Lenctening Days

No, that’s not a typo.

Recently I learned that the word “Lent” {today–Ash Wednesday–is the first day of Lent} comes from the Old English ‘lencten,’ which sounds a lot like “lengthen” and, not incidentally, was the Old English word for Spring–that time when the days, well, lengthen.

Despite the admiration I’ve always had for traditional Lenten disciplines, this time of year–when I forget to start dinner on time because the growing evening light tricks me, when I’m drawn from sleep by the unexpected brightness of the morning sun–this time of year tends to make me a bit giddy. Meditating on dust returning to dust seems opposite to how I feel when Spring is, well, lenctening. Springing.

But maybe that’s reasonable. Lent is the season where deadness springs to life: snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils cautiously raise their green and brilliant heads, stoic strawberry leaves unfold and tentatively sent out runners, tired, swollen goats bend to release their burdens in bringing forth light-footed young.

At this time everything in nature seems to be stretching and yawning awake after a long sleep, lively after months of sluggish drowsing.

Maybe Lent serves as a counterpoint to all this; a reminder that even as the grass “flourishes and is renewed” in the morning, “in the evening it fades and withers.” That God alone is everlasting.

It’s a sobering thought, but somehow, a joyful one. And so I hope this Lent not to curtail or cut back but to lencten: to take joy and satisfaction in God and in God’s gift of each lengthening, springing, light-filled moment.

Overly cute bunny gnawing a strawberry leaf. I can't help myself.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
   and for as many years as we have seen evil.
{…}
Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
   and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90, NRSV

Soup Season

It’s cold!

Time for soup.

This is one of my favorite soups, not least because it’s one that my children are sure to eat. Plus, it is creamy and cheesy and full of wonderful vegetables. I was twelve or so the first time I had it, and it was served to me in beautiful pumpernickel bread bowls. I’ve never made bread bowls, but croûtes are just as good, if not better.(Simply slice a baguette on the diagonal, brush with olive oil, and put under the broiler for a few minutes on each side. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

~adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook~

Place the following in a pot and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes:

2 cups potato chunks

2 cups cauliflower, chopped

1 cup chopped carrot

3 cloves garlic

1 large yellow onion, chopped,

1.5 tsp. salt

4 cups water

Allow to cool, then blend in a blender (or with an immersion blender if you are lucky enough to own one) and return to pot.

Meanwhile, steam 1.5 more cups cauliflowerets. Drain and reserve.

Whisk in over low heat:

1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese

3/4 cup milk

1/4 tsp. dill weed

1/4 tsp. ground caraway seed

black pepper to taste

reserved cauliflowerets

You can thin it with a bit more milk if it’s too thick. You can also use leftover mashed potatoes in place of the potatoes–just whisk them in with the second group of ingredients.Delicious!

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

I don’t know about you, but I love Thanksgiving–a day for feasting and giving thanks for God’s good gifts.

Since there are relatively few truly American food traditions, Thanksgiving has always appealed to me–even though I realize that, of course, the historical origins of the holiday are not as clear-cut as they appear in the Magic Tree House Thanksgiving book:

(A very different story that’s actually true is Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. It tells the story of writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to American presidents to ask for the creation of Thanksgiving for 40 years!)

Anyway! Now that I’ve said that about loving traditional Thanksgiving food, I might as well confess that I’m not cooking a turkey. No one in my family likes turkey all that much, and they’re expensive, especially if you buy a free range heritage bird (which I’d like to try.)

I’m going to make a chicken instead, which I’ll brine for 1 hour in 2 quarts of water + 1/2 cup each of sugar and salt.

The other traditional Thanksgiving dishes–cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole–I can’t give up. Occasionally I read about “updating” Thanksgiving with steamed veggies tossed with toasted nuts, or roasted sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, and it just makes me feel depressed. I don’t go so far as to include mini-marshmallows on my sweet potatoes–everyone, including me, is just as happy with some pecan streusel on top–but my green beans must be lovingly bathed in a cream sauce or Thanksgiving is not complete.

What makes your Thanksgiving complete, food-wise?

Here are some links to recipes very similar to the ones in my Thanksgiving recipe file:

Green Bean Casserole (Cook’s Illustrated)

Cranberry Fruit Conserve (Ina Garten)

Classic Bread Stuffing with Sage and Thyme (Cook’s Illustrated)

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel (Cook’s Illustrated)

And I wish you and yours a peaceful Thankgiving full of joy and gratitude!

(See you on Friday.)

Connecting/Celebrating

I’ve decided to take Sundays off from writing and, instead, post a single photo capturing some aspect of Sabbath–rest, peace, comfort, connection, praise, help–things like that. Today’s is about connecting/celebrating.

“Grandpa, hold me like this and then raise your glass!”

A Mouthwatering Work of Culinary Genius

So between my birthday (last month) and Tim’s (yesterday) and the book contract, we had the opportunity to do some serious celebrating.

Not far from us is one of the very finest restaurants on the East End. We’ve eaten there twice before (well, three times if you count the time we went only for dessert) but only during ‘Restaurant Week,’ during which they feature a different menu with smaller portions.

Each time was nonetheless thrilling–to put it in the form of an analogy:

GREAT HOME COOKING : NORTH FORK TABLE’S FOOD ::

is as:

is to:

The food at the North Fork Table is kind of in a different category from other food. There are a lot of reasons why that’s so, but all I can say for sure is that when I eat it, I’m thinking, “this is so good that it can hardly be for real.”

And this time–with the fuller menu–it was, if possible, even better. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how enjoyable this is because I think our culture doesn’t allow us to speak lyrically about food without branding us ‘foodies’ or ‘snobs.’ Improbable though it may seem, the atmosphere and presentation is unfussy. It’s just really good food.

And without further ado:

the atmosphere is beautiful...the champagne is beautiful...even the menu is beautiful!

tuna tartare for tim
house-cured charcuterie for a between-course treat
a second course of squab on butternut squash for tim
and a second course of locally caught striped bass atop brussells sprouts and parsnip puree for me
long island duck for tim
and humanely raised veal for me
I forgot to take a picture of the dessert before I decimated it...
and they sent us home with house-made mallomars.

One of the things I love about going there is how serious, yet joyful, everyone is about their work. They’re artists, and creating things of beauty–even if those things are edible and consumable and fleeting–consumes them. I love that. I’m grateful for them. I’m grateful for the bounty of where we live.

I’m grateful to the Giver of All Things.