Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Learn something new!

Books, TikToks, and vodka sauce.

Illustration by Rodney Lambright II.

Books, TikToks, and vodka sauce.

Welcome to March, dear readers. The icy grip of winter is slowly releasing and I am ready for something new. This semester I’m teaching a new class where I assigned some things I hadn’t read before. It’s been a delight to read new articles and books that make fireworks go off in my brain, that make me think hard, learn, grow, and change. Now, I know I’m a nerd. You can’t get a PhD without being one, but I truly love learning. For a lot of people, that’s not true and it’s often because of how learning is shaped in the context of American schools, a banking model aimed at passing a standardized test divorced from the value of that information in the larger world (not to mentioned over-crowded classrooms with underpaid teachers and staff). Maintaining my love of learning as an adult has been about one main thing: how will taking in this information be useful or beneficial to me, my relationships, and my communities?

If reading is the way you like to learn, I highly recommend going to A Room Of One’s Own. They are so good at helping folks find the perfect books for them. Outside of the books I read for work, I’m a fan of self-help and skill-building books of all sorts. I’m always trying to be my highest and best self so learning is central to that. Some books that have been especially useful or influential to me over the years include:

  • The Money Book For The Young, Fabulous And Broke by Suze Orman taught me the basics of budgeting, saving, and retirement planning in my early twenties.
  • Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab was recently recommended by my couple’s therapist and has been transformative for how I interact and communicate with people around me.
  • The Body Is Not An Apology and The Body Is Not An Apology Workbook by Sonya Renee Taylor guided me through deepening my self-love and self-care practices.
  • The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy is a classic non-monogamy text that changed my world in my late twenties when I began to explore polyamory. I recommend it to anyone who thinks they want to move away from heteropatriarchal norms of romantic/sexual relationships, even if they are sexually monogamous.
  • Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown gave me the language and framework of pleasure activism that now grounds most of the work that I do professionally and interpersonally. I do have an essay in it, so clear bias on this one.

But books aren’t the only way to learn. Thanks to Al Gore’s Internet you have a plethora of ways to learn from extensive YouTube videos to quick yet effective TikToks. Following food social media accounts has really helped inspire and improve my cooking game. Most recently the algorithm has been showing me a lot of pasta, so I tried making a spicy vodka sauce from scratch. After watching many TikToks, I consulted a few recipes and blended aspects I liked to make this version. Now I have the joy of knowing how to make one more dish I really enjoy at home!

Photo by Sami Schalk.

Look What I Can Do! Spicy Vodka Sauce Pasta

  • Pasta of your choice (bigger pasta like penne or fusilli works best IMO) cooked in salted water (save at least 1 cup of pasta water)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 diced medium white onion
  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1/2 of a 6oz can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp vodka (any is fine, just not flavored, that would probably not be fine)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 to 4 tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper


  • Fresh basil, roughly torn
  • Protein of your choice (I made this twice, but only took pictures once, so the picture has some shredded rotisserie chicken breast in it. Fresh mozzarella torn into bite sized pieces is a great vegetarian option.)

First cook some pasta and save the pasta water. While that’s happening, heat your olive oil in a high-edged pan over medium heat. Add your diced onion and some salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or two then add the garlic and cook until the onions are soft. Next add your tomato paste, stirring fairly regularly, until it turns a brick-red color. Turn to medium-low.

On medium-low, stirring consistently, add the vodka until it’s absorbed into the mixture in the pan. Then add your heavy cream and 1/4 cup pasta water. Once everything is evenly blended in the pan add the Parmesan and crushed red pepper. Stir again until blended then add your butter and stir some more. If the sauce ever feels too thick, add more pasta water. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper (or a little cayenne pepper if you want it even spicier) until it’s where you want it. Creamy, rich, and spicy! Finally, blend in your drained, cooked pasta and combine everything. Top with fresh basil and your protein to serve to fellow badass bitches only. Happy learning. Happy eating. Happy almost spring.

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