After we cleaned the kitchen and put away all the platters, I made myself a cup of tea and thought about what could be done differently. This Thanksgiving was our first year actually cooking and hosting and honestly, for two longtime ex-vegetarians, preparing a turkey feels like a pretty major task. The week before, we had family in town for Oliver’s first birthday party and between baking cupcakes, ordering helium balloons and thinking through a simple brunch menu for close to 50 people, I felt pretty spent as far as entertaining was concerned. So Sam took on all things turkey, and I made my cranberry sauce and pie Wednesday night. A good compromise. And yet, it still felt like a lot for some reason and I found myself pacing around the house throughout the day, deliberately staying out of the kitchen and wondering at what point in adulthood things feel more natural (if not actually seamless) when it comes to entertaining during the holidays.
I think for a lot of us, the holiday season can be more of a source of stress than we’d like to admit. Or I’ll just speak for myself. There’s this short window of time that I so look forward to all year: we string lights outside the house, and spend more time indoors cooking and listening to records. We have a mulled wine party that always guarantees steamy windows and tipsy friends, and I bake things I’d usually consider too decadent or time-consuming. But along with that comes the flip side: the pressure to find gifts for friends and family, get our holiday card done, manage a handful of social obligations, hit important holiday sales goals at Marge, purchase plane tickets, and on and on. All of those things take up a good chunk of the next month, but they’re rarely the things I remember nor are they the things I necessarily look forward to when I think about the holidays. So instead of pacing around for the next month feeling much like I did on Thanksgiving day, I want to take a step back.
There are a few ways that I’ve decided to force myself to pause this season, and I thought I’d share them here in case you need a self-enforced break, too. First off, I’ve been carrying Rescue Remedy Drops around in my bag and keeping a bottle next to our loose teas for those moments when things start feeling like a little too much. If you haven’t heard of Rescue, they’ve been around for a looooong time and make a variety of products, but I like the homeopathic drops the best for minor, everyday stress relief (and they don’t cost a fortune, which is a bonus this time of year). I just put a few drops in my tea or water (or coconut milk eggnog, as is the case here) and forge on.
I know some of you may already use meditation apps and I’m a little late to the party here, but I’ve fallen pretty hard for Headspace, and have been trying to remember to sit still once a day, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. A lot of the meditation advice I’ve heard encourages you to find a quiet, peaceful corner in the house and aim to start your day with uninterrupted time before things kick into gear — and I think that’s why I was pushing back against practicing for awhile: like most parents, I don’t have control over when my day starts and I certainly don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed and heading to my quiet, solitary meditation pillow. But I’ve tweaked things a bit and generally find time in the late afternoon to sit quietly, resetting my day and recalibrating things for the evening ahead.
Another little thing I’m finding helpful in managing everyday stress is trying really hard to work in exercise or walks with friends whenever I can. Living in Seattle you get used to dark days. It’s not as rainy as many people think but the winter is dark. So waiting until the weather is pleasant to head outdoors is something you have to let go. I remember when I first moved here, I thought it was so odd that people walked in the rain without umbrellas, completely unphased. Similarly, friends would meet up after work — in the dark — to get in a lap around the lake.
In addition to battling the diminishing light with walks and fresh air, I’ve also been trying to create more light: usually we string twinkly lights on the outside of the house for the holiday season, and this year we decided to bring them inside as well — I have a few strung in the dining room and I’m working on the mantle today. Deep breaths, walks, the light: All little things, really, but together I’m hoping they help make me feel more equipped to prioritize what’s most important this holiday season. As for this recipe: it seemed fitting to share something I’ve been making lately that is meant to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately. Eggnog isn’t really something you take a few quick swigs of on your way out the door: it’s meant to be savored and shared — so let’s. While I like real eggnog, I’ve long wanted to develop a coconut milk version because I love coconut milk and like to control the sweetness of my eggnog (some of the store bought stuff is so, so sweet). As a trifecta of stress relief, I’ve been sipping this lately with a few drops of Rescue Remedy (you can add it to hot or cold beverages) while sitting on the couch under our twinkling mantle lights. I’m not getting anywhere with that holiday card yet, but I am feeling a little slower, more intentional, and more deliberate with the days so far. I hope you are, too.
I wanted this dairy-free eggnog to be naturally sweetened (but not too sweet) and to taste much like traditional eggnog, so there’s a nice balance between coconut sugar and maple syrup and a generous hand with the nutmeg. I love coconut sugar because it’s unrefined and has a slightly dark, caramelly flavor profile, which feels just right here. It’s best served cold right out of the fridge and is pretty decadent, so a little goes a long ways.
Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a medium pot over medium-high heat. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, coconut sugar, salt, maple syrup and vanilla until smooth.
Gradually whisk the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture, streaming it in slowly as you go so as not to cook the eggs. Pour the mixture back in the pot and cook over medium heat until thick, stirring to avoid burning, about 2-3 minutes.
Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and up to overnight. To serve, pour into your favorite cups and grate nutmeg on top.
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.