Ruminations and Resolutions

Now available on Amazon.com.  Ask for it at your local bookstore.  They can order it.

Now available on Amazon.com (Kindle edition coming soon). Ask for it at your local bookstore. They can order it.

On January 1, 2013 my book Ruminations from the Minivan, musings from a world grown large, then small was published.

Which means that I got to start out the new year having fulfilled a promise I made to myself last year, not an official New Year’s resolution per se, but a resolution all the same.  I resolved that 2012 would be the year I published the book I had started ten years earlier.

I’ve got to tell you, it feels pretty good.

DSC_0004

It felt even better on January 2, when I got onto Amazon.com and saw my book listed there.  And better still, when Facebook friends from far away announced they had or were buying the book and shared this information with their friends.

I didn’t think the day could get any better but it did.  2013 started out with the best winter weather Seattle has to offer – crisp and clear and dry with the mountains gleaming in the distance. I went out for a run and on the way home was treated to the sight of the snowy owl that has been nesting in our neighborhood.  I got a close-up view of this beautiful bird thanks to a neighbor who had thoughtfully set up a telescope. (Though not the actual bird I saw, this is what a snowy owl looks like).

snowyowl

That’s enough bounty for one day, right?  But it gets better.  When I returned home, there was Daughter #1, who these days is usually embarrassed by everything I say or do (We read this blog about girls’ relationships with their mothers during puberty. “Interesting,” she commented, rather cryptically, I thought.) engrossed in my book.

D #1 has read my manuscript, heard me perform parts of it onstage and was helpful during the editing and cover design process. But to hold the book, the actual book, in her hands and be able to read it was different.

“I’m so proud you wrote this book, Mom,” she’s told me over and over again.

The rest is gravy.

The rest is gravy.

With last year’s resolution so satisfyingly accomplished, I found myself wondering what I would resolve for this year.

We talked about resolutions on our way to the beach for Jeff’s annual Polar Bear Swim, which D#1 participated in for the second year in a row.

D#2, a pragmatist, was not  tempted to join in the fun.  She was, however, the first person to complain she was cold.

D#2, a pragmatist, was not tempted to join in the fun. She was, however, the first person to complain she was cold.

“I’ve got to lose ten pounds this year,” I resolved.

“Oh, come on, ” said Jeff.

I was taken aback, until he continued. “Surely you can come up with something less pedestrian than that.  How about doing something to make the world a better place?”

Jeff must have noticed the initial look of shock on my face because he laughed and said, “Did you think I was going to say, ‘how come only ten pounds’?”

There have been lots of articles, blog posts and comic strips about resolutions and I don’t think I have anything profound to add on the subject, especially since resolutions are a personal and ongoing matter.

But two things have stuck with me:  This year, like nearly every year, there was one Christmas card noticeably absent from the pile.  Though I realize sending actual cards is a dying convention, sometimes when one is missing, you know in your gut that something is wrong.

Sure enough, I emailed my dear friend R. and discovered she has been through not one, but four major life traumas in the past few months. “It seemed like a bit much to put on a holiday card,” she said ruefully.

So when I allow myself to feel intimidated by the uncomfortable and overwhelming process of book promotion, I am reminded of something an acquaintance told me several months ago, when I mentioned I was working on a book and she said she wanted to be invited to the book launch party.  “Really?” I said.  “I feel funny asking people I hardly know.”

“Most people just want to be happy for you,” she told me.

Somehow I think being happy for each other is an important step in making the world a better place. I thank those of you who have been happy for me.  I resolve to revel in the good fortune of others and also to be supportive when skies are gray.

Don’t tell Jeff, but I’m also still resolving to lose ten pounds this year.  My favorite post-holiday recipe to ease the transition from indulgence to “eating mindfully” comes from the book Oregon’s Cuisine of the Rain.  It’s also a great way to use up post-holiday bubbly and cream.  If you happen to have something to celebrate, as I did this week, it’s a pretty festive dish, though certain members of the family were not thrilled that I served it with brown rice.

Petrale Sole with Champagne Sauce

Sauce:

1 cup fish stock or bottled clam juice (I used some homemade shrimp stock from my freezer)

1 cup brut champagne (I used Cava and have also used Prosecco on occasion)

2 scallions or shallots, chopped

1 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

juice of 1/4 lemon or to taste

Fish:

salt and unbleached all-purpose flour for dusting

2 pounds petrale sole or other white, firm-fleshed fish fillets

3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T fresh chopped tarragon

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. To make sauce, place fish stock or clam juice in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup of champagne and scallions or shallots. Turn up heat to high and reduce mixture by 4/5 of its volume, skimming the surface occasionally (around 15 minutes). Add creme fraiche or cream and reduce by half (5-10 minutes) until mixture is thick. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Salt fillets and dust with flour.  Heat two 10-inch saute pans over high heat  Add  1 1/2 T of oil to each pan.  Divide the fillets between the two pans, saute for 30 seconds, then flip over and place in the preheated oven for two minutes.

4. Remove pans from oven, cover with tight-fitting lids and let stand for three minutes. Remove lids and pour collected liquid into the reserved sauce. Cover pans again and set aside.

5. Bring reserved sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to low, so sauce simmers. Divide chopped tarragons and remaining 1/3 cup champagne to the saute pans.  Divide sauce evenly between the pans and warm to serving temperature. If you want, you can spoon the sauce onto each serving plate and top with a fillet  We’re not that fancy, so we just serve sauce and fish from the saute pans.

Another resolution I am contemplating, comes from my new friend Martin, who makes a cassoulet feast every year on New Year’s Day. Martin is an engineer by trade and he tackles cassoulet with the zeal of an experienced project manager, making confit and sausage over a period of several days. Because I shared my favorite recipe for preserved lemons with him, I got invited to this year’s feast.  I hope to stay in Martin’s good graces so I get invited back every year.  

Martin and I are fellow cookbook nerds and we both live with people who question the utility of using so much space for these books.  Martin’s solution:  each week a member of the family chooses a cookbook from the shelves and the other person in the family makes the recipe of their choice from that book. I’m excited to give this a try (though I’ll be doing most of the cooking).  There has been a less than enthusiastic response from the members of my family pod, but as you can see, we have a lot to work with.

We have a lot to work with.

Happy New Year!

Food for Thought

Thanks to everyone who sent me get well wishes.  As it turns out, my illness was usurped by the needs of my family.  Jeff was diagnosed with pneumonia, there has been an outbreak of pneumonia in daughter #2’s school and though she doesn’t have it, she has had a cough she can’t shake, which necessitated several trips to the doctor.  Daughter #1 had to weather the slings and arrows of growing up this week and our rat-catching cat Cheeto awoke with one eye glued shut and a pitiful look in his other eye.   What choice did I have but to get better and fast?

In our family, this is known as “gazumping” ( taken from a mercenary British real estate practice but, as Lemony Snicket would say, a word which here means trumping someone else’s misfortune with more dire circumstances of your own).   As my friend and fellow mother Lauren ruefully stated, “You get three hours to be sick before everyone else needs to be taken care of.”

Ain't it the truth

So it’s only now that I’ve had a chance to compose that serious post-holiday entry I promised.

The people we shared our Thanksgiving dinner with this year ranged in age from two to 89. This is unusual for us and it offered the opportunity to consider life from a variety of perspectives.

As two year-olds do, ours looked upon everything with fresh eyes, brightening the most mundane of tasks with his enthusiasm. In the weeks since he’s been gone, as I shamble downstairs in the wee hours to make the morning coffee, I can hear the faint echo of his sweet voice counting the coffee scoops with me in English and in French. It keeps me going until the caffeine kicks in.

"Un, deux, trois, quatre...."

The 89 year-old is revisiting great literary works and told me that during a recent bout of insomnia, she deconstructed a T.S. Eliot poem.  I hope that when my life is no longer ruled by “To Do” lists, I will use my inadvertent waking hours as wisely.

And the 20 year-old college student, so sure of everything, reminded me of those heady days of discovery – foreign film, jazz, philosophy — and above all, certainty in the face of uncertainty.  Even if you had no idea what life held for you post-graduation, you were sure  that you were going to make your mark on the world in a way that your parents never had.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we attended the memorial service for our friend Kim. Though, like any human being, he lived a full, rich, yet sometimes flawed life, much of the focus and many of the comments at the service dealt with his later years, when he served as a human rights advocate and a teacher, and especially the past four years following a debilitating stroke, when he served as an inspiration to everyone who knew him.

My favorite remarks at the service were made by Kim’s brother-in-law Kevin, who met Kim as a young man often at odds with the father whose namesake he was, and with whom he maintained a 40+ year- relationship.  Kevin read excerpts from the eulogies both he and Kim had made at Kim, Sr.’s funeral.  By then Kim, Jr. had made peace of sorts with his father.  It was interesting, Kevin told us, how many of the qualities he and Kim had admired in the father could also be attributed to the son. Thanks to Kevin’s remarks, I got a glimpse of the full measure of our friend as he developed over a lifetime.

The morning after the service, Jeff told me he had had trouble sleeping.  In what I now characterize as our “quiet desperation” conversation, he said that when he considered the impact Kim had had on the world, he worried about his own contributions or lack thereof.

For here we are at 50 – not two, or 20 or 89. We have mouths to feed, to-do lists to work through and events, both fortunate and unfortunate, to contend with. Though we, as Voltaire suggested, strive to tend our own gardens with care, raising responsible citizens, making soup for sick friends, volunteering at schools, coaching soccer teams and occasionally donating money for tsunami relief and holiday food banks, during those inadvertent waking hours, we may wonder if our contributions are enough and whether we  feel fulfilled by the choices we have made in our lives. No matter how pressing our own needs, there is always someone who can gazump us with far more urgent problems.  There may also be lingering regrets about roads not taken.

A 900-word blog is not the place to provide answers to the big questions of the human condition, which philosophers and religions have grappled with since time immemorial.  But it can be a venue for discussion, especially now, during holiday and resolution season, when many of us strive to be our best selves.

For those of you approaching, at or past mid-life (however you choose to define it), I’d like to know your thoughts on this.  How have you reconciled your life choices? Do you have plans for your senior years that involve “giving back” in some way? Or will that be the time when you finally get to sing your song?

Forgive me if this seems irreverent, but I have a recipe that I think complements this train of thought .

I often feel like my best, most virtuous self when I eat kale.  Given the preponderance of kale recipes I’ve seen lately, I sense I am not alone. This one comes from Food 52.  It’s very easy to throw together and is a welcome, crunchy change from self-indulgence, yet is fulfilling all the same.  Don’t tell your kids they are eating kale.  Call it salad and they will eat it. And don’t forget to use the nifty method for separating the kale leaves from the stems that I learned from the Garum Factory. I feel as wide-eyed as a two year-old whenever I do.

Kale Salad with Apples and Hazelnuts (adapted from Food 52)

Serves 4

5 cups curly kale and mustard green leaves, torn into small pieces

(I used only kale and it was fine)

2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

(I used regular, unseasoned rice vinegar)

Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1 tart apple

1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped and toasted

1/4 cup pecorino romano or parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler

  1. In a large bowl, combine the kale, mustard greens, scallions, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to really blend the dressing and rub it into the greens. Let the salad sit while you prepare the rest.
  2. Core the apple. Thinly — like, super thinly — slice the two halves from stem to flower end. If you have a mandoline, that’s the easiest way to go. Add the apples to the salad and gently fold together so they don’t break in half. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  3. Spread the salad on a platter. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts and cheese shavings.

courtesy of The New Yorker