The Endless Summer

I had just finished lunch of Mexican food and ice-cold beer with my father and brothers, and was now standing outside the Home Depot in my t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, waiting for a customer service associate to swap out my empty Amerigas propane tank for a full one.

I would be barbecuing for friends this evening, and needed my back-up tank full just in case. After all, I’d had to use the Weber to cook my Christmas dinner when the main propane tank went dry. And suddenly, thinking of this, I had a moment of sadness. It was mid-January. Another 80-degree day, another cold beer, another barbecue… and what happened to winter, to whisky and braises?? We can’t even go skiing because there’s no snow in the mountains. As I write this, many of the mountains are, in fact, on fire.

Happy, lightly dressed girls, camping in January

Happy, lightly dressed girls, camping in January

I know it’s difficult for those of you friends in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and in Canada, Iceland, the British Isles and beyond, swallowed by various polar vortices, nor’easters, blizzards, ice storms and so on, to have much sympathy for our plight. More

January — A Winter’s Tale

Many years ago, my friend, Gary, and I decided after an especially indulgent December, that we weren’t going to drink for the month of January. We lasted around eight days, which was really good for us at the time. In the intervening years, however, I got better. And each year, I added more austere measures to my January regimen until it included not only no alcohol but no meat, no dairy, no sugar, no caffeine. It was challenging, but forced me to be creative with my cooking. And it felt kinda good… especially when January ended and I had that first glass of wine.

I don’t do that anymore. With a hungry family, it’s too much work. But I still like to dial it back a bit, tuck the corkscrew away, drink tea, make long-simmered soups with starchy vegetables. So far this January, we’ve had homemade New England clam chowder with fresh baked bread, crab bisque, tortelloni in brodo (a Bolognese specialty — fat tortelleni in a rich chicken broth).

From a food perspective, January is an interesting time. It is the beginning of a new year, yet it is also the depth of winter. There’s a dueling metaphor in there somewhere. And although in Southern California we do have milder winters than other places, it is still a time to hunker down. As I write this, it’s 37 degrees outside. I could get a tomato if I wanted, but it might’ve been flown in from Peru. Instead I feel an almost instinctual desire to prepare hearty dishes, things with root vegetables and meat bones. Meals made from the stuff that in the old days used to last the winter through in the larder.

This winter, when guests knock unexpectedly on your door to come in out of the cold, give them a big bowl of this soup and a thick slice of crusty bread slathered with butter. Serves many.

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Winter Vegetable Soup

2 quarts good chicken stock (made from scratch, if possible)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, cut into quarters
1 cup chopped kale
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste

In a baking dish, toss carrots, parsnips, onion and potato in olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, and roast in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, tossing once or twice, until golden. Place in a large saucepan and add chicken stock. Add kale, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, lower heat and cover, cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the stove. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then puree in a blender. Return to pan, return pan to stove over medium-low heat, and add cream. Heat for 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste.