After a brief walk in the pitch-black of early morning, I fixed myself a cup of coddlingly creamy, bracingly strong coffee. Then I turned on our switch-activated fireplace and settled in next to it on the couch, mug in hand, watching the sky become sapphire, then lighten to a wintry, robin’s-egg blue. Briefly, the wisps of clouds in the sky took on the glow of a sunrise not evident from my vantage point, like strips of cotton candy.
This is Nelly, our 11-week-old Corgi. We adopted her just over a week ago. Since she joined the family, I’ve failed to do much of anything aside from taking her outside at regular intervals and attempting to redirect her chewing efforts, the latter with variable success. She’s learned how to climb into the clothes hamper and fish for socks, her favorite thing to have in her mouth, and she’s quiet when she does it, and fast. She chases the cats and they hiss and swat at her. She gets along famously with our UPS man. Today, in our absence, he left a treat for her on top of a package.
I sleep with one ear open, a sweatshirt beside the bed, and a flashlight next to the door. If I hear a whimper from her crate, I take her out to the yard to do her business. My dreams have been strange and vivid in between awakenings. Last night, the world around me was a vision of snowflakes as large as baseballs, and I was out in it in a white embroidered cotton nightgown, like a snow angel.
We walk Nelly in wind and rain and sun breaks, sidestepping leaf-stuffed puddles, stopping so she can meet neighbors. At the beach, she follows the boys, scrambling up and across driftwood, occasionally needing a boost. When she gets tired, she sits. We rest.
When Nelly and I pick up Abbott at his middle school, there is an instantaneous clustering around her, like flies to honey. Kids compete to pet and hold her; girls photograph and make videos of her with their phones. There is nothing like a puppy. I overheard Abbott say to a pretty, pony-tailed seventh-grader eating a cookie, “I’ll let you hold her if you tell me where you got that …”
I’ve filled our home with the comfort foods I crave to smooth over the edges of my fatigue: batches of thick, creamy tomato and squash soups; aromatic roasted vegetables; spicy, eye-opening chili. I’ve baked gingerbread filled with cranberries, sticky and jammy; cornbread and muffins; a luscious, citrusy olive oil cake. Nelly is always underfoot, ever hopeful for the errant crumb that might fall her way. Sometimes she falls asleep, prone, on the kitchen floor, limbs splayed in front and behind her, like Superman; the sleep of the dead that only children and puppies can manage.
At day’s end, in the gloaming, and then again in the pitch-black, we repeated a version of this morning, and now we’ll sleep while we can.
(The Best) Tomato Soup (You’ll Ever Have)
Adapted from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and then smashed with the side of the knife handle
5 cups canned San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes in juice (one 28 oz can and one 14 oz can)
1 cup water
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt; more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper; more to taste
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or ½ teaspoon dried oregano)
1 tablespoon sugar
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. When the butter is melted, add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, cream, salt, red pepper flakes, oregano, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and purée in batches in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, reheat to a simmer, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
Yield: 6 servings