Yesterday morning, as I was driving the boys to school, I passed two vehicles whose occupants had stopped to take photos of the dramatic sunrise we were witnessing. Thick, cloud-like fog surrounded the downtown buildings in view. The fog was illuminated pink as the sun rose through and then above it. I watched a woman pull over and get out of her car in a dress and high heels, without a coat, even though it was 30 degrees outside. It moved me to see others pause in the busyness of a morning to appreciate beauty.
Every year, after January 1 comes and goes, I’m ready for spring. Invariably I leave the house without socks on, wearing a light jacket, and am surprised when I get cold. It isn’t that I dislike winter. January mornings are wonderful for their mystery; I’m awake for ages before I can tell if the day is foggy, frosty, or drizzly. This January, the light has been dazzling. But I do miss the flowers. I miss eating raw vegetables, which I don’t tend to do except in summer when the farmer’s markets are brimming, and cooking seems like too much trouble. I’m claustrophobic from the long stretches of time indoors due to the short days and the cold. So I wear color to counterbalance its absence outside; I organize and make my house more spartan to combat my claustrophobia. I take pictures of the light, while it’s present, with abandon.
My friend Shannon once started dating someone who sounded promising around this time of year. I told her, “Oh, winter is the perfect season for starting a relationship! It’s such a romantic time of year. It’s no accident Valentine’s Day is in February!” She laughed and said that I always think the timing is perfect, whatever the season. She ended up marrying someone else, but I still stand by my assessment: winter has its attributes, particularly for couples – consider all that extra time for cozying up indoors together. Early on in our relationship, Alexi and I established a pattern of having dinner at my apartment on Sunday nights. On one such winter’s night, I first made a beef stroganoff. I can’t say it deserves credit for getting us to where we are now, but it didn’t hurt. I found this version in The New Basics, and it’s become a favorite, in regular rotation in winter months around here.
Adapted from The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
12 ounces beef tenderloin (can substitute skirt steak)
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons minced peeled shallots
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced ¼ inch thick
½ cup beef stock or broth
½ cup crème fraiche
4 teaspoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
½ pound egg noodles, cooked until just done
Season the meat lightly with salt and pepper. If using tenderloin, slice the whole piece in half horizontally.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. When it gets hot, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the skillet, add the meat, and sear for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side, depending on thickness, until nicely browned on the outside and pink and juicy on the inside. Transfer the steaks to a plate.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet, and sauté the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat until just softened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the stock or broth, crème fraiche, tomato puree, and Worchestershire sauce. Cook over high heat until slightly thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Add any juices that have accumulated from the steaks.
Slice the steaks, across the grain and at an angle, into thin strips. Pour the sauce over them, and serve on top of buttered noodles.
Yield: 2 servings