We set back the clocks, Sunday. Although really, we set back several, Saturday. The crucial trifecta, all in the kitchen, our masters for getting out the door, Monday morning. My car clock still sits an hour behind, because apparently I didn't drive much this week. Or was very late. I ought to update it. Except twice this week, longstanding problems resolved themselves through procrastination. Perhaps I'll just leave it until October.
Mornings have been a drag. Literally. As they are, always, after a time change. Early birds rising late. Late birds rising later still. Homework seems harder. Late, later. Commonplace asks, out of the question. All the ordinary edges of life, a little rough, a little bruised. Next week, it all will smooth over and fade away. Until then, we'll fumble along as best we can, and try to remember things like grace and patience and chocolate.
I did some needlework as a child, here and there, and nothing got the better of me like French knots. They eluded me. I'd learn and re-learn the technique, be sure I had them down this time, then zoop! watch them disappear. Over and over and over again. For years, this went on. No matter. No dice. I finally gave up, settled for cross-stitch. (Then, college.)
But last week? Finally. Where was YouTube when I was seven?
Magically, the weather turned in lockstep with the time. Last week, the lows bordered zero. Everywhere was arctic white wasteland. This week, Spring sprung. Or close enough, anyway. Tuesday after school, we tossed off coats and backpacks and bypassed the door, entirely, for the backyard. We squelched around in the brand-new brown, all exclamation points and enthusiasm. Certain hardy souls dug in the dirt, loosing half-frozen clumps to liberate our first "harvest", a tiny crop of wild spring onions, lovingly washed and stirred into spuds.
We placed bets on whether it was 60 degrees, or maybe 65. When we finally came in, a shirtsleeves-hour later, we learned it had been barely fifty. I'm pretty sure this is why we have Winter.
On my sink sits one candle, one daffodil. The candle has been there all winter, lightening up our dark days. The flower is new as of Tuesday, imported from some exotic place—California, maybe?—and picked up, impulsively, on a milk run. But they asked only $1.99 for the clutch, such a small price for eight promises of Spring. We promptly divided up the herd, scattering yellow, and sun, throughout the house. I suspect the candle's days are numbered.
As are my basement days. I've been purging piles for going on two weeks, trying to handle subterranean tasks before the sun returns. This week's big win: hemming last Fall's pants, to reflect last year's three new inches of height. (Two lessons my mom instilled in me, early on: always make a double batch, and always build a big hem. Brilliant, both.)
Following one extra-rough afternoon, last week—see DST, above—I had to turn right around and skedaddle, nothing resolved, loose ends dangling. I always find this a particularly prickly pain, grievous and messy, air taut, spirits fraught. (I also cannot sleep until the kitchen's clean, the floor swept. Possibly, the same Type A instincts.)
But I came home to this little paper band. Air as clear and breezy indoors, as out. Again with the busy hands.
And I thought back to an ongoing internal debate I've said since pretty much forever, namely, Why? Why make music/paintings/stuff? What's the point? How can art justify itself? (Oh, logic. So useful. So limited. And don't ask about that Art History degree. Suffice it to say I was very conflicted.) And I realized I might, belatedly, be staggering my way toward an answer, which roughly goes something like this: making stuff beats Marlboros, any day. Peace is precious. Solace, scarce. Grab it when and where you can.
And if the end result is a two-tone, five-man, banjo-and-trombone jammin' band? All the better.
My own making, in recent weeks, has been fueled by this bright, crazy, rollicking bowl. The contents are a mash-up of several recipes, wildly inauthentic, madly good. I call it Peruvian Chicken Potato Soup. You can just call it dinner.
For years, I made this locro de papas, an Andean potato stew that ran in (RIP) Gourmet. The combination of soft potato, sharp white cheese, and smooth avocado, set against a mildly spiced broth, tasted like what the textbooks mean when they claim simple equals good. But it dropped of my radar, as recipes do, edged out by tortilla soup, which offered the twin attractions of chicken and tortilla chips, kid-lures, both.
Then, Luisa ran Amelia's Corn, Chile and Potato Soup, and everything came together like fate. I began with Luisa/Amelia's simple sauté of onions and olive oil, and thrilled over the chipotle in adobo, a genius touch that adds color and heat and a heady smoke I find kind of addicting. In went the heap of diced potatoes, which add that requisite soft mild tender, but also, in went shredded, poached chicken, for substance and staying power. In goes the corn at the very end, for it needs little more a gentle re-heat. At which point you have... a pot of brown broth, with lots of beige bits.
Be strong! What you see is deceptively grand, blooming with warmth and savory swoon. Plus, we're just getting started.
Because here, at the end, you stir in the bright corn, which needs little more than a gentle re-heat. And here, better still, is where the toppings, i.e. the real fun, begins! Like tortilla soup, half the bang's in the bevy of goodies one gets to pile on top. Cool slips of avocado, cotija's saline squeak, cilantro's pluck, the inscrutable crunch of crushed chips. More lime and/or adobo dribbled over, to brighten or heat to taste. It's endlessly adaptable, deeply customizable, completely delectable, very Mary Poppins. Pretty much perfect in every way.
It seems just the soup for pre-Spring, bright and warm, hearty and fun, all zip and bling with a riptide of substance. It is ruddy and gently but sneakily spiced, with a warmth that blooms and thrills and swaddles, somehow both at the same time. You can eat it outside, when the weather behaves, maybe even in the company of backyard daffodils. Or tucked away inside, cozy and snug, when the frost returns. Candle optional.
The broth base, here, is pure Luisa/Amelia; I love its spare, effective flavorings. I add more broth, as I love a sloppy soup, and I've tweaked the lime and adobo a bit, to suit my tastes. Also, that chicken, which I adore. Also, I've just noticed, for the first time, that Luisa has you mash the potatoes coarsely, at the end. I've "made" Luisa's version six times, now. I just noticed this line. Needless to say, I've never mashed. I'm sure it is lovely. Though I do love the soft cubes. Surely, both ways are wonderful.
Finally, here is where I confess I sometimes swap in chopped romaine for the chips. I seriously love its crunch and crisp, and the way it holds up against the hot broth. My children accuse me of turning everything into a salad. I don't deny it.
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 # waxy potatoes, peeled + diced 1/2"
4 cups shredded chicken, poached* or leftover
6 cups chicken broth or water
2 tsp. kosher salt + more to taste
1-2 canned chipotle chilis in adobo
2 cups (1 15 oz. can) corn, drained
2-3 Tbs. lime juice (1 large lime)
cubed cotija, or another fresh, salty white cheese (ricotta salata, feta)
additional adobo sauce
In a large pot, warm oil over medium heat. Add diced onion, and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, 7-10 minutes. Add diced potatoes, broth (or water) and salt. Using two forks, one to hold chipotle(s) in place, the other to mash, moosh your chilis to a paste, then scrape into the pot as well. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, until potatoes are blissfully tender, 15-20 minutes.
While soup is simmering, prepare all the topping lovelies: chop your cilantro, crumble your cotija, dice avocado (squeezing a little lime over), etc. Do leave the tortilla chips whole; half the fun is the interactive sport of crumbling them over!
Once potatoes are soft and swoony, add chicken and corn, and bring back to a burble. Add lime juice, taste for seasoning, adjust chipotle + salt to taste, and dish up, going hog wild with the avocados, cheese, adobo, cilantro, tortilla chips... whee!!!
*Rotisserie chicken or leftover roast chicken are wonderful here. However, you can also poach a chicken in pretty much no time: place one entire roasting chicken + 2 Tablespoons kosher salt in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Set on stove, turn heat to high, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, slap on lid, and let sit one hour. Done. 2+ pounds of perfectly seasoned, delectable, incredibly moist meat, ready for whatever.
Remove chicken to a shallow bowl, let cool until reasonable, and pull meat from the bones. This is about as hard as pulling cotton candy from a cone; poached chicken is supple and user-friendly.
You can then return the bones to the incipient broth (cooking water), simmer it further, another hour or three, then strain and voila! Stock for your soup. Or chuck it. As you wish.
You can also fancy this up by adding roughly chopped (unpeeled) carrots and onions, as suits. Also good: a stick of celery, peppercorns, a halved head of garlic, and my favorite, many coins of fresh ginger. But this is all frosting; just chicken and salt are fine.
Also, note that this same technique works for smaller cuts of chicken, bone-in or boneless chicken breasts, for example. Just shorten their hot water stay usually 30 minutes or so.