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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)