All three of us have been battling a bug. I’ve been so sick that this is one of the first meals of actual, solid food I have had in nearly a week.
Grilled cheese. Tomato soup. Soul food.
I’ve always been pretty proud of my ability to think on my feet. It’s a skill that has served me well at my day job, but it has proven to be invaluable since I became a mom. You just never know what the day will bring.
We’ve been lucky – Julian has been extremely healthy and robust, but yesterday he just wasn’t feeling like himself. He had had some immunizations at his 15-month checkup late last month, and his doctor warned us he might show some delayed symptoms about a week after; right on schedule, he was cranky and fussy and spiked his very first fever Sunday morning. We tried time and again to put him down for a nap in his crib, but he wasn’t having it, so I nestled him close to me in the big bed, and read while he drifted off, staying with him for nearly three hours.
He slept deeply and well, his fever broke, and he woke with a smile on his face, but I had to shelve my original plan for dinner. Something brothy and comforting seemed like just what we all needed, so I put a small pot of beans on the stove and got to chopping while Mike took over tending to our boy.
I was inspired by a beautiful pot of minestrone I saw on Pinterest, so I cobbled together my own version, rich with alliums and fennel, carrots and parsnips, cabbage and kale, good canned tomatoes, fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay. I added a dash of Worcestershire for savoriness and a splash of Sherry vinegar for brightness, the cooked beans and their broth for heft, and a parmesan rind for the wonderful richness it imparts. I didn’t have any soup pasta around, but I did have a bag of par-cooked whole wheat spirals in the freezer left over from a previous meal, so I thawed them and stirred them gently into the soup until they were just warmed through.
I also had a bunch of leafy celery in the crisper, so I pulled off a big handful of the leaves to make a quick gremolata of sorts, chopping them fine and combining them with garlic and lemon zest and coarse pink salt, plus a little bit of olive oil to make a chunky paste, which I swirled on top of our soup bowls.
We settled in at the table, passing a tray of cheese-dusted, garlicky toasts for dunking, and even Julian ate with gusto. I guess a good pot of soup really is the cure for what’s ailing you.
Mike posted the following on Facebook the other day:
“2012: two surgeries for baby and a huge move for all of us. Plus first words, first steps, first foods. I mean, really, what a year.”
And that really sums it up.
The three of us have enjoyed a pretty low-key Christmas holiday, filled with plenty of good food, and more importantly, lots of togetherness. A little calm is so welcome after the year we’ve had.
I have no idea what 2013 will bring, but I’m so glad to be ringing it in right back where we belong. I’m looking forward to settling in, to a year of growth rather than big change. We’ll see what fate has in store for us this go-round.
And to all of you, we wish health, peace, and happiness in the coming year. Our heartfelt thanks for sharing this wild ride with us.
Our apartment juts up against a part of Brooklyn that’s often referred to as “Little Pakistan.” There’s a nearby stretch of Coney Island Avenue that’s dotted with Halal butchers and take-out joints, fruit markets and ethnic grocers. The aroma of grilled meats and spice as I walk home from the subway each night is intoxicating.
I’ve only recently begun to scope these markets out in earnest, as I strategize how best to spend every cent of our weekly food budget. At one market, you can get a 10-pound bag of onions for $2.89, a fact I file away for the next time I need to know how to feed us on next to nothing. I think of soups and tarts, and that panade I made recently that was a massive pain in the ass to assemble, but seriously delicious, all worth it in the end. Stale bread and a pile of onions cooked down until tender, with greens and a little good cheese and a lot of rich broth, truly greater than the sum of its parts. I hoard the bones from every chicken we cook at home, stash them in the freezer to turn them into gold, bolstered with a package or two of cheap feet and neck bones. We’ll always have good stock around.
Just months ago I spent $8 on a dozen eggs from some handsome young farmers at Union Square, laid by pampered, pastured chickens. A lot of people would be scandalized at that price tag, but I have grown to appreciate really great eggs in recent years, and they’re still a cheap source of protein at nearly a buck apiece. These had taut, perky whites and saffron yolks, and they were worth every penny, but our reality doesn’t allow for such frivolity right now. I’ll still pay $4 or $5 for our eggs at the farmers’ market, though, for as long as our budget will allow. A really great egg is a treasure, a small luxury I’m not yet willing to deny us.
I’ve learned over the last few years how to carve a 49 cent head of cabbage into fluffy ribbons, and cook them down into silky submission. I toss them with long strands of pasta, a mountain of finely grated, sharp-salty cheese, and plenty of black pepper, a recreation of a long-ago restaurant meal shared with a visiting friend the first time we lived in New York. If we have bacon around, I’ll add that, too, crisp little batons studding the tangles of cabbage and spaghetti. A little goes a long way.
I am especially grateful, these days, for those little fruit markets and ethnic grocers along that stretch of Coney Island Avenue near our apartment, with their cheap sacks of onions and aromatic rice, their 4-pound bags of dried beans and legumes, their dense cabbages and bright bundles of hearty greens just waiting to be turned into a simple, but delicious meal. So long as we have our beans and greens, our broth and bread and a dozen great eggs, we have plenty, and we will eat well.
Back in April, I received an email about the JC100, the online celebration of Julia Child’s life and work on what would have been her 100th birthday. Like most of what lands in my blog-related inbox (especially since our little guy arrived), that email was read and left unanswered, forgotten until yesterday, when I started seeing remembrances posted nearly everywhere.
Julia’s show was the first cooking show I remember watching, and though it would be many years before I ever cracked open a copy of Mastering the Art, I feel that she was a big influence on me as a home cook. She was large and loud and kind of endearingly dorky – all of which I could relate to quite well – but she had this incredible self-confidence, and in watching her cook, I felt that I, too, could take even the humblest of ingredients and turn them into something both delicious and elegant. She did what she did with love, she seemed to get such true joy from feeding herself, her family and her friends, and she never seemed to let a little kitchen mishap get her down.
Mike has almost certainly cooked more recipes straight from those iconic books than I have; I’ve never had the patience for classic French technique. But every time I step into the kitchen, set a cutting board in front of me and pull my knife down from the wall, I can’t help but feel that Julia’s spirit and influence is guiding my way.
Happy birthday, Julia, and thank you.