The week between Christmas and New Years is kind of magical, isn’t it? A lot of people take it off from work, others put in half-days, and there’s a palpable slow down to the hustle and bustle. There are loads of laundry, long walks, lounging with new books, and wishing complete strangers a Happy New Year. Just because. It’s always seemed to me that there’s this collective hush or sigh — a kind of release and a relishing in the quiet.
For some reason this year, I’ve been really turned off by all of the “Best Of” lists. I don’t have cable so it’s easy to stay away from them in that regard, but all of the trend forecasts and list write-ups online have actually made me want to turn off the computer and hide. Many people have a need to clean up the tree the day after Christmas, put the ornaments away, get the recycling organized and the thank-you notes written. To assess last year quickly and to predict what the following year will bring. To move on. But I think the week inbetween Christmas and the New Year is an important one to just let everything settle back into place. The world won’t end if the tree is still up and, frankly, I love looking at the holiday cards still all propped up by the window.
Last night I went into the city to meet up with my friend Janet and celebrate New Years Eve together. Janet wore a fascinator (!) and we drank champagne and ate good olives, pimento cheese, and bits of fig cake at her apartment before heading out to a bar in North Beach. We drank more champagne. We scored a table and caught up. After a few hours, the bar started to seem really loud and it became apparent that we were older than most of the people there. There was a mutual agreement we couldn’t make it until midnight. And we were both o.k. with that. I hopped on BART and headed home with just enough time (11:56!) to get Sam on the phone. In years past, I might have felt funny about not staying out well into the night. But there was a really nice peacefulness about it all: good conversation at Janet’s, a remarkably quiet ride back to Oakland, and listening to Seattle fireworks over the phone followed by a good hour of 2012-style laughter.
So this morning, instead of going through the blog and doing a Highlights of 2011-type post, I made a rich chicken stock and turned it into a simple, colorful soup. As I sit here at my little kitchen table typing this now, I’m working on my second bowl. When I make vegetable soups, I tend to buy good-quality vegetable stock instead of making my own, but chicken soups deserve a rich, homemade stock. And there’s something about preparing one on New Year’s Day that just feels right — taking the remnants of a chicken and boiling it for hours until it becomes useful once more. Maybe a metaphor for the New Year, maybe just a smart idea so as to not have to think about lunch for the next few days. You choose. But it feels industrious and after I went to take out the trash this morning, I could smell the soup all the way down the hall.
I’ve been reading a lot about resolutions over the past few days, as you do this time of year. Do you write resolutions or intentions? I do them quietly in my head but I think there’s something powerful about writing them down, too. Sara mentioned how she and her husband Hugh verbally talk about their intentions to hold each other accountable for them. Sam mentioned doing something similar a few days ago and we have a Skype-Resolution-Date planned for this evening. Sometimes the part about resolutions that turns me off is the grand-ness of it all which is why I so appreciated reading Woodie Guthrie’s New Years Resolutions from 1942 (thank you, Sam). They’re simple: work more and better, dance better, make up your mind … you know, the basics. So today there is chicken-stock and thoughts of what I want the year to bring. I have some things to tell you about that. But let’s save that for just a bit, o.k.?
~A snapshot of today, the first day of 2012, so far:~
This marmalade on toast
The Sunday Times where I realized how far behind I am with Oscar movies this year.
Half a grapefruit with my new grapefruit spoon
This beautiful cookbook
1 satsuma tangerine
Thoughts of going on an afternoon run. Thoughts of not going on an afternoon run.
Cider-tea with a little Tuaca
~2012 is going to be a year full of change, new projects, and lots of heart. I can’t wait to share it all with you. Thank you for continuing to stop in and say hello here. It means the world to me. It really does.~
This recipe is from the Canal House Cooking series, volume 3. It’s a wonderful soup for this time of year because of its lack of extravagance. It’s basic and tasty — the kind of meal I’m looking forward to returning to in the coming weeks. I added green peas that I’d frozen in the height of their season months ago. You could use frozen peas, too, or just omit them altogether if you like. I added thinly sliced lemons at the very end. They look pretty, but they also impart a subtle, welcome brightness.
Simmer watercress stems in the stock in a medium pot for 15-20 minutes. Melt oil in another pot over medium heat, add onions, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes. Strain the stock into the pot with the potatoes (leaving the stems behind; discard stems). Cook over medium heat, 10-15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Finely chop watercress leaves and, along with the parsley, add them to the stock. Add peas and allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove soup from heat and lay in lemon slices. Serve as is or with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche.
*My Simple Approach to Chicken-Stock:
I take the carcass of 1 chicken I’ve roasted, put it in my 5-quart Dutch Oven and cover it with water (the water should exceed the top of the chicken by about 1-inch). Put it on a low simmer for around three hours. Every once and awhile skim the surface of the broth and throw out the murky foam that will come to the surface. After 3 hours, throw in a quartered onion and 3-4 chopped carrots and let it simmer an additional hour. If the water level gets low, feel free to add another cup or two of water. Strain and allow the broth to cool before using so you can skim off the fat before using. It is, however, perfectly o.k. to use it right away if you prefer or don’t have the time to let it cool completely. Discard the solid parts left behind.
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.