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.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: