Thursday, January 23, 2014

Winter Musings - It's Time to Move On

We are snow covered once again here in DC and encased in another veil of frigid polar air.  I am not a fan of severe cold, really who is, but I am probably less tolerant than most.  I want to hole up in a cocoon of blankets and fleece and drink cup after cup of tea.  Going any further afield than my front walk and driveway that need some occasional attention with a shovel, requires substantial effort on my part.

The upside to the cold and snow is that my burrowing yesterday left me with time to take care of what we used to call paperwork (which now is primarily computer work), reservations that needed to be made, forms that needed to be filled out and calls that needed to be made.  And, I had plenty of time left to let my thoughts meander a little.  I spent some time on my current project which is to figure out a new career path for myself.  Then, I found myself in the Galilee with Maddy, where she is currently volunteering at an organic and sustainable goat farm known for its cheeses as well as a quirky and lovely rustic restaurant.

Not to sound overly sappy, but it is immensely fulfilling to see my kids growing into the adults they want to be, maybe even were meant to be, the kernels of which have actually been apparent for years.  To see the boy who adored blocks pursuing architecture or the little girl who wrote her own story of Gwenhwyfar choosing to study English in the UK is so utterly perfect and fascinating and so essentially "them".  Where this will take them is an exciting unknown, but that is what they love.  They are becoming these people who, while influenced by Paul and me and our tastes and interests, are going their own ways and following their own paths and interests, maybe riffing a little off of what we've shared.

The hardest job we have as parents, I am coming to see, is not the diaper changes or plugging the outlets or making sure they are neither bullied nor bully or making sure they are happy.  At least for me, it is letting go of them and allowing them to make some really sucky choices amidst their sound, and sometimes even genius, choices and letting them flounder or fail and learn from the experience.  And trying to trust that I've been at least partially successful in helping them acquire the skills necessary for adulthood more often than freaking out that I haven't been.  Many phases of parenting have seemed overwhelming at the time, both physically and emotionally, but this phase is asking of me something well outside my comfort zone of control and planning. Thankfully, most of the physical work is now behind us, but the temperance and restraint which is now required is as unnatural and challenging to me as going out in the frigid cold.

Amidst this phase of letting go of them and watching them evolve and find their way, I am also trying to figure out my own next step, this time, for real, moving back out into the working world in some way.  This new path, I hope, will take me deeper into some manner of helping others have access to, cook and eat healthy foods.  So, when I realize that both kids have an interest in healthy food and cooking, I'm hopeful that maybe I can reproduce this petri dish outside my home.

I love that they are each connected to food in ways unique and appropriate for them.  I'm astonished that Maddy was drawn to experiment with the earth in the context of organic goat cheeses, and that Ted built a barbecue on his patio and experimented with cooking everything from meats and vegetables to pizza on it.  Before she left, Maddy was both exploring blogs and creating her own vegetarian and vegan recipes of all sorts.  Ted spent a semester in Italy with almost as much focus on the local food and wine available as on the art and architecture.

They do not only follow my lead with their food choices but stretch beyond, experimenting with their own tastes and taking me along with them to places I might not have explored otherwise.  They might not realize quite how much pleasure I take in this.  Indeed, I'm not even sure how either would respond to this knowledge as I don't think either is exploring food to forge a connection to me or to seek my approval, nor should they. So there I am on Maddy's Israeli hillside, away from this cold, seated on Turkish carpets on an outdoor patio, eating a meal of goat cheese and labne and salads made with vegetables grown on that land.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Habitant Pea Soup

I grew up eating my mother's split pea soup, so thick your spoon really could stand up in the pot, and filled with chunks of carrots. Because we were a kosher home, my mother used a turkey carcass to flavor the soup, instead of a ham bone. Sometimes she also added flanken and beef bones.  I loved that soup. In fact, that was usually what I requested for my first meal home during college vacations.

After making many different pea soups and making my mother's recipe from time to time, I realized that the turkey flavor could be overwhelming, and not quite smokey enough. Paul finally revealed that despite my love for my mother's soup, he just didn't like split pea soup at all. Eventually, I just stopped making it.

For the last few years, though, this kosher bred girl has purchased a local Virginia country ham for an extended family buffet the day after Thanksgiving. Paul really likes ham about once a year.  I freeze the leftovers in separate containers to be used later for another dinner or for a breakfast of ham and eggs. In one big bag, I save the hambone along with the smallest of the scraps to use in a soup on a cold winter day.  This year, I didn't host the buffet, but tried one of Trader Joe's little half uncured hams one day in December once the other meat eater arrived home.  The bone wasn't large, but it was enough to save for soup later on in the winter.

That bone didn't have long to wait.  This week's arctic vortex cold was the perfect impetus for pea soup. Plus, veggie girl is off gallivanting about in Israel right now, so I didn't have to come up with a side by side vegetarian version.  I made a riff on Quebec style Habitant Pea Soup which calls for yellow split peas and is a little thinner in consistency than the one I grew up with. Who knows if it's the ham over the turkey or the change in peas, but if Paul likes it too, it's all good.

On another subject entirely, after a wait of an extra couple of weeks due to a technical glitch over the holidays, I finally found out last week that my trout pate won the contest at food52!  Many thanks to all who voted!  I have to admit that although this is relatively small potatoes, I was pretty thrilled and tickled to finally win one of the contests!

Habitant Style Pea Soup

(adapted from Cooking Light magazine)

serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium sized carrots, diced
2 cups yellow split peas
4 cups homemade or no or low sodium added stock, can be beef or vegetable
4 cups water
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 leftover ham bone
4 -  6 ounces leftover ham, diced
salt and pepper to taste
creme fraiche for garnish

1.  Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat and then add olive oil.  Add the onion, celery and carrot.  Add a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook the vegetables until the onion begins to get translucent, about 5 - 10 minutes.

2.  Add the split peas, stock, water, bay leaf, thyme and ham bone to the pot.  Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  If there's a lot of foam on top skim a little off from time to time.

3.  Let the soup cook for about 1.5 to 2 hours, until the peas soften.  Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree about 1/3 of the soup.  Stir well.

4.  Add in the diced ham and return soup to a simmer.  After about 10 minutes, taste for salt and, if needed add more and add some pepper.

5.  Add a small dollop of creme fraiche in the middle of each bowl as you serve.