[Pacific Ocean, McClure’s Beach, December 2010.]
The holidays this year were lovely, weren’t they? At least — I hope they were for you. For me they were an amazing blur of friends and family and afternoons at the beach (one, in that clear, grey ethereal light that is so awfully perfect for taking photos; another in wind and sun and crashing blue) and a long hike and lots of food and hometown friends and a Boxing Day lunch that was so jolly and funny and fun. It was a golden stretch of days: the presents were all just right, given and received (though, ahem, minus two sweaters due to picky me); there was lots of sleep, if the daylight hours were full up with things to do; there were just enough dry days to counter the storms; there was just enough cooking to satisfy my need to throw a party.
On Christmas it rained and rained, so we didn’t go to the beach after all though I managed to squeeze in four miles early, which helped with the stuffing-with-selves to follow. Later, after a glass of wine, after snacks, and while my mom cooked dinner, Emily and Kurt and I sat in front of the fire reading cookbooks (me, the Canal House summer issue; she, The Kitchen Diaries; he, One Big Table, and if you own a copy please check out the eggplant recipe on page 534 — but that is another story for another time) drinking tea and talking about food and my heart just about exploded in joy. What can I say? The small and sweet is everything to me.
But now I am sick, and though the sun shines beautifully in San Francisco I am in the throes of a cold that just won’t quit, despite my best efforts to thwart it with medicine and tea and plain old going to bed early. I have more to recount about a wonderful visit with wonderful friends and the whirlwind new year’s eve dinner we cooked for eight — but as I have two looming deadlines in a matter of days as well as a rapidly depleting box of tissues I think I shall save that for when I am feeling more on the up and up. Still, know that recently there has much cooking, much feasting, much laughing, and much thinking about 2011. And as is the way of these things perhaps detailing a few hopes for the coming year would not be amiss …
For the next year, I have chosen my word and it is peace. Meaning: I want to cultivate more peace in my life, inwardly and outwardly. I want to rest in the space between the moments and I also want to rest in the moments. It came into my head as if bidden last week out at South Salmon Creek when I was sitting and looking out at the ocean (pictures to come tomorrow); the ocean, the Pacific specifically, always grounds me and reminds me to take a deep breath, to slow down, to be. So often I am running around running or pitching a story or reading New Yorker articles while careening to work on a packed bus and figuring out what I am going to make for dinner in the one hour I have in between exercise and the next thing — and man, that is no way to live. Our lives are busy and over-planned and just full (and this is good, I’m not saying it’s not, just — it is good to take a break, too) that we forget to breathe. So: peace. I aim to seek it more in my life during 2011.
Make some new soups. Easy, yes. But you have no idea how often I make my quinoa-mushroom stew, or a cauliflower-leek-sometimes-with-potato soup, or a Potage Jacqueline … These are my standards, my fall-backs, my favorites. I don’t want to mess with good things. But I would also like to add to my repertoire.
Travel somewhere new, for vacation. Breaking news: mostly when I travel it’s to visit beloved friends. I got no regrets. I know I will travel thus in 2011 as well. But I would also like to go somewhere absolutely new-to-me, or at least where I haven’t been in awhile — on the high end of the scale is Tahiti, owing to a recent read recounting the history of the Mutiny on the Bounty; more practical is Big Sur, where, if you can believe it, I’ve never been. Must remedy!
Waste more time. Err … I know this sounds counter-productive to productivity. However, I want and wish to ‘waste’ more afternoons at the beach, linger long over coffee, go out to breakfast on a whim, spend a day driving to the end of the (California) earth to look for whales just because, go to bed early on a Saturday night because it’s deliciously decadent to do so.
Use less plastic. My friend Carolynn currently is at sea studying plastic pollution in the South Atlantic Ocean. She is an inspiration to me, and I want to be more mindful of the amount of plastic that enters and exits my house (as well as tin, aluminum, etc.). I do a good job of cooking from whole foods and buy a lot in bulk that I store in re-used glass containers, but I know I can do better.
Relatedly — Compost. San Francisco has made it so easy for us, and I have no excuse other than I hate fruit flies and sometimes I am lazy. But I know I can conquer both of these issues. It’s way past time.
My other little hopes include things like run at least one half-marathon; read new-to-me-authors; read more biography; go backpacking in Yosemite this summer; write more in-the-letter-box letters; swim in the San Francisco Bay (and swim more in general); create new recipes; cook more from the farmers market only; and some other mundane things I won’t detail.
[After, Inverness, December 2010.]
My 2011 new year’s day breakfast consisted of oatmeal, tea, a sliver of chocolate babka, and lots of laughter with my lovely visitors before heading off into the rain to the Pelican Inn and a day of adventure. Recipes that are intrinsic, and which can’t really be written down. But on December 30th, I made an unexpected batch of cornmeal pancakes (or rather, as the recipe titled them, pioneer pancakes) that turned out to be some of the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten — will that do for these first days of the new year?
Kurt and Emily had gone camping out at Wildcat Camp in Pt. Reyes (YES I wimped out and didn’t go and YES I fully expect and am prepared to deal with the ribbing throughout the coming months — though I did do 8+ miles to Arch Rock, darn it.) and I was in Inverness overnight so they planned to stop by on their way back to Sonoma County. It was pretty cold, so they packed out early, about 6a, which meant they turned up hungry and ready for breakfast around 9-ish. They were also bearing maple syrup which of course necessitated pancakes. And though I’m not a big pancake-maker I was happy to oblige. We took down an old bread baking cookbook, perused the fridge for ingredients, made a pot of coffee, and fried up a pile of cornmeal pancakes.
I can’t say exactly what made these so good — the addition of cornmeal? The splash of vanilla? The tang of plain yogurt? Going ‘off book’? — but doused in a healthy heaping of warmed maple syrup and paired with a big pan of feta-and-oregano-laced scrambled eggs I think I served the hungry travelers well. Me? Well, I was hungry because these pancakes simply tasted so good: light yet rich, with a good, gritty texture from the cornmeal, and soaked through with syrup. We talked of Maine and boats and travels and gardents while the dog sighed contentedly under the table, dreaming his doggy dreams, the sun shone bright and cool, and there were days left still of vacation.
Oh, make these quick to keep that feeling going as long as possible.
Unfortunately I don’t have the exact recipe in front of me as I type, and I went ‘off book’ anyway, so please excuse the ‘dash’ of cinnamon/ginger as me not remembering the amount. It’s all to taste, really. We also added about a cup of sliced cranberries to half the batter, about which I was skeptical and later was proved emphatically wrong. They were delicious. Blueberries would also work marvelously here.
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups plain yogurt
butter for the pan
Whisk together the dry ingredients then add the wet and stir well to combine. Batter will be lumpy and thick. Heat a skillet or frying pan and add a good amount of butter (or oil, though butter of course is … delicious). When pan is very hot, drop the pancake mixture by generous double-tablespoon-fuls (we used a ladle — very exact) and fry until the underside is golden brown, and the top side bubbles a bit. Turn the pancakes over and continue frying until well browned.
Serve hot with maple syrup.