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.
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 always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
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.