(or an achey heart)
My brother went camping today in Point Reyes, but I didn’t go because I’m still a little sick and it’s cool and drippy. I am trying very hard not to regret this. Back in September, when I made the reservation, it was hot and sunny in San Francisco and I had visions of Wildcat Beach in a warm December breeze, sun-filled and balmy. I decided not even to entertain the possibility of rain or typical winter weather but here it is December 28 and surprise! I’m still cough-ish and the thought of hiking 6 miles out along a muddy trail while appealing (really) is not very practical. So for once I am being reasonable and staying in with tea and my new, cozy fingerless cashmere gloves and a few books and a wee dram of whiskey and holing up for the duration.
But still: I yearn a bit to be out there, mud or no. There is much to be said for getting out of town — and I have no doubt said it many times — though I am certainly out of the city, in my childhood home where the grass stretches around the house and the redwood trees loom large out the back window. Still, though: I hear cars going down the street, dogs barking, the hum of the dishwasher and my ears are not filled with the surf pounding against the beach as they would have had I gone out there. Tonight perhaps I could not have seen the stars for the fog but I would have known they were there and nearly close enough to touch. Sleeping outside is a particular pleasure and one of which I swear I will never tire — good thing, then, my brother is doing that for me in my absence.
In lieu of shivering over a camp stove this wintry eve I made potato soup — but not just any potato soup. No — I roasted the potatoes and leeks and onions rather than simply cooking them in a big pot on the stove and I swear it has made all the difference. Oh, I swear. The leeks … ah, the leeks crisped up black and melting as I bit into them (OK, I am seriously obsessed with roasted vegetables I think; I ate the slightly burned bits so as to not have them turn the soup too dark but they were so unexpectedly good I think I shall have to roast myself an entire pan of leeks in the future so I can fully indulge) and the potatoes of course capitulated to the high heat and turned soft and shy — completely ready, it was clear, to be pureed with baby spinach and vegetable broth and a little white wine into something more than the sum of its parts. I think I could eat bowls upon bowls of this soup and never completely reach my fill.
[The beach the other day, December 2008.]
Oh, 2008, I am so ready to bid you farewell. It was a time, for sure. I fell out of love, fell in love, pushed through a breakup to come clean to the other side, climbed a few mountains, visited New England, ate more than my fair share of cheese, wrote a few articles, swooned ever further for my foggy, sparkling city by the bay, missed friends — so, pretty much, a typical year in the life. However, like I said, 2009 is our year and I mean this for every single one of you: It’s our year. It’s time. Take the chances you’ve wanted to take, jump off into that clear sea, hike out in the rain to camp just because you want to, stretch further than you ever have before, cook a soup just a little differently. Let’s make 2009 the year of surprise, the year of love, the year of taking risks, the year of grace, the best one yet.
This is a lovely soup — a soup for a new year, rich with good potatoes and roasted leeks and smoothed out with white wine, just enough so you taste it but not so much it’s overpowering. It’s a soup that tastes of the wind and rain and earth and days spent outdoors for as long as the light lasts. It’s a soup for a night like tonight when my heart may be perched atop a ridge overlooking a vast and booming beach but I find myself indoors — and it’s a soup that promises I’ll be back there soon enough, as long as I am patient.
Roasted Potato Leek Soup, adapted from “Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics,” by Ina Garten via sfgate.com
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned of all sand (4 leeks)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
dried herbs to taste, such as herbs du Provence or thyme
3 cups baby spinach, lightly packed
1/2 cup dry white wine
6-7 cups vegetable broth
Instructions: Preheat oven to 400°.
Combine the potatoes and leeks and onion in a pan in a single layer. Add a good glug of olive oil and sprinkle salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40-45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Remove the pan from the oven and place over two burners. Stir in the wine and 1 cup of the broth and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits sticking to the pan.
Pour the vegetables into a large pot along with 4 cups broth and use a stick blender to puree. Add the spinach and cook a few minutes to wilt. Puree again until the soup reaches desired consistency. to puree the vegetables in batches until they’re all done and combined in the large pot. Add the rest of the broth and herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently.