First things first: thank you so, so much for all of your amazing solo-eating suggestions, and cooking-for-one book suggestions! I’m overwhelmed by your comments and emails…and dinner ideas. Where to begin? Grilled cheese, pasta with bacon, scrambled eggs for dinner…Yes, please. The majority of the advice I’ve gotten from family, friends, and you all here is that time continues on whether you like it or not. It just does. And through that, things get easier. I’m trusting you on this one.
I just finished re-reading The Hours a few nights ago. Have you read it? I think Michael Cunningham captures the intricacies of character, relationships and moments really beautifully. Towards the end of the novel, I found myself rereading this passage over and over:
“We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep–it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease, or if we’re fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.”
To me, this paragraph–in so few words–speaks to the human condition more than anything I’ve ever read. It’s hard. We lose friends and relationships and have difficulty finding our calling or our life’s passion. But then there are evenings when you look around the table at friends you haven’t seen for ten years and smile, or you bite into the perfectly crisp apple–or those mornings when a hot shower feels like a gift from the Gods. Those are the simple, ordinary moments that give us a gleam that hope is justified. So along with all of your fabulous meal suggestions, I’m going to seek out these moments like nothing else right now–the hours that give a glint (or a full on beam) of hope and light. And spring, sunshine in San Francisco, and asparagus in the markets helps, too. So onward, shall we?
It was a rather indulgent Easter week, so at the market yesterday I made a point to stock up on lots of kale, spinach, an unusually expensive artichoke (what the heck, Whole Foods?!) and some beautiful asparagus. At home, I consulted a new cookbook sent to me by the good folks at Southern Living for something interesting to do with the asparagus. The book is called Farmer’s Market Cookbook: a Fresh Look at Local Flavor, and it details seasonal, ingredient, market-driven recipes. I turned to the spring chapter and was struck by the simplicity of this soup: asparagus, broth, onion, lemon, thyme, milk, a little butter and sour cream. Spring in a bowl. I think you’ll like it.
Only make this soup when you can find really fresh, tender asparagus–nothing good about stringy asparagus soup. I adapted this recipe to make it lighter and wholly vegetarian, and added a bit more flavor with garlic, more lemon, and a dash of black pepper.
Adapted from: Southern Living Farmer’s Market Cookbook
Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus. Cut asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Combine asparagus with broth, onion, garlic, and 1/2 tsp. thyme in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Process asparagus mixture in batches using an immersion blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan.
Whisk flour and milk together in a small bowl until smooth. Add slowly to asparagus mixture, whisking until blended. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, continuing to stir for another five minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter, salt, 1/4 tsp. lemon zest, and remaining 1/4 tsp. thyme.
Combine sour cream, lemon juice, and remaining 1/4 tsp. lemon zest. Top each serving with about 2 tsp. of sour cream mixture. Garnish with thyme sprig.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.