The Longest Shortest Month

I’m not from here. It always comes up in February, when I’m mystified by the hardy native New Englanders who are skating on the pond (isn’t that dangerous?!) and throwing themselves down the sides of mountains (ditto?!) all giddy and rosy-cheeked, while I am cursing the impossible curbside piles of filthy snow that send me face-planting into parking meters when I am just trying to put quarters into them. I’m from Ohio, so I did grow up with real winters, but we’re in another category ovah heah.

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This springtime farmshare haul seems like a pipe dream.

Ah, February, home of some of the most disgusting, outright unfriendly weather the year has to offer! Those of us who don’t get to flee to the tropics during school vacation week get to juggle playdates with cabin-fevered kiddos and nurse our conspiracy theories about February vacation week being some sort of winnowing plot to make the non-natives lose their already-sweaty grip on the cliff-edge of sanity. Or maybe it’s a conspiracy to sell lots of wine—a fellow parent made the convincing argument this week that we should be allowed to hook up to an IV drip of Rioja until at least March 1.

IMG_5009All of which is to say that it’s totally bonkers that it’s Lent right now. PSA: it’s February. Don’t Give Up Anything. You need it all. And also to say, on the Pollyanna side of things, that soon the sugar shacks will open, their steamy barns overflowing with pancakes and flannel shirts, and the bulb show will open, redolent with hyacinths and weirdly sexy tulips. Not yet, but soon. Until then, I bring you: bacon, butter, and cheese.

 


 

Roasted Vegetables with Polenta and Poached Eggs. And Bacon.

Adapted from this recipe at The Kitchn, with amazing Crack Broccoli from Catherine Newman.

2 medium heads broccoli
1 lb cremini or baby bella mushrooms, halved
3.5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup polenta
2 cups water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
8 eggs
1 lb sliced bacon

Cook bacon:
Heat oven to 375. Place a metal cooling rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and lay your strips of bacon out on the cooling rack. (Yes, really! This works better than a broiling pan.) Bake about 12 minutes, depending on how thick your bacon is and how crispy you like it. You don’t need to turn the bacon, really! Hands-free bacon. Set it aside to cool.

Roast vegetables:
Turn the oven up to 475 and place a rimmed baking sheet in to heat.

Cut broccoli: The stems are fabulous here, so I like to do it this way: Peel the broccoli stem with a vegetable peeler. Trim off the woody end. Cut the stem in half, and trim the top into long-stemmed florets. Cut the remaining stem into french-fry-sized pieces. In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. (Don’t leave out the sugar, it really helps with caramelization.)

Slice mushrooms in halves or quarters so they’re about evenly sized, and toss them with another 2 teaspoons olive oil in a separate small bowl.

When the oven is up to temp, carefully pull out the hot baking sheet and dump the broccoli onto it. Use tongs to quickly spread them out, maximizing stem-to-pan contact where you can. Stick it back in the oven for 6 minutes. Toss the broccoli with tongs, then add the mushrooms and return to the oven for 3-4 more minutes.

Make polenta:
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Pour polenta into the simmering water, whisking all the while, add milk, and turn to low. Let the polenta slowly blubber and plop on the back burner with a lid half on it for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and the cheese. Stir until melted.

Make eggs:
Fry or poach eggs to your preferred doneness.

Serve:
Scoop out some polenta and roasted vegetables on each plate. Add bacon. I like to plop my eggs on top of my polenta. Maybe let the kids have some juice, even if it means they’ll bounce off the walls like ping pong balls. Serves 4.

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O What a Lovely Morning

At last we’ve got the coating of snow I’m used to here in New England, and it hasn’t yet turned all gray and impossible. In fact, fresh powder is magnifying today’s sun nearly to full sparkle mode. Even yesterday’s snow day was easy, since I already have Stella anyway on Mondays. The addition of Sophia meant they had each other to play with, and they happily traipsed upstairs and down, taking turns selling lollipops, mothering many dolls, teaching school, and being puppies. I could scarcely believe my good fortune. Minimal squabbling! We broke out the boo-boo buddy zero times! I mended a hole in a stuffed sheep’s armpit, drank coffee, folded laundry, mixed pizza dough, and roasted garlic. Later we baked cookies, read books, and had a singalong at the piano, like something out of Little Women. The whole time I’m thinking, What the hell? 

Getting a break from the constant uphill climb feels amazing, and scary, like the other shoe’s about to drop. But let’s not let the paranoiac win! Let’s just soak it up, bemused and wide-eyed and grateful. And let’s try to keep the ball rolling by starting tomorrow off with a good breakfast.


Pear and Almond Oatmeal

Serves 4 generously

2 cups rolled oats
4 cups water
1 large pinch salt
3 large ripe pears, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tsp cinnamon sugar or cardamom sugar

Combine oats, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer about five minutes, adding the pears in the last minute or two. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry skillet, stirring frequently, until you can just start to smell them. Stir the syrup and almond butter into the oatmeal and divide among four bowls. Sprinkle cinnamon/cardamom sugar and toasted almonds atop each and serve.

Kindness Soup

With so much bad news out there, sometimes the holidays felt like an exercise in cognitive dissonance to me. Gun violence, climate change deniers, the ever-present din of misogyny and racism (Jesus, the Tamir Rice grand jury), the unbelievable waste we generate as American consumers, infuriating corporate recklessness (fracking and DuPont are contributors to the landscape we revisited), and yes, the scapegoating of refugees and immigrants—all these broke through my attempts at Holly Jollyness and made it seem . . . not hollow. Just dissonant instead of harmonic. Disconnected instead of joined. Did this happen to you, too?

I still had plenty of moments where that menacing soundtrack receded and the joy shone through, and I’m extra grateful for those. Watching Sophia lay her head in her grandmother’s lap as they chatted on the sofa. Overhearing cackles from the kids table. Cousins giving rollerskatinIMG_5247g lessons in my parents’ basement. Stella’s giggles of delight with the dog. Chatting and laughing with J and my folks by candlelight after the power went out and turned off the TV for us. Those were all worth driving many miles for, and we’re so glad we did. I still somehow ended the holidays needing an injection of hope, something more to cling to than my resolutions to organize my pantry and drink more smoothies.

Many miles later, still stuffed with Christmas cookies and breakfast sausage, tired and laden with gifts, we pulled into a driveway covered with two inches of ice that even our neighbors couldn’t tackle for us. The next morning I set out with the girls to fill the empty fridge and chip away at the driveway, while poor J took to bed, the latest victim of the stomach bug that always seems to find us on this trip. In the midst of this harsh re-entry, our smiling neighbor Cinzia showed up. Her little boy was pulling a red wagon, delivering lentil soup. IMG_5330.JPGThey just figured we had come home to an empty fridge and could use some.

How beautiful and perfectly unexpected! This, to me, is the truest expression of kindness: filling a need that you had to look carefully to even find. The soup was amazing, so I pressed her for the recipe, then promptly made and delivered a batch for a family dealing with an illness. (We made oatcakes, too, of course.) I’m presenting it to you here with this instruction: find someone who needs it and share it with them.

It’s so small, this gesture. I’m not saying it’s enough, and I’m not saying it’s all we have, but I am saying it’s a step worth taking in a long and perpetual journey to healing the world. If you’re looking for hope, it’s possible to manufacture some in your own kitchen, in your own heart.

The kids, of course, are hope machines. They overflow with hope and joy and possibility, and they’re the reason for not giving up on any of it, and they’re the hope for fixing what’s gotten so twisted and inhumane.IMG_5254 I found a much-needed dose of January hopefulness when I brought Sophia and her friend Sophie to their Local Chorus rehearsal. I choked back tears listening to 40 little kids singing “this little light of mine/ I’m gonna let it shine” and “when I find myself in times of trouble/ Mother Mary comes to me” and then laugh with joy at they way they belt out: “It’s the hammer of justice! It’s the bell of freeeeee-edom! It’s a song about love! between! my brothers and my sisters! Aaaallll over this LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!”

You know, the word Amen can be translated as “let it be” or “so be it.” Well, Amen to all that.

People of January, let’s find some kids to listen to. And let’s make some soup for people. Keep your spark alive in this gray time, and look, look, look for ways to fan the flame.


Kindness Soup

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miracle of mirepoix

You have your marching orders. Make and share. Cinzia’s a marvelous, intuitive cook, so she gave me this recipe as just a list of ingredients; I’ve adapted the quantities and such, but it’s a very flexible recipe and could handle plenty of variations. As written, it serves at least 8.

1/3 cup olive oil (I probably should’ve gone for the 1/2 cup, since Cinzia wrote “lots of olive oil” and she is Italian)

2 cups chopped onion

2 cups chopped carrots

1.5 cups chopped celery

6 cloves garlic, crushed or minced

3 cups lentils (I used french green lentils, but brown work too)

15-ounce can diced tomatoes (Cinzia used chopped cherry tomatoes, which I think would be sweeter and fresher!)

2 tsp sea salt

2 quarts water (or 1 quart vegetable broth and 1 quart water)

5 sprigs of fresh thyme tied with string (optional)

Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in the olive oil until your house smells heavenly, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 3 more minutes or so. Add the lentils, tomatoes, salt, water/broth, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, partially covered, for an hour (or if you are using a dutch oven with a nice heavy lid, you can put that lid on and transfer your pot to a 350 degree oven). Share.

 

 

Noodles and Eggs

Well, you guys, it’s taken me all week to get this post finished. It was one of those weeks—the kids passed a fever back and forth which has now landed squarely on me (waaah), and all plans, best-laid or otherwise, toppled like dominoes.

Oddly enough though, I already knew I was going to write about things gone awry. Mostly we get derailed and frustrated by small things, and I find myself thinking, “as soon as X crisis is over and we get Y under control, I can really start to Z.” It’s taken me years to realize that the variables X and Y are just that, variables with an infinite number of possible substitutions, and that if we are waiting for the black hole of quietude to emerge from the chaos, we are not only never going to get to Z, we’re going to miss the whole beautiful chaotic universe. If we focus only on the fact that the kid is drawing on the wall, we miss that this is the first time she’s ever drawn a face. And that said drawing comes complete with a scribble she points to and says, “that’s his throw-up!” You know—this is the good stuff.

That said, I am all about finding comfort, soothing our rumpled egos when our plans get trampled yet again.

One of my favorite meals as a kid was Noodles and Eggs. This is not, as Google might suggest to you, a pasta frittata with some parmesan, or stir-fried ramen with eggs and soy sauce (though those sound pretty good), but rather cooked egg noodles tossed into a buttered skillet, a few eggs hastily cracked in, sprinkled with garlic salt, and plunked in front of happy kids, usually with a jar of applesauce on the side. There’s a passing resemblance to lazy pierogi, but only if you could call it “extra lazy extra simple lazy pierogi.” I clearly remember happy shouts going up the times my sisters and I asked about dinner and were told it was Noodles and Eggs.

Flash forward to my thirties, when I got interested in making things like red wine mushroom sauce or balsamic strawberries (ah, the late ’90s!), and I asked my mom how to make Noodles and Eggs. She burst out laughing. “What do you want to make Noodles and Eggs for?” She explained that Noodles and Eggs was “Depression food,” what you made when there was no time or energy for anything else, or you were eking out another day or so before the next paycheck and grocery run.

“Really?” I asked, and explained to her how much I loved Noodles and Eggs, that it was a comfort food to me, and I’d never seen anyone else make it. I haven’t thought of them for a long time since then.

Then Monday happened. Poor Stella was nearly impossible to extract from her nap so we could drive across town and pick up second grader Sophia. I carried her downstairs, still shoeless and sleepy, and strapped her protesting frame into the car seat, already running behind. While trying to parallel park at our (beautiful old) downtown school building with no parking lot, I promptly got blasted by road rage. The driver behind me yelled, revved her engine, and promptly pulled left around me, up over the sidewalk, roaring across the grass over to the street corner, causing another mom to yank her kids out of the way. Shaken, I reported the incident to the police, in disbelief that adults could behave that way in a schoolyard.

Finally, ten minutes after the bell, I put Stella’s shoes on and pulled her across the playground to find Sophia. There she was, running toward us, crying. Oh no, I thought. She was worried because we were so late. “I have the chills!” she sobbed. It was her turn to have the fever. We all limped back home, feeling bruised.

And I thought of Noodles and Eggs, which I’d forgotten how to make. They just popped into my mind again, and I understood them from the other side for the first time, the perspective of the exhausted parent. Pulling dinner together while monitoring the supply of children’s Tylenol and brokering deals between the kids about who picks the PBS Kids show they get to watch. Straining noodles in a colander over a sink still full of dishes from breakfast.

The thought went up then, like a prayer, that maybe, if I was lucky, my kids would remember the warmth and comfort, the lavender headache pillow and just-in-case-of-barfing tupperware and the extra blanket, securely tucked. Maybe they could taste Noodles and Eggs as I did when I was a kid—the taste of comfort and security, of home, untainted by worry. Maybe what looked like refuge to me, a port in a storm, could be plain, simple comfort to my kids.

Let’s hope so.

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I interviewed my mom to give you the lowdown on Noodles and Eggs. Apparently they come from my grandmother Martha Shine, her mother-in-law. “I think she just told it to me,” Mom says. “I’ve heard other people make it where you let the noodles get really hard and crunchy, and then flip it like a pancake. But I like our way better.” Sometimes you do get some crunchy noodles in there, from their time in the hot butter.

“Unless I’m in a really big hurry, I rinse the noodles in cold water,” she added. Because you want them soft, but not falling apart. “Warm them in the butter, salt tIMG_5027hem with the garlic salt, taste them, and then the eggs on top and more garlic salt and pepper, and then mix the eggs in.” Also, “make sure you taste for garlic salt because that makes it.”

Oh, and these were always the side dish with boiled kielbasa. I’d forgotten that part, probably because I wasn’t a big kielbasa fan as a kid. (I would totally endorse this idea now!) Mom remembers the kielbasa, I remember the applesauce.

I really like my mom’s advice here too, which I would wholeheartedly apply to my kitchen and my week: “You slip that butter in there and a little bit of garlic salt and you can just about improve anything.”

Hear, hear.


Noodles and Eggs

1 pound medium or wide egg noodlesIMG_5015 (check out the package: Classic American Comfort—are we there yet?)

4 to 6 T butter

garlic salt

pepper

3 to 5 eggs

Boil noodles according to package directions. You want to get past al dente, but not all the way to soup. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Melt butter in a large skillet. (Next time I am going to save a pot and just melt the butter in the dutch oven where I cooked the noodles.) Add the noodles and stir over medium heat, warming them and sprinkling them with garlic salt.

IMG_5019Crack eggs atop the noodles in the pan. Sprinkle the eggs with more garlic salt and a generous amount of pepper, then mix them in with the noodles, stirring occasionally until the eggs are just set. (My pictures are off here because I whisked the eggs separately in a bowl before adding them to the noodles. They should look patchier, white and yellow still in places. My mom set me straight about the right way, so I am giving you the goods here.)

Serve immediately with applesauce on the side, and boiled kielbasa if you have it.

Serves 4.