Not out of fresh powder, sad to say. I realized, as I typed it, that that title may've been misleading. The only outdoorsy digging we've done of late is of the pre-spring clean-up variety. What I meant, actually, was that we spent yesterday digging out of life.
Zoë said to me, on our early back-home walk yesterday morning, the one where her little legs have half-run the boys to school by the bell and are finally walking at a proper four-year-old pace, "Do you remember those days when we do nothing? When we both stay at home, because I'm just tired? I think today should be one of those."
And so it was.
We made a whopping mess of the kitchen table, painting and coloring and knocking out thank you notes. I sifted through the black hole lovely basket that receives our school paperwork. It was downright prehistoric, eras deep, Pre-Valentine's Day, Pre-Zoë's Birthday, Pre-Henry's Birthday. Two hours, start to finish. Pre-tty crazy. In December, I always anticipate the quiet that will come, post-holiday. I always forget that our holidays wind down February 14 (those winter birthdays...). My photos still upload to a 2011 folder. November 2011.
Anyway, it all reminded me that I've got this running list of things I've meant to mention. Case in point:
:: I meant to tell you Annette was coming. Annette was coming! She came, she saw Cincinnati with us, she completely cleaned my Bananagrams clock. Tic-toc, I kid you not, it is *s-p-a-r-k-l-i-n-g*. Note to file: cunning may be an adjective, and con a verb, but no amount of wishful thinking will make cun mean to deceive. Game point or no. Dang OED.
:: Valentine's Day = Glitter. I think we can fairly call it tradition.
:: Being wait-listed for ballet is an exercise in pint-sized patience. Being green-lighted twelve hours before the first class is an opportunity to exercise one's deepest dimples.
:: If you are asked to read Harry Potter, aloud, again, for the third time, jump. High. Because you only laugh harder, and louder, and oftener, with each better-and-better re-telling. Also, because you may finally have the good sense to pull an Albus and declare yourself Supreme Mugwump. Not bad, as titles go...
:: My Nana, who lived on a very very (very) fixed income until the age of eighty-seven, told me once, "There is always room in one's budget for fresh flowers." I don't always remember to follow her advice. But I do absolutely believe it to be true.
:: Recipe for Young Boys (and Their Grown-Ups): Take one hollow-core, standard-issue door, one quartered 2 x 4, and four L-brackets. Add one Sunday afternoon. Apply the grease of six elbows, sized small, medium and large. Cost: $29. Yield: One vast and magnificent 80" Legoscape. An idea lifted wholesale from friends. Obviously, good ones.
:: Make chocolate bread, and your kiddos will smile. Make enough chocolate bread, and the bread will smile back.
:: They're not joking when they say, of circular needles, "make sure your stitches are not twisted". Adding rows doesn't improve the situation. Nor does The-Wait-And-See Approach. Eye-crossing does, but only very temporarily. Do not cun yourself. Unravel, and now.
:: Homemade sourdough, sigh. We were gifted some starter out of the blue, last year, something I'd never even thought to want. We enjoyed a dozen eye-poppingly good loaves, then starved the poor thing. So when Tara launched her sourdough challenge, we rolled up our sleeves, dove in, and succeeded wildly. Until Day 4. Turns out those little napkins were in fact shrouds. We're still grieving, a little. But not for long; we'll try again.
:: If you do wind up playing preschool hooky, climbing trees, bashing peanuts, and making bird muffins fill up a day handily.
:: Extra Yarn.
:: Anything by Oliver Jeffers.
:: And this book. I've just finished it, and I have this to say: "I was fairly certain it was the best book I had ever read. It was funny in strange ways. It was filled with words. And while all books are filled with words, this one was different: it was filled with magical, wonderful, tasty words. It slipped into poetry and out of it again in a way that made you want to read it aloud, just to see how it sounded." These are not my words, nor are they about Tamar Adler's extraordinary new volume, but they are closer than I'll ever come to capturing my thoughts on it.
(These words were penned by Neil Gaiman, introducing James Thurber's The 13 Clocks. I'm only three chapters into that one, but if they're any indication, I agree with Gaiman, entirely.)
(Yes, of course one can have two best books. Or twenty-two. Or twelve-hundred-ninety-seven.)
(And yes, I do use books as bookmarks in other books.)
:: Always answer "Yes!" to the query, "Can I do that?", when it arises on cleaning day. Even when you want to decline, because the "that" will then take ten times as long. Especially then, as a matter of fact. Because vacuuming and sweeping and wiping down stickies are eminently better when played as team sports.
:: Campanelle with Chickpeas, Sausage, Pecorino, Kale, and a Secret.
I meant to mention this, back in September. Actually, I meant to mention the whole fall Edible Columbus, and the greens article with which this went. (There's a link snafu to this particular piece, but if you're feeling intrepid, you can get there this way: from home, drop down Magazine: Fall 2011: Digital Edition, pages 58-9.) Ditto my deep dive into local fiber, which I lost in the cookie crumbs, in December. These Edibles—there are 60+ throughout the country, and counting—are remarkable things, boisterous intersections of food, farms, community, people, place. Maybe there is one where you live? Pick one up. They're free. And they're something else. Rather like this rollicking pasta.
I don't do pasta much. You may have noticed. I mean, I cook it all the time, for my peeps, but when it comes to eating it myself, meh. Not usually enough flavor for all that starch. Not usually what I want to eat, when dinner rolls around. So not the case, in this case, here.
This pasta begins with a crumble of Italian sausage, well-browned, fat-rendered, plus garlic and chili for punch. Into this, slide a half-dozen oil-packed—shhhh, don't tell—anchovies, which entirely disappear but which completely make the meal. (No one will notice. Unless you omit them. Trust me.) There are sweet, nutty chickpeas, and a pound of blanched kale, which transforms the thing from stodgy to sublime. The al dente pasta is finished off in the skillet, which, along with a bit of pasta water and a good throw of pecorino, gets completely punch-drunk on the rumbling, savory sauce. I typically eat leftovers for breakfast the next morning. Often lunch, also. It’s that good.
One last thing: flexibility is this pasta's middle name. Sometimes, I'll swap in broccoli raab for the kale, or mustard greens, or even spinach. Sometimes, I'll double the sausage. Other times, I'll omit it entirely. (The beans-and-greens-only version makes one grand vegetarian main, so long as you're down with the little fishies.) I double the greens to two pounds when I've got them, and always, always I prefer it this way. For the kids, who aren't yet on speaking terms with greens, I'll set aside a simple batch of sausage, chickpeas and cheese. No matter which path you pick, it comes together in the time that it takes the water to roil and boil the noodles. A cozy thing for winter, a handy trick for weeknights, a mighty happy ending to any day spent digging out.
Campanelle with Kale, Chickpeas, and Sausage
Switch up the greens, based on what's good and plenty, adapting the blanching time to suit the type. Broccoli raab will need 2-3 minutes, until just tender. Spinach needs no blanching at all. If you do double the greens, you'll want to up the seasonings accordingly.
Any short pasta will work, here, but I especially love campanelle, for the way the chickpeas nestle into the trumpet tips. Barilla is widely available.
If you're children eat greens and chilis, give yourself a raise. And a bonus. If not, change up the order a little: after browning the sausage, add the chickpeas, and let the two chit-chat a few minutes. Set aside in a medium bowl enough to satisfy your littles, and when the pasta finishes, toss the hot noodles into the bowl, along with a good throw of pecorino. Proceed with the remaining sauce, where you left off, adding spices and anchovies and greens to your porky beans.
½ pound Italian sweet sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 plump cloves garlic, minced
4-6 oil-packed anchovies
¼ teaspoon aleppo (or red) pepper flakes
½ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1 pound lacinato (dinosaur or tuscan) kale, washed, ribs removed, slivered
1 15-ounce tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup grated pecorino romano, plus additional to finish
8 ounces campanelle pasta (1 cup pasta cooking water reserved)
In a large stock pot, blanch kale in well-salted boiling water, 1 minute (begin counting when the water returns to the boil). Drain with slotted spoon, reserving water at a strong simmer for pasta, and set kale aside.
In a large, deep, heavy skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sausage, breaking apart with the back of a spoon, and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring and crumbling occasionally. When sausage is no longer pink inside, and well-browned outside, reduce heat to low-medium, and add garlic, red pepper, anchovies, and fennel (if using). Cook 2-3 minutes, crushing anchovies with spoon back and stirring, until garlic is fragrant and anchovies have melted into the background. Add drained kale, and stir well to combine, breaking apart leaves to incorporate seasonings well. Reduce heat to low, add drained chickpeas, stir gently and well, and let sit on lowest heat 10 minutes, while pasta cooks.
Return water to vigorous boil, then cook pasta per package instructions, stopping just shy of tender (al dente). Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to beans and greens, then add grated pecorino and ½ cup pasta water (you will have water leftover, to loosen further, if desired). Return heat to low-medium, and cook 2-3 minutes, tossing steadily, until pasta is tender and punch-drunk on the sauce. Taste for seasonings, adjust if needed, and serve hot, with additional pecorino and chili flakes, as desired.