Remember when you started middle school and didn’t really know what to expect or what kind of shoes the other kids would wear or how the heck to open a damn locker? But within a matter of days you kind of slyly studied the older kids out of the corner of your eye and put together the pieces pretty quickly? Well the thing about a long-distance relationship is there aren’t really any older kids to study closely and teach you exactly how it all goes down. I guess I should back up and say that I have a few wonderful friends (and so many of you who commented on the last post!), that have offered great advice and shining examples, but ultimately I think on this one — there’s much you must discover on your own. You have to account for two sets of schedules, different needs, and worries and joys. But you navigate, as you must. As you do.
For us, there have been some unexpected ways of doing this. Last week Sam asked me out on a date. Yep, he from Seattle and me down here in Oakland — we both had a lot of work to get done so we had a work date. I was writing about food, he was designing a website and we checked in on each other throughout the night, knowing that we’d talk at the end of it. And a few days ago, I was feeling a little restless with the day and Sam asked if I wanted to go on a walk with him. So he laced up his Seattle shoes, I laced up my Oakland shoes and off we went. On my walk, I saw a neighbor’s orange tree, lingering cherry blossoms, one outdoor wedding, two runners, one chubby squirrel, an impromptu soccer game and a curb-side barbecue. And I thought of Sam the entire time. And then there’s going to sleep at night. We plan our evenings so we’re getting into bed at the same time. There’s something comforting about it — reassuring and important in its own small way. With these things, the distance shrinks. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t say it collapses. But it shrinks. And for now, that’s what we’ve got.
The thing about planning your evenings in this way is that there are some late nights. Sometimes, there’s just a lot to say and that can easily stretch into the wee morning hours. Or sometimes there’s not a lot to say and it still manages to stretch into the wee morning hours. I’ve pretty much stopped drinking too much wine after dinner and bourbon’s out completely or I’d be asleep by 8 p.m. So instead,I’ve been making homemade chai. It has just enough caffeine, is warmly spiced and a tiny bit smoky. I’ve come to look forward to it.
I started making this chai after visiting Samovar Tea Lounge a little while back, a wonderful tea shop and cafe located on a quiet, leafy San Francisco street across from the Zen Center. I met up with my friend Anne who writes a beautiful blog, just wrote a book (!), and has recently gotten engaged to her love, Sean. We sat over two cups of chai tea in the early afternoon and talked about the city, writing, and love. After leaving, I set about to try and duplicate Samovar’s version on my own. For nights with Sam. For late mornings after the coffee pot has been put to rest. For any old time.
Now I know it may seem like a pain to go out and buy spices that you don’t have on hand just to make tea that you could buy ready-made. But for me, there’s something about mixing up all the different spices and taking the time to brew the tea the old-fashioned way. Sure, it could be quicker; it could be easier. As could many of the really good, special, important things in life. But those are sometimes the things that are worth just standing and waiting a while, stirring, tending, steeping, brewing. As it often goes with friends, with tea, with love.
This recipe yields one cup of well-balanced, warmly-spiced Chai tea. Once you make it a few times, play around with the proportions until you get it just the way you really like it.
Pour water and milk into a small saucepan, and begin to heat on the stove-top over medium heat. Before the mixture comes to a boil, add the fresh ginger and remaining spices. When the spice mixture boils, add the loose-leaf black tea. Turn off the heat and let steep for 2-3 minutes. Pour through a sieve to strain out tea leaves and spices. Add the sweetener of your choosing, and pour into your favorite mug.
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.