I wonder what it says about my demographic that nearly everyone I know is embroiled in self-deprivation of one kind or another this month.
Sugar, coffee, alcohol, credit cards, television, sloth – all of these, and more, are being abandoned with Lenten fervour in favour of a brisk and tidy start to the new year.
And although I am no stranger to the New Year’s detox, I also have to tell you that I am not completely sold on the concept. I am all for a fresh start, and yes, December’s excesses do take their toll, but I can’t help feeling that we owe ourselves a little more kindness at this point in the calendar.
A gentler beginning.
I think we should all be slinking through the rest of this month (and much of the next one as well) with a piece of runny cheese and a glass or two of wine – and just possibly a spontaneous shopping trip – at the ready, both to acknowledge the utter joy that the holidays brought and to shore us up until the evenings are a little brighter, the Mondays a little less blue.
I am not really one for resolutions – I cannot be relied upon to keep them, ever, and I feel that there is enough opportunity for falling short of one’s own expectations in the day to day life of any mother – but if I were to make just one this year, it would involve neither the clenched teeth of self-denial nor the fleeting comforts of extreme gluttony.
If I were to make a wish for all of us this year, I’d say let this be the year that we find and take comfort in the middle ground.
Elusive and lovely as a sliver of winter sunshine.
Happy new year!
January’s Healthy Lunch
I made this a few days after finishing my January detox, and the sweet, smoky, salty pancetta was enough to make me swoon with delight. The rest is pretty healthy. If you cook the barley ahead of time, it all comes together fairly quickly, but if you start with raw barley you need to give yourselves about an hour’s lead time.
5c cooked barley (about 350g raw, cooked according to package directions)
150g cubed pancetta
5 sticks celery, thinly sliced crosswise
2 cloves garlic, chopped not too finely
1c roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
roughly 1/3c olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper to taste
If barley is fridge-cold, leave it sitting out to get the chill out before putting the rest of it together. If the barley is still warm from cooking, all the better.
Cook pancetta in a cast iron or other heavy skillet, over medium heat, until just beginning to crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a bowl and set aside. Drain all but 2 tbsp of fat from the pan, and reserve.
Return pan to heat and add garlic and celery. Saute, stirring occasionally until garlic is very fragrant and celery has lost most, but not all, of its crunch.
Meanwhile, Pour reserved pancetta fat into a glass measuring cup, and top up with olive oil to reach a scant half cup. Whisk in vinegar and dijon to emulsify.
Place barley in a large bowl and toss with almonds, pancetta, celery, and garlic. Add vinaigrette and toss well to combine. (At this point, if you were more organized than I, you might chop some italian parsley and stir it in before serving)
Serves 4 as a hearty main course, with enough leftover that you can sneak spoonfuls from the bowl for the rest of the afternoon or 6-8 as a side dish.
We all joke that discussing the forecast is one of our national pastimes, and I’ve noticed lately that I actually am one of those cliched Canadians whose conversational gambits often begin and end with, “Isn’t it a [insert appropriate adjective here] day?”
It’s not the worst thing to talk about, but I could do with some new subject matter.
The trouble is, I have not been keeping up well with the news lately; I know nothing about sports; and my taste in music is both un-current and probably a little pedestrian to anyone who might actually like to talk about music with me.
Of politics in my city I know shamefully little, and I am late to register my daughter for school in the fall, so I avoid that subject at all costs.
I do love to shop, but the various vintage treasures that I’ve unearthed at bargain prices may not be of interest to everyone I meet – and besides, I have declared a pre-move moratorium on acquisitions (and how that is going for me is the stuff of a whole other epic conversation).
So you can see why, at a loss for small talk, I drift back to my old reliable, the weather.
Aside from the polite innocuousness of weather-related chat, discussing the forecast also offers the opportunity to segue into my absolute favourite topic, which is, as you have no doubt realized by now, what I am going to eat next.
And today, because it is a beautiful May day, that happens to be the salad you see here.
adapted from Food and Wine
I actually made this over the weekend, but it makes quite a bit and it tastes better every day.
1 1/2c pearl barley
1c roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2c olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp lemon zest
1c packed Italian parsley leaves
1c crumbled feta
Cook barley in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Shake out excess water.
Meanwhile, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add barley, parsley, and feta and toss gently. Stir in chopped nuts, toss again, add some salt and pepper if desired, and serve.
Serves 4-6, depending on your desire for leftovers
The lovely and romantic dinner I had envisioned for Valentine’s Day didn’t quite come together as planned: I bought all the makings for boeuf bourgignon, and in my fantasy it was going to bubble away contentedly on the stove, filling the house with good smells, while my beloved and I sat in front of the fire and ate cheese, drank wine, and – I don’t know, talked?
Of course that’s not what happened (I’m not sure how I managed to overlook our children when I concocted that fantasy). We did have a lovely day, replete with chocolate (and chocolate-y) kisses, as wonderful and romantic as a Sunday in February with two tiny children can be; but by about three o’clock that afternoon, I realized that the boeuf bourgignon was never going to happen.
And I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was quite disappointed for a moment. I felt (however briefly) that I had failed to live up to the day’s expectations of me – or my expectations of the day. All of that joyful family time diminished slightly because I felt that things weren’t happening as I had hoped.
Still, I rallied: we opened the good wine that I had bought to cook with, and I made a simple soup with the highest-quality beef broth that was also intended for the bourgignon. We ate our cheese and baguette with the soup, and the bubbly remains in the fridge, awaiting its opportunity.
Why, you may wonder, have I chosen today to tell you about a meal that happened nearly two weeks ago?
Well, I made that soup again last night and it was delicious. Everyone in our house is under the weather this week, so I put it together in a bit of a rush, not expecting much – but it was a perfect simple soup, hot enough for comfort on a cold night and hearty enough that no one was left feeling hard-done-by (which can happen with a soup supper around here).
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who could benefit from lowering her expectations this weekend. These are the dying days of February; the Olympics are drawing to a close. Spring’s celebrations still feel significantly far off. In our part of the world, it’s snowing more than it has all winter.
Best to huddle in and not plan too much. Keep expectation to a minimum, and the joy to be found in simple things may take you by surprise.
Simple Barley Soup
The first time I made this, I used a wonderful and expensive organic beef broth. Last night, I used chicken stock, which is all I had on hand, and not one of us (including the soup) was the worse for it. I also realized after I took the above photo that I had forgotten to add the mushrooms, and that the sprigs of fresh thyme I had intended for a garnish were still in the fridge. Ah well. Life, as they say, is not lived in a lab.
1/2 c pearl barley
1 1/2 c water
1/4 c olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large or 3 medium carrots, chopped (yes, those are carrot flowers you see in the photo, but really, just chop them to a uniform size)
2 large or 3 medium parsnips, chopped (see above)
a handful of sliced mushrooms
1/4 c white wine
1 tsp dried thyme
5 c broth (dealer’s choice)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Place barley and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir well, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until most of water is absorbed and barley is quite tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until golden, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. Add carrots, parsnips, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until onions are deep golden in colour, about another 5 minutes. Add wine, stirring and scraping up any brown bit stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add thyme and broth. Bring to a simmer, then cover and lower heat. Cook until vegetables are just tender, 10 minutes or so, then add cooked barley and garlic. Cover and continue to simmer until vegetables and barley are tender, 20-30 minutes.
Serves 4-6 as a main course, with bread and a salad.