Last Friday, I came into my office, and as I was taking off my coat, gloves, hat, and boots, I noticed my chair was turned slightly to the side. Perhaps this is where my habits come into play, but at the end of the day, I always leave my chair fully turned in, parallel to the desk. So I crept closer and lo and behold, there was a confetti-colored cupcake in my chair.
It was such a small and sweet gesture on behalf of my colleague that it made whatever heaviness from the following days dull a little. Little kindnesses go such a long way especially when one’s mood is rather bleak and wearied.
On Saturday, I set to work on my birthday cake. I’ve gotten into the habit of making my own over the past few years simply because of the distance from family but mostly, because I know exactly what my taste buds desire on a pivotal scale of years turning. This year, I wanted cheesecake and not just any cheesecake, one that was smooth and light, not too sweet but pleasantly dense enough to have some weight. I followed blogger Jennifer Murch’s recipe for The Perfect Classic Cheesecake. I won’t detail the instructions here but I strongly advise you to click through to her website below. I’ve followed her blog for years and her recipes have yet to fail. This cheesecake, in particular, is a roaring success. One small note, for the topping, I halved the recipe as I wasn’t sure if I had enough sour cream to pass the two-cup test. And another small note, resist the urge to cut into the cake before it has chilled for several hours in the refrigerator, this cake wants time to set and rest.
Visit Jennifer Murch's website for the recipe and more delectable inspirations.
Over the weekend, I had a very special visitor. I love that the best of people, the ones who comprehend one another entirely and gently, can spend hours together peaceably and comfortably. Between long walks by the river, movies by the fire, and long talks over wine after an enormous dinner of steak and fried mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes and tender broccoli, I am feeling entirely fortified. Nothing takes the edge off of life and blurs the colors together than excellent food and excellent company. Here's an excellent recipe for garlic mashed potatoes. There's enough garlic to knock out a vampire or two but the trick of boiling the garlic with the potatoes renders them sweet and mellow.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
4 Idaho potatoes
1 bulb of garlic
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup of milk (and more as needed)
Salt to taste
1. Peel and chop potatoes into cubes. Remove the papery skins from the individual garlic cloves. Add both to a pot with boiling water and a little salt. Boil until the potatoes and garlic are fork tender.
2. Drain the water from the potatoes and garlic. Add the butter and milk and mash with a fork or potato masher. You may need to include more milk for the consistency you desire. Add salt to taste. Serve in deep bowls and devour with someone dear to you for pure happiness.
Split pea soup. It's delicious, comforting, and easily made, and yet, the first time I was ever served this soup, I was reminded of canned baby food and it's less than desirable consistency. It only takes one taste to realize the complexity of the salted ham with the sweetness of peas and vegetables, the undertone of onion and garlic with an herbal hint from thyme. It's one of my winter favorites as you can combine the ingredients and leave to simmer on the stove. You have only to check every so often to make sure the peas aren't sticking to the bottom.
Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Striped Spatula
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound dried split peas , rinsed and sorted
1 ham hock
1 large bay leaf (or 2 small)
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
1. In a large pot, melt butter. Add onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are softened. Add garlic and stir in split peas.
2. Add ham hock, bay leaf, and thyme. Stir in vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until split peas are cooked down and soup is thickened.
It is cold and the constant chilliness of living in a home with baseboard heating is a challenge. There's a propane tank, thank goodness, and that helps by giving a quick jolt of heat. As does having a fireplace, but I never grew up with one and so, having a fire lit is a treat in itself and less of a heating option.
But there are some lovely parts to winter: quiet, brisk walks; the bareness of the land stripped of its foliage; warm blankets and mugs of tea; chocolate cake and roast chicken in the oven; tapioca pudding on the stovetop.
There's something infinitely nostalgic and comforting to me about the smell of warm milk and vanilla, and then, there's the act of stirring, meditatively and methodically. Tapioca pudding is thinking pudding, quiet pudding. A pudding for the cold months of winter.
Winter Tapioca Pudding
Recipe adapted from Bob's Red Mill
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
3/4 cup water
2-1/4 cups milk (whole milk)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar divided
2 eggs separated
1 tsp vanilla extract