestly, the market’s plan is usually better than mine.

Joe, you can go shave your back now.

My cooking habits have also evolved. I no longer live on quinoa and cake, though I still appreciate both. I’ve come to relish crafting and plating bona fide grown-up meals, as well as cooking “off the book” as it moves me. I still bookmark, but I mainly use recipes as a starting point. The more practice I get, the more “me” my cooking becomes, and the more I favor simple dishes that let fresh ingredients shine.

The downside is that unless I’m entertaining, I rarely get to share. It’s natural to pawn off a cookie; not so much a scoop of pumpkin chili or or honey balsamic pulled pork. I scale down or freeze things so I don’t have to eat on repeat, but sometimes the results are so good I just want to high five people. Or at least have a tester confirm that we do, in fact, have a hit.

Cast-iron masterpizza. High fives all around.

One day, we’ll all have a dinner party. Until then, let’s cook together from afar. Look out for the “Market Meals” tag in upcoming posts, which will feature creative, accessible takes on whatever’s made its way from the ground to me. I’m excited to share what’s on my plate, and maybe even a few long-distance high fives.

Cookin’ (almost) freehand to the seasons: It’s what’s for dinner. Now explain why it took me so long to wise up on Joe.

Baby teeth.

Hey, parents of the world. It’s me. The stranger staring at your baby. More blatantly than I could ever stare at a full-grown human. Maybe making faces. Maybe just staring, neutral until both of us find an honest face.

C’mon, guys, be cool.

I do know it’s impossible to fake-smile at a baby. Go ahead, try your subtle ugly out on someone under three feet tall. Actually, don’t. Flashing an imposter smile at a baby feels perverted, like telling them Santa isn’t real.

Reflexively, they smile back at first. But they always catch on, round cheeks melting, confusion clouding that baby glow. What is this labored expression with no life behind the eyes? their own searching ones say. Am I doing it wrong? They couldn’t imitate it if they tried.

I’m sorry, you want me to what?

Babies know what’s up. It’s a ludicrous notion — forfeiting participation in your face. I love life most when I smile, and life loves me right back. But I don’t always have a smile in me, and in those moments, I wish I could make like a baby and just stare until something moves me. Or scream and squirm and pound and gag until everyone around me is all OH NO HOW CAN WE FIX THIS and the non-baby people decisively see themselves out.

As babies know, that’s exhausting. Nothing is ever worth screaming about for very long. It’s only a matter of time before they’re back around to smiles and everyone’s all gah, a baby! And baby’s all hey, girl. Let me see ya grillz.

I win.

It’s not in our nature to go through the motions. I know because babies don’t do it. They know better. We all did, at one point. The smiles find us, if we let them. If they don’t, we use our tiny, mighty wills to make it right.

Babies remind me to trust the cycle. To opt for curiosity over indifference. To make my default mode delight and not disdain. Cling to your smile like your life depends on it, babies. Know that, at the very least, your happiness does.

And that’s not even edible.

So that’s why I’m staring, parents. Don’t worry, I’m harmless. Just in search of an honest smile. Do your thing. I’ll be right here staring at your baby. Please let me. Please let your baby make me better at being grown.

Words on words.

It just happens to be the way I’m made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them. That’s Murakami, but also it’s me. All I know of myself — my formative moments, my views on The Issues, my coffee order — I learned by putting it in writing. Sometimes I say things and walk away knowing only that I disagree with them. I scribble my truth and make a retraction. Next time, I’m prepared to quote my most articulate self.

It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting, and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. That’s Lady Gaga, but also it’s me. And damn, does it get messy. My mind sketches in black and white. My soul insists on gray. My body lets loose an unfettered stream of color. We push and pull and pile it on until a blank canvas seems like the solution — but the war would start again there, leaving artless half-life in its wake. Better to chip away the paint to the intention and lay a dappled topcoat that transforms the old mistakes. I’m a perfectionist, uncomfortable with works in progress. But even I know progress kicks the other option’s ass.

All the power in the world comes from the words of those that lived before us. That’s Raymmar Tirado, who wrote a syndicated blog post called “7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life.” I’ve stashed that clickbait in a note on my phone for months. It lights a fire on days when I’m sad, soggy driftwood. Is that power? I’d say yes. That one’s not me, though — not lately. And that’s because I’ve opted out.

Words are my livelihood. I write about parties and peonies and 15 genius ways to use a fork. But when it comes to #realtalk, I don’t always have the right words. Or I do, but at the wrong time. Or I do, but choose to speak them once aloud and let them fade, or siphon them into heady stasis when what I need is a gut check. OMG, your navel looks like mine! I thought I was the only one! Or, Girl, get out of your navel and look at your choices. Both are useful. Both are welcome. Both turn an indulgence into an exchange.

So that’s a lofty way of saying that I’d like to hang out here again. Because I’d rather write the wrong words than no words at all. Because I want to know me, and I hope that my knowing me can mean that you know you. When I don’t have the words, I’ll borrow them and trust that they’ll embolden rather than eclipse me. Words, at their most powerful, don’t belong to anyone.

I love a manifesto. I had almost forgotten. Thank goodness I wrote it down.

Three cheeries.

Hi there, fancy folks! (Wall down, wall down!)

Look like all that DDPing led to some good karma, because I just landed a full-time gig writing and editing in the service of a certain domestically inclined former inmate (hint, hint). BITE is alive and well, but my presence around here may be sparse while I ease back into the 9 to 5 routine. We all know work-life balance is not my strong suit (pregaming the gym, anyone?).

In the meantime, I wanted to get Britney’s bald head off the top of this page, because I’m feeling anything but desperate at the moment. So in the spirit of health and happiness, enjoy some organic cheeries on me:

The cheeriest.

Because organic weepies are out of season, ya hurd?

What’s got you feeling fresh and excited?

Dance-perate times.

On a scale from one to Britney, this week is 2007.

Me.

I know I’m not supposed to flaunt my disasters on The Internet, so while I think we passed propriety when I decided to talk about excrement, I’mma stick with second-person narrative today. Just know it’s been one for the books. Or blogs, I suppose, once the wounds aren’t so fresh. I’m okay, but I think the universe is trynna give me some perspective. Oh, universe. Always trynna.

I’ve been chanting clichés like it’s my job. All’s well that ends well! Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel! Funnily enough, tweeting these vague, “inspirational” statements actually was my job when I worked in women’s empowerment. I’m not big on quotes, myself – I’d prefer that my words derive their significance from me alone – and I’d sooner turn to YouTube than Chicken Soup for the Soul. Because when you’re minutes from losing faith in humanity and yourself, you don’t want to hear that tough times don’t last, but tough people do! You want to do the adult thing and pour whiskey into a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. At 11:42am.

And dance.

Somewhere amidst my high highs and low lows, I perfected the art of the Desperate Dance Party (henceforth referred to as DDP). My DDP habit saw me through heartbreak, all-nighters, heartbroken all-nighters, and more Jason Derulo choruses than I’ll willingly disclose. This is The Internet, after all. I have a reputation to uphold. (Ridin’ solo, ridin’ solo!)

Any halfhearted hand jive will release a few endorphins, but not all DDPs are created equal, and nor are the divas who inspire them. Before engaging in any DDP, you must answer a few questions: How desperate am I right now? Do I feel shaving-my-head insane, or just a little bit plastic baggy? Have I taken any mind-altering substances? Is my roommate home? Are my neighbors home? Do I want to punch a wall? Would a person do the trick? Is this a feasible alternative? Just how many bottles of Mike’s do I have on hand?

Once you evaluate, choose your soundtrack, and don’t hold back. Also, lay off the combo high-knees-one-two-punch. That’s my move.

The Emma Aubry Roberts Scale of Dance Party Desperation

Or, Top 40 for those who feel hopelessly, spastically lost in the world.

Level One: Beyoncé. What? you cry, outraged. Beyoncé, at the bottom of this list? Here’s the tragic thing about Beyoncé: Nothing. She’s a perfect specimen with no place in your pathetic life right now. A BDP is a beautiful thing, but save it for Keg night with your gurlz.

Level Two: K. Perry. Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? I do, and it’s a specific, schizophrenic strain of desperation. Katy kills it for capital-M Moods where you don’t know what you’re all worked up about, but your teenage dreams have been crushed and you need to do ponies/grapevines/angry bicycle crunches until you feel like a firework again. Go ahead, get hot ‘n’ cold. Unleash your inner extraterrestrial. And next Friday night, do it all again.

Level Three: Robyn. Now we’re talking. If your desperation stems from romantic troubles, “Dancing on My Own” is an obvious choice (see one of the most iconic scenes from Girls’ first season), but don’t underestimate the healing power of “Time Machine” and “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What To Do.” This is some next-level, feeling-all-the-feelings shit. Move your body in ways you never thought possible. Then call your girlfriend. It’s time you had the talk.

Level Four: Gaga. Say what you will about Lady G, but know this: She gets it. She gets caught in bad romances with men named Alejandro (I mean, really?), then puts on her poker face and marries the night cuz she was born this way. Whatever awful, destructive thing you did, Gaga did it first and probably better, so quit whining and just dance. It’s gonna be okay. You’re on the edge of glory. And everyone knows you like it rough.

Level Five: Britney, bitch. Forever stronger than yesterday, no one can dance her way to a comeback quite like Brit. She’s the ultimate symbol of resilience; the queen of white-walled, windowless dancehall glory. Motherhood has only taken her music from slutty to sluttier, and jazz squares to “(You Drive Me) Crazy [The Stop Remix]” are as timeless as mountain climbers to “Womanizer,” which prove no less satisfying than moonwalking in circles to “Piece of Me.” Scream, and shout, and let it all out. Keep dancing till the world ends. It gets better. Your hair might even grow back, too.

* “Starships” gets an honorable mention (I recommend it for those at the Katy level), as does any intersection of Sia and D. Guetta (“Titanium” and “She Wolf ” are the move here). Remember, though, a DDP candidate must satisfy different needs than your Sweaty Gym Jamz and Songz 4 Puttin’ Mah Sequin Topz On (yes, these are real playlists, as are Feeling Sry 4 Myself and ~*~SeXiiTiMe~*~). The juvenile punctuation is optional, but the anguish is not. Work yourself up. Dance your way back. Beyoncé will still be there when you return.

** Yeah, I listen to pretentious indie shit, too. These is desperate times.

And on that note, I’m off to Chicago for a soul-soothing weekend with some of my favorite people. If experience is any indication, Katy, Robyn, Gaga and Britney will still be there when I return. Oh, divas. Always trynna.

Do you DDP? What’s your jam? Your signature move?