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.
She and I are in similar circumstances: our kids are the same age, and neither of our husbands is often around during the dinner hour. We are also both, at the moment, living without air conditioning; and it has been very, very hot and humid in our city these past couple of weeks.
We were discussing the indignity of having to get dinner on the table when it’s 30 degrees both inside and out and you’re outnumbered by your children, and our conversation went something like this:
Me: You know, I am so tired and hungry by that point in the day that I can’t cope with making a salad. And I refuse to turn on the stove. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many nights we’ve had the cereal supper in our house this past week alone.
My Friend: I know, it’s too much. Although I will eat a salad, as long as it has lots of cheese in it.
Me: Oh, I love cheese in a salad. And croutons.
My Friend: And nuts.
Me: And a side of sausage.
As grateful as I was to learn that I am not the only one who struggles with the dinner hour these days, I do recognize that, heat wave or no, the cereal supper is not something every mother would like to commit to on a long-term basis.
(I’d like to mention at this point that I used to love hot weather, and I have not had air conditioning my entire adult life. Hot weather, for me, used to mean cold bubble baths and dinners that consisted of drinks on ice.
Since having my children, though, I find that when the heat is on, nobody in our house sleeps well through the night; we move through the days with our energy sapped; and we find excuses to spend time in our climate-controlled car.
In fact, these days, I find that too much hot weather makes me a little angry.)
However, I think I may have come up with a reasonable alternative. Since discovering this recipe (thank you, Sara!), I have made it three times, varying it a little each time. The one you see here is my favourite so far – side of sausage optional.
Adapted from Culinerapy
1/2c red wine vinegar
1/2c extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed
1c roasted walnuts, chopped
1 1/2c crumbled feta
In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, and salt & pepper. Chop asparagus crosswise, and add to bowl along with walnuts and feta.
Refrigerate a couple of hours before serving.
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