Some beg it. You know the ones. Heavy on the gentle, double dose of cosset.
Colds kept everyone home, mid-week. Sniffling noses, stuffy heads. Nothing big. Still, no school for anyone. PJ days.
(Nothing big, save the penguin, who broke his wing. Something about being rescued from the jaws of a seal. And, the stuffed puppy, who was treated for a broken paw. Ditto Mr. Monkey. Big play theme right now, broken bones. Go figure. Fortunately, scotch tape and tissues heal all.)
PJ days which happened to coincide with stellar weather, sixty-four and sunny and, well, weird. We continue to whipsaw our way through winter. Last Friday, we had four fresh white inches. Wednesday, we flung open windows and doors. Today, balaclavas and a fresh dusting.
As I type? Fourteen below, with wind chill.
What's a person to do, but take advantage? On the warm days, play outside for hours in shirtsleeves and Crocs, no socks. Crack nuts. Pound rocks. Make messes and ruckuses. Set elaborate fairy tables. Turn bean teepees into people teepees. (The wind still whips. Any excuse to use a sheet.) Filthify fingers and toes.
(Filthify: my 2013 Word of the Year nomination. See precedents: vilify, quantify, Spotify. See, also, the widespread utility: The children filthified the white carpet, running through on muddy paws. See, finally, the tired redundancy of recent years: tweet ('09), app ('10), hashtag ('12). Come on. Life isn't only online. Dirt happens. Filthify. Are you with me?)
And on the cold days? Make sn'ice cream! Talk about soft, and taking advantage. Two minutes between you and ethereal fluff, vanilla-scented, melt-on-impact, food-of-angels fluff. Ice cream maker not even required. Does take fresh fallen snow, though, several inches. Reason alone to love winter.
On every third day, when it decides to show.
Quiet afternoons balanced out the big ones. I don't think of games as after-school fare often enough. I'm coming to think they may trump snacks. Doesn't work every day, but when it does, a game's a good way to to settle the tempo, set the tone. To ease that awkward hour of re-entry.
I must remember to schedule absolutely nothing more often.
There was fiber. A lot of fiber. Fiber fixes much. It's hard to beat the cosseting wallop of wool, linen, cotton, polyfill.
Okay, polyfill's a little squeaky. And odd. But when it's stuffing the limbs of one pink polka-dotted giraffe, it's a soothing sort of squeaky.
We finally set out to conquer finger-knitting. Seems such a smart way to launch a small child. The video was very good. I was not. (The end result was to look like a ladder. My end result resembled a cockroach. A blue bulky-weight 100% wool cockroach. Locked onto my hand. Probably devouring it.)
Needles for me from now on, thanks.
One sweater was finished and cast off, blocked, buttons auditioned. Icy blue yarn was wound for another (TBD). Yarn-winding is perpetually popular. Also, perpetually disastrous. The winder and I, we don't get along. Or don't see eye to eye. Or have bad karma. Something.
I blame the fact that I lost the instructions. I suspect the truth looks more like that blue roach.
I unearthed a second sweater I began two years back, and finished last fall, and buried last winter. The Malabrigo yarn, so lovely on the screen, looked like old dishwater in the hand. The sleeves didn't work up right the first time. Or the second. Or the third. The buttons instructions began with "Crochet...". I don't crochet. (I don't, apparently, read instructions through, either.)
I wrote it off as a giant flop learning experience.
But someone walked in just as I began to re-bury it, tried it on, declared it a fit. And I saw just then that gray goes with winter. And that the Swing Thing's full of twirly, flyaway fun. And that buttons are really just after-thoughts.
And really, what's two inches, between sleeves?
And there was some saying 'yes', when what I meant was 'no', which always feels like a softening of sorts. Paper. Oh, paper. I do so love paper. I don't so love the mountains of scrap. I ask for such conundrums, of course, with my well-stocked cupboards and well-loved childhood books. Still, somedays, I'm not up for it. I try to distract. Drag feet. Grumble. On good days, I eventually give in. Invariably, I'm glad I do.
Because we figured out how to make curled paper snails! And super cool cut circle twirlies! And paperdoll chains! Here's the key: Make sure the shape—doll, heart, snowman, whatever—goes all the way to both edges. All the way. Both edges. Really. (Unlike Fulghum, I left Kindergarten lacking.)
And for winter, and sore jaws, and scratchy throats, soft eats aplenty. Cakes baked for no better reason than because. Thick tiles of warm bread, spackled with butter, sliced well before the recommended hour's wait. Clouds of rice pudding, our Rx for colds. Cups of hot cocoa, extra whip. Burbling vats of chicken broth, for them. And, for me, bowl upon bowl of silky, sparkling, thrilling orange soup.
This is Heidi Swanson's Pumpkin and Rice Soup, which I mentioned last November in passing. I mention it again, this February, as I've tweaked it to suit my pantry and palate, and want one place to put it all down. I mention it again, also, as I've made at least a dozen pots since. It's become a staple, a stalwart in my kitchen. And staples and stalwarts deserve their own spotlight.
I come back to this soup, time and again, for its quiet riot of flavors. There's the soup itself, a straightforward affair of softened onion, sweet heat, squash and water. I use fresh ginger in place of Heidi's jalapeno, and coconut oil, for its nutty whiff; either are true to the soup's simple bones. Once tender, the whole business is blitzed into something of a surprise.
So much squash soup, like so much pea soup, is thick thick thick, less soup than stew. (I know. I do it, too.) This is not. This is lofty. Lilting, if such can be said of a soup. Thin, airy, delicate. I didn't know winter squash did delicate. It does, and swimmingly.
You wind up with a gorgeous orange pond, deeply creamy, despite its lack of cream, warm and rich, soul of squash stuff. It makes a nice sip, all by its lonesome. Not that I ever eat it that way.
Because this soup's second stroke of genius (the first being the courage to add all that water) is in the thoughtful extra bits. Classic Heidi, these. I've long held puréed soups need bits, to break up the monotony. I've never thought to combine rosemary, ginger and lemon in browned butter. Nor to add rice. Nor nuts. It delights.
The nubbins of brown rice—I tried white; brown's better—bring a fragrant, pleasing chew. The nuts slip in a necessary crunch. The yogurt's tang offsets the squash's sweet. Then there's the browned butter. Can we just pause on browned butter? Apply exclamation points as needed? (Browned butter!!!!!!!!) Better. I've professed my love before. Ply it, wherever I can. Pour it over whatever sits still. I guess I must make antsy soup, since it somehow escaped my browned-butter-flinging ways. Browned butter on soup's a showstopper.
Particularly loaded browned butter. Once the butter looks and smells of toasted hazelnuts, I pile in the minced rosemary, fresh ginger, and lemon, and cook it just a few slow minutes more. They sizzle, and lend their flavor to the fat, and go a little crisp at the edges. (Butter-fried lemon zest? Yes.) As with an Indian tarka, the aromatics and fat exchange phone numbers, each benefitting mightily from the trade. And as with a tarka trickled over dal, the browned butter drizzle transforms this soup, a small spoonful of intensity that illuminates the whole bowl. Good stuff.
None of which explains twelve pots in three months, were this a half-day affair. Don't let all those extras deceive. I clocked my last batch at eighteen minutes. Some slim forethought helps greatly. I cook up a batch of brown rice most weeks, and keep it on hand, in the fridge, for whatever. This removes the rice cooking time. The browned butter cooks while the soup simmers. And the squash, as always, is ready, cooked, waiting.
See, I took to throwing pumpkins in the oven, last fall, when we were swimming in CSA squash. Whole. Unpeeled. As is. As in: sheet pan, foil, pumpkins, go. I did it mostly as a dare, expecting them to explode/not work/never soften. They did nothing of the sort. What they did was cooperate, and cook to spoon-tender, and open up a whole new world in which squash was as hard to prepare as boxed cereal. And as easy to eat. It was a revelation. I've long done this with beets, and loved having the roasted roots on hand. Tamar Adler calls it striding ahead. I quote the greeks, call it know thyself. I cannot be depended upon to want to peel squash, simply because I want to eat soup.
I want to eat this soup, a lot. I don't see my pumpkin pitching arm atrophying, any time soon.
Silky Pumpkin Soup with Browned Butter, Rosemary, Lemon + Ginger
adapted from Heidi Swanson, www.101cookbooks.com
Through Christmas, I made and loved this with pie pumpkins. After the holidays, when pumpkins became scarce, I turned to butternet squash, also wonderful. I keep the small pan of browned butter on the stove all week, re-warming and snitching spoonfuls, as needed.
2 tablespoons coconut oil, or butter
1 very large onion (or 2 medium), chopped
1 heaping tablespoon ginger, peeled, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 1/2 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cooked*, flesh only
6-8 cups water
To Top: browned butter rosemary lemon ginger drizzle**, cooked brown rice, plain whole yogurt, slivered almonds, coconut flakes (any or all)
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt coconut oil (or butter). Add onions and ginger, and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes. Add water, salt, and squash flesh, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low-medium, and cook at a good simmer, 10 minutes, to let flavors marry. Remove from heat, blitz with an immersion blender until very smooth (1-2 minutes), and taste for consistency and seasonings, adjusting water and salt to taste. Bring back up to temperature, if you added water. Serve with spoonfuls of rice, yogurt, and/or almonds, and a generous spoonful of the loaded browned butter, drizzled over all.
*Whole Baked Squash
Line a heavy rimmed half-sheet pan with foil, place whole pumpkins or butternut squash on top, and bake, on a middle rack, until knife pierces thickest part easily. I've baked squash alongside cookies at 325°, bread at 350°, and chicken pot pie at 400°, for anywhere from 45-75 minutes. Cooking times will vary based on squash and temperature. Once tender, set squash aside to cool, then refrigerate, up to one week. When ready to use, halve, remove seeds, and scoop out the soft meat.
**Browned Butter Rosemary Lemon Ginger Drizzle
1/2 cup salted butter (1 cube)
2-3 tablespoons ginger, peeled, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
zest of 2 lemons
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and continue to cook until butter bubbles, foams, clarifies, then begins to brown. When the liquid looks slightly amber in color, the milk solids, brown, and the scent turns nutty and rich, it is done, 5-7 minutes. Immediately, add rosemary, ginger and lemon zest, and continue to cook over medium heat, another 2-3 minutes, until aromatics crisp a bit and give off their scent. Take care not to burn. Keep warm, and set aside.