For the first time in a week, I’m alone, and I’m settling into it like an old sweatshirt. It’s a wonderfully clear, sparkling day; one in a string of several. I can see the majestic outline of Mt. Rainier through the now-bare maple trees from one corner of the house. The rooftops across the street still retain a bit of frost, even as it approaches noon. I’m alerted to the presence of an eagle by the familiar high-pitched whistle. He sits on a neighbor’s tree overlooking the water; a favorite perch for this one. After a time he’ll swoop down and away.
We ate hurried bowls of cold cereal before heading out the door this morning. I had to pack applesauce in little plastic containers with foil tops for the fruit in the boys’ lunches, as that was all we had left in the house. I keep it on hand for just these kinds of days.
Alexi’s father is back in Nova Scotia. His mother is spending the day with a classmate from her elementary school days in Woodstock, Vermont; she’s flying home tomorrow. The boys are at school, bellies and hearts full from the past week. Alexi is back at work. We’ve texted each other several times this morning, not yet used to the separation after a week together.
Saturday, after sleeping in, playing Pond Hockey-opoly, eating the last of the leftovers and crossing things off our to-do lists, Alexi and I went out for the evening; his mom put the boys to bed. I liked watching them play games together as much as I enjoyed setting out, alone, with Alexi; the visits are too few and far between. We went to Spinasse, a favorite. Every time we go I think to myself, “This is one of the best meals I’ve ever had.” The food is outstanding without feeling fussy. We shared squash ravioli with sage, tagliatelle with braised pheasant and huckleberry, steak with charred chicory purée. We had gelato and espresso. Afterwards, we went to see Anna Karenina, arriving just as it was starting; the theatre was so full we had to sit in the front row. We haven't been to such a crowded movie in about a decade. It was energizing.
Yesterday, late morning, the five of us went to church, passing mile 26 of the Seattle Marathon on our way. Later, we went downtown and joined the slow-moving wave of holiday revelers visiting the Gingerbread Village and the larger-than-life Christmas tree and the holiday carousel. We ended the day with another movie (Rise of the Guardians), the way we love to conclude Thanksgiving weekend.
Now, I’m re-stocking the house, regrouping, moving forward. I’ve got a pot of beans soaking. A couple of weeks ago I bought Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's beautiful new book, Jerusalem, full of more things I’m eager to make than any other cookbook I own. I made a stew from the book when Alexi’s father was in town, and I plan to make it again tomorrow. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is perhaps the most delicious one-pot meal I’ve ever had.
Cannellini Bean & Lamb Stew
slightly adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 small onion (5 oz/150 g), finely chopped
½ small celery root (6 oz/170g in total), peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
20 large cloves garlic, peeled but whole
1 tsp ground cumin
1 lb/500 g lamb stew meat (can use beef if you prefer), cut into ¾ inch (2 cm) cubes
7 cups (1.75 liters) water
½ cup (100g) dried cannellini or pinto beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water, then drained
7 cardamon pods, lightly crushed
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp superfine sugar
9 oz (250 g) Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and cut into ¾ inch (2cm) cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice, to serve
chopped cilantro, to serve
bread, to serve
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and celery root, and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the onion starts to brown. Add the garlic cloves and cumin and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the meat and water in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, skimming the surface frequently until the broth is clear. Add the onion and celery root mixture, the drained beans, cardamon, turmeric, tomato paste, and sugar. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower the heat to a barely perceptible simmer for at least 1 hour, until the meat is tender. I usually end up simmering the meat for closer to an hour and a half.
Add the potatoes to the soup, and season with 1teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 more minutes, or until the potatoes and beans are tender. Your goal is a thick soup. Let it bubble away to reduce the volume of liquid, if need be, or add water if there isn’t enough. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish each bowl with a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Serve with bread.
Yield: 4 servings