New Year's Eve (Joe's Birthday)
It seems as if the month flew by before I could even begin to mark it. But as with every December, this one was also filled with lots of occasions to gather, to laugh, to craft, to cook, to feast—and even to rest and ponder the meaning of the month.
And now it’s January (almost half over!) and I’m beginning to get around to maybe making plans for the coming year. The winter has been mild so far so we’ve taken down the hoop house as we decide where it will go early this spring. Rather than the arduous task of raking leaves, Joe mows them and mulches them in the catcher. I asked him to lay them over the main vegetable bed and I’m hoping that as winter wears on and the rains come, that this process will have created fairly good compost. At least it should take care of weeds. When we get ready to prepare the bed, we’ll turn that all into the soil and work in some fertilizer.
Hoop House, ready to erect this spring
Winter is a sleepy time in the garden. We don’t see anything stirring, but we know that it’s all happening underground as the plants rest and gather nutrients from the soil and the rain for the big push that will come in early spring. The days are short, but minute by minute, growing longer. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can’t complain of shivering cold, and the rain is usually not much more than a mist. Though the long grey days can be discouraging, we can overcome the gloom with absorbing projects. And spring is only two months away!
Today, I’m making bread—again. Kim gave me a bread-making cookbook from Il Fornaio a couple of years ago so I’ve been experimenting with some of the recipes, using my new Kitchenaid stand mixer (a wonderful Christmas gift from my son). I made a fairly successful Ciabatta loaf, which is Joe’s favorite, but I think I’m using the wrong kind of flour so that the loaves I make tend to be heavy and dense, not at all like the ones I used to make with the good Eastern Washington flour, which is a little pricey, even in bulk. I thought I was saving some money by getting some from Costco instead. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of flour to use up if it turns out to not be good enough…So far, I’d rather spend a little more for a better flour, but I’m still trying.
Ciabatta, but not airy enough
New Year’s Eve, Joe’s birthday, we had a big family dinner. The turkey was really good, roasted and basted with a duck a l’orange kind of sauce. The mashed sweet and Yukon gold potatoes were light and fluffy (thank you Kim for the idea of cooking them this way!). The Russian Kale, freshly picked from the garden and baked in a simple white sauce was a hit as well. The dinner rolls, however, were like little stones: crusty and dense. There were quite a few leftover, even with everyone’s best effort to eat them up.
Yesterday, Joe and I had the last of the rolls in our soup. We love soup for lunch and one soup will evolve over time into a totally different kind as I add leftovers into it to stretch it a little more. The one we had started as a simple vegetable soup that I made with some of the leftover turkey and stock, carrots, celery, a can of white beans, some onion and of course the herbs de Provence blend that goes into practically everything I make. I had some yellow squash that needed cooking so that went into the soup as well.
This soup started shortly after New Year’s Day as I cleaned out the refrigerator and has evolved since then. The French call this a pot au feu, literally a pot on the fire. The first day, I served it with one of the crusty, dense, hard rolls, sliced in half with the soup ladled over it and a bit of cheese grated over the top. This turned out to be the perfect way to use these stony little rolls. For a little variety, I made an Italian tomato soup the next day, recalling how much I enjoyed this simple cup of soup when I was working as a store manager and needed a break. Based on what I remembered, I tried to duplicate this delicious soup. The third time we had soup, I combined what was left of both of them for a rich tomato-vegetable soup. Today, we had the last of this pot au feu and the last of the crusty rolls. My tummy is warm and satisfied!
Pot au Feu (Soup of Leftovers)
½ tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 or 2 carrots, sliced in discs
3 or 4 stalks celery, sliced
½ sweet onion, chopped
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
About 1 tablespoon ground sea salt (to taste)
1 cup yellow squash or other leftover vegetable
1 cup chicken or turkey meat cut in small pieces
1 can pinto beans (with liquid)
9 or ten cups chicken or turkey stock
In large stock pot, sauté garlic and herbs in olive oil until garlic is golden. Add all other vegetables except beans and toss together to cook for about 5 minutes. Add meat and toss together. Add beans and liquid and toss together. Add stock and simmer gently on low heat for about 30 minutes.
Warm soup bowl and place two pieces of crusty bread in each bowl. Ladle soup over the bread and grate a little cheese over soup. Makes about ten servings.
Tuscan Tomato Soup (I wish I had basil to add to it...)
Tuscan Tomato Soup with Crostini and Parmesan
½ tablespoon olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon fennel seed
½ tablespoon ground sea salt
½ large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons roasted tomato pesto
14 ½ oz. can diced tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
4 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
¼ cup cream
Sauté garlic and herbs in olive oil. Stir in roasted tomato pesto and tomato paste. Stir in diced tomatoes. Add stock and simmer to blend flavors. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and cream and stir to blend. Simmer about 30 minutes. Warm soup bowls and ladle soup into each bowl. Top with garlic/herb croutons and grated Parmesan cheese. Serves about 8.
Combine leftover soups to create a new Pot au Feu.
So, here we are, almost in mid-January, still enjoying the fruits of past feasts. I think that the most important lesson I ever learned from my mother and the French heritage of my father, is the value of leftovers: being creatively inventive with the little bits that are left from past feasts. If we look at any recipe carefully, we can probably see that many of them have evolved from other original basic dishes. Think of chicken pot pie. Where did that come from? Or how about tuna casserole? Or gumbo? Or paella? Or tortilla soup? Almost every dish we love had its origin as a feast in another form and we, in our kitchens, have combined what’s been leftover into something new and wonderful. Our challenge is to continue the long heritage of inventiveness in the kitchen that we learned from our forbears.