A Collective Sigh


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.

watercress
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 soup!
This novel

This beautiful cookbook

1 satsuma tangerine
This article

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.~

Watercress Soup

Watercress Soup

  • Yield: 6 servings
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 35 mins
  • Total time: 50 mins

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.

Ingredients

2 bunches watercress, stems and leaves separated
8 cups storebought chicken stock or rich chicken stock * (see note below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
I yellow onion, finely chopped
1 waxy potato, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
salt and pepper, to season
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Instructions

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.

Comments

  1. Sam @ The Second Lunch

    I've had my eye on this watercress soup since the moment that I got that issue of Canal House! I'm so glad you made it, I think I'll do the same soon. (I also adore that Maggie's Harvest. Sometimes I go to the shelf just to stroke it.)

    1. megang

      Boy, Sam...Maggie's Harvest. I don't even know where to start. My Sam got it for me as a Christmas gift and I'm almost scared to cook from it. So beautiful. I think you'll love the soup. It's wonderful + simple. Happy New Year!

  2. Kathryn @ Dramatic Pancake

    I definitely agree with you on the "collective sigh" that happens between Christmas and New Years. It's really nice to take a breath along with everyone else and have the chance to recharge. I also had a pretty non-crazy New Years Eve, but in the best way possible. Barely made it to midnight (and felt a bit old for it!), but still had a great time at a friend's party. This soup looks delicious -- just the sort of clean, simple food I'm craving these days as we start off 2012... :)

  3. Rachael

    I am more than excited for 2012, and what is to come for you! Like you, I needed to do something today. You - stock. Me - loaves and loaves of bread in the freezer for the coming weeks. Maybe some for you and Sam to enjoy on your next trip north!

  4. Sarah

    Lovely. Perfect night and beautiful stock. We're reading the same book and read the same article today : ).

  5. la domestique

    I am so into this soup recipe! I'm thinking of doing a version with Thai rice noodles. Homemade chicken stock does make the dish.

  6. Anna

    I agree that the week between christmas and the new year is a special week, best for enjoying slowly and richly. It is nice to have that time to transition, reflect and think ahead to starting a new year. I am also a fan of enjoying new years eve in whatever way feels best, no need to stay out late or do anything huge, just enjoy it.

  7. Denise | Chez Danisse

    A beautiful post, Megan. Yes, I know exactly what you are describing. I felt the magic of this quiet week more this year than others. It's been a special time. Cheers.

  8. Kris

    Happy New Year to you! Wonderful musings to start the year. I'm off to get soup ingredients this afternoon.

  9. Janet

    I love the week between Christmas and New Years! Totally one of my favorites - it just seems fun and lazy and exciting and sparkly, without any of the drama of the actual holidays.

    Loved (almost) ringing in the New Year with you. Here's to 2012, our best year ever.

    PS: We totally forgot to take pictures. No evidence of the fascinator!

    1. megang

      Janet: We're fired from picture-taking. Gosh, we even talked about it beforehand! I think the pimento cheese skewed my judgement for the rest of the evening. Loved (almost) ringing it in with you, too!

  10. Kasey

    I spent this NYE with my family...the first time in a long time. And because my parents' house was full of visiting family, we had to drive back to the city. It was just Matt and I driving back, and I felt really at peace about it all...No big crazy bar night. No hangover. Instead, we spent the 1st taking a long walk to the beach and back through the park, and in this weird way, I felt both older and younger at the same time. I hope 2012 brings you lots of love and warmth, Megan. xo

    1. megang

      Kasey: that sounds so, so nice. I know a number of people who were at the beach on the 1st and said it was such a beautiful, quiet day. The no hangover part was a bonus, wasn't it? I was up and at 'em the next morning! Janet and I were actually talking about you that night, saying how we think 2012 is going to be a very big year for you and Matt. That's my prediction :) xox

  11. Dana

    Happy New Year Megan. The week between Christmas and New Year's is always bittersweet for me because I have all my boys home (and often the in-laws too) and while I think I should be enjoying all that family time, it often just stresses me out. Today is the day I get the house back to myself and I am so relieved. But I do appreciate the slowing down, the sense of having made it through something big, and hanging around the house.

  12. A Canadian Foodie

    What a beautiful written respite from the hustle and bustle about today. Love the mood, tone and voice of your piece. (Even though I do love year in review posts, reflecting and goal setting!) Your post today has wrapped me in a quite well spun homemade and very tasty hug.
    Happy 2012!
    :)
    Valerie

  13. sarah henry

    Happy New Year Megan! Your post was perfect for me, who compiled some of those "best of" lists for the second year in a row and feel somewhat burned out on the process. Think I'll go make myself a soothing pot of soup. Look forward to hearing all about your adventures in 2012.

    1. megang

      Oh, Sarah...If I were to read the Best Of's I'd be reading yours for sure (and I did, actually, and they were very good as they always are). Can't wait to catch up with you, too. Phone call incoming soon. xox

  14. kickpleat

    I wish I had made time for relaxing, but I figured I'd use the time to visit with friends who I rarely get to see over the border. It was worthwhile, totally, but I'd also have gladly spent time reading and putting around the house. My new years eve was lovely and quiet as they have been now for the past couple of years and I love it that way. I've got stock on the stove and it's one of my most favorite smells ever. It's swallowed the kitchen and I'm glad for it. I will get my hands on some watercress (which I've never had ever in my life. crazy).

  15. michela

    Dear Megan, thanks for your alawys inspiring posts, the Woody Guthrie's propositions for the new year are wonderful. To them I would add "speak out loud" cause I am often a person who has a world inside bit hardly finds difficult to share cause the lack of interest of others. I love your recipes and wish I had more time to try more.I am planning a trip to USA and would like to visit San Francisco,Portland and Seattle, do you think that September will be a good time?
    Thanks and greetings from Italy,
    Michela

    1. megang

      Hi Michela-
      September is the best time to visit San Francisco, actually. It's really our summer during Sept-Oct. And Seattle's just beautiful then, too. Cooler, probably, but beautiful. I think it's a lovely time to plan a visit. Thank you so much for stopping by and saying hello! ~M

  16. Chez Us

    Happy New Year! Just catching up on my reading - loved this post, as always. Your between week sounds perfect. I love that time as well, a little slower, time to reflex and organize. We aren't ones to make resolutions but instead we make goals or commitments to ourselves or each other to do better. Wishing you only the best in 2012!

  17. Katie Brown

    I just love seeing green, colorful dishes in the winter. Love it.

    Thanks for sharing,
    KB

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