New Year’s Eve, late afternoon, taking the long drive through the fields to Inverness, the sun hung low and sweet on the horizon. Clouds streamed across the sky in a sheet of feathery white that couldn’t be captured by a camera, even though I tried, and Tomales Bay shimmered quietly as darkness crept over the hills. We pulled over every so often for one more picture, this is the last one, I swear; it simply could not be helped.
The plan was to stay overnight in the house in the woods, and have dinner and a fire beforehand, with a walk the next day — and so, we did all of these things, and they were all lovely. I brought wine and bread and cheese and a few things to make a soup — vegetable broth, asparagus — and though we arrived a bit late, I had a nice, sharp gin and tonic before settling in to cook. We talked of many things — the upcoming primaries, the tiger attack at the SF Zoo, moving from Israel to Philadelphia, Michael Pollan, mice — as I went back-and-forth from living room to kitchen.
I sautéed onions and garlic until they were soft and sweet, chopped parsnips, and threw a cauliflower into the oven to roast. My soup was a mishmash of things found in the fridge and things brought, but it actually turned out surprisingly well: a sort of potato-carrot-parsnip base, sprinkled with basil and a dash of soy sauce, with mushrooms and asparagus added just before serving. Along with some bread and cheese, and a bit of hummus, it was simple and nourishing — just what we needed for the last meal of 2007.
There were a few glasses of Veuve Cliquot with dinner, relaxed and easy with the black Lab dreaming his doggy dreams under the table. We toasted to good health, good food, and good friends, and tucked in. Afterward, tea and mince pie tided us up to midnight.
And then it was the first day of the new year — the morning clean, bright, and warm. Waking up late (9a), the only thing to do was eat a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and tea, and then go to the beach.
It was so long (too long!) since I’d been out to Keyhoe, one of my very favorite spots. The drive through rolling green pasture land, marked here and there by Cyprus trees and the ubiquitous cows, is, too, part of the allure. After parking at a nondescript pull-off just before Pierce Point Ranch, you take a trail that leads to a wide expanse of beach and rocks, the ocean spreading out like a flag before you. Cows may graze on the cliffs above (I wrote a poem about this in college, to the fascination of my creative writing teacher) or they might be empty and still, populated only by birds and waving grass.
Oh, delicious day of sun and wind! You were perfect and shining, and foretold good things for the year ahead. How I miss you already.
For now I am again in the city after 10 days away in the ‘country,’ and it’s a little hard to be back. Suddenly it’s January, the rush of the holidays over and forgotten; rain piles up outside, spilling over the sidewalks and flooding the streets. My umbrella turned inside-out this morning on the way to work — battered by the same wind that has uprooted trees and brought down billboards (!) — and so I just forewent it altogether. I didn’t (much) mind. These stormy days are what I missed about Northern California winters when I wasn’t here; it’s not too cold, but the air feels charged somehow, maybe because of the threat of thunderstorms, or because of the cloud mass. If I weren’t so darn busy this weekend I’d like to pack up some cheese sandwiches and go tromping along the beach, empty and quiet as it probably will be.
The rain makes a good excuse to stay in and have people over for dinner, though — which I will do tomorrow night. If the storm doesn’t keep her off the roads, my friend is planning to run 18 miles in the morning (prep for the upcoming Napa Marathon) and I want to feed her something nourishing, and hearty. So far, I’m planning a mushroom soup to start, then a spinach-fettuccine with lightly sautéed vegetables alongside, and a salad, and will finish with a chocolate pudding with whipped cream — pure comfort food, yes, but also somewhat healthful.
Still, dinner plans and shiny new resolutions aside, my mind is a bit quiet today, with my thoughts along the windy coast. What are the pelicans doing in the rain? Do they still dive and wheel low across the waves, or are they tucked up somewhere under a rocky overhang to keep dry?
If a lot of my little hopes for this year involve things food and writing-related, they must also include more trips to the sea — in rain and sun both. In the busyness that comes from this city life, the ocean reminds me to stop and slow, if only for a few hours — which, honestly, is sometimes all I need.
Happy new year.
New Year’s Eve vegetable soup
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced fairly thinly
3 parsnips, peeled and sliced
3 red potatoes, scrubbed
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces with woody ends removed
1/2 pound mushrooms, coarsely sliced
dried herbs to taste
1-2 Tb. soy sauce
1. Sauté the onions and garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil on low heat for about 5-6 minutes, until soft, in a large soup pot. Add the broth, potatoes, parsnips, and carrots, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until the vegetables are tender.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil until they release their juices. Add the asparagus and keep heat on low, stirring occasionally under the asparagus is tender.
3. Add the cup of water (or more, to taste) to the soup pot, and mash the vegetables well with a potato masher (you could also use a stick blender to make the soup more soupy; I used what was on hand). Toss in some dried herbs (I used thyme and basil) and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add the mushrooms and asparagus and stir to combine. Taste for sweetness; if it’s fine, forgo the soy sauce, but if you’re like me and don’t like things too sweet, add soy sauce to taste. I also sprinkled in a tiny bit of cayenne pepper (about 1/2-tsp.).