I’ve always found a comforting stillness with the arrival of winter. I try to keep dinner simple, both to honor the quiet contemplation of the time, but also, and more likely, because I’m not feeling overly creative in the kitchen these days. My children have embraced their own ideals with far more grit and resolve than I seem to muster.
One moment someone declares their allegiance to a vegetarian diet, refusing to eat fish but devouring chicken the next day, while the other simply wants the world on her terms and that’s all there is to it. I’ve grown accustom to the waves of energy and determination that come with raising children. While some mothers might try to figure out what foods their children may or may not like on any given day, I assume its all a crapshoot so I might as well make something I enjoy. On this night, it was soup.
I cover the bone of a poorly trimmed ham with eight cups of water and let it simmer while snow collapses upon itself outside my kitchen window. My daughter watches cartoons on Netfilx, while my son learns the ways of a semi-rural existence at my husband’s side. Both are covered from start to finish in Carhartt and snow pants to ready this house and our family for the impending snowstorm.
It’s not uncommon to lose power, and end up trapped for a day or two until a maintainer comes by with a wedge to free the few houses on our gravel road. The first time this happened, I expected the neighbors to start snowshoeing to one house or another with bottles of whiskey and a deck of cards. I had visions of snowy cabins in Colorado, and young people with booze. As it turns out everyone hunkered down in their own homes, and I felt like Jack Nicholson from The Shining. I have since calmed down a bit. Now that I’m a decade into living here, I know we won’t be isolated for long, and to stock up on water, batteries and flashlights.
I chop a few onions and potatoes while my better half, now with our son, attaches the blade to our John Deere. Next, I slice the fennel, celery and carrots from our Christmas dinner relish tray and toss them in the blue cast iron Lodge pot. I add a bit of white wine when I feel like it, some thyme and a bay leaf or two. I ladle the pork stock over the vegetables. Add a couple of cans of beans, a handful of chopped ham, some kale and a glug or two of olive oil to finish it off. This is dinner, and hopefully tomorrow’s lunch.
By the time the boys come in from the cold and my daughter expresses her boredom, bowls of soup made from what remained of Christmas dinner were ready. I wish I could tell you everyone raved about it, and sang my praises for making a perfectly lovely meal out of the bits and pieces from the previous meal, but that’s not really how families work. Not even families with a cookbook author among them. The boys loved it. I thought it needed something, a bit of cheese and crack of pepper to be exact, and my daughter decided it wasn’t really for her. She chose, instead, to eat crackers and drink water for dinner. Never was there a tougher critic than a four-year-old-girl trying to express her independence.