We've just come off ten days of Spring Break. I think I've found my favorite vacation destination, yet.
The lodging was excellent. Comfortable. Family-friendly. Roomy and relaxed. With those wonderful pillows, the soft barely-there sort, where you can't wait to sink your head at the end of a long day.
The weather was perfect. Cold. Sometimes snowy. A bit windy, perhaps, but a fair trade for a guarantee of winter coats, hats and mittens. My favorite uniform.
There was great children's programming, a jumbly mix of art, adventures, outdoor activities, and absolutely nothing. No reservations required.
The game selection was astounding: varied, extensive, suitable for all ages. We took advantage, day and night.
The on-board library was the best. We patronized it four times, at least. Maybe five. More? We beat a path.
A free car was ours for the asking. Good walking paths. Great sidewalks. A nice kitchen, for making meals. (Well, the tile counters were the worst, and half the cabinets barely opened. But the space was good, and the appliances, functional. And the table, long enough for an army of noses.)
Best of all, we get first dibs, for all future vacations. In fact, I've already made reservations for summer. And next spring. Guaranteed.
It's called home.
And truly, I can't recommend it any more highly.
In our six (!) years here, we've traveled every spring break. Until now. Partly, because this is what you do when you have children in school that musn't be missed. Mostly, because as lifelong West Coasters, we were floored by the prospect of driving to DC, and Pittsburgh, and Montreal, and Chicago. It seemed downright criminal not to take advantage.
I barely jaywalk. The sights needed seeing.
I'm so glad we took those trips, all those years.
I'm so glad we didn't, this year.
The pace of our days was outrageously ideal, unstructured, unhurried, unremarkable. Sleep late. Do nothing. Lounge around. Extend breakfast with two chapters of our read-aloud. Or three. No bigs.
Clothes by noon. Lunch by three. Popcorn suppers. Double desserts. Life as its meant to be lived. En vacances.
Walks right smack dab in the middle of the day, when I'd normally never suggest such a thing. Normally, we're just leaving school, with backpacks rigged with homework and tempers ragged from the day. Turns out, 3 p.m. is a lovely hour for perambulating, under the right circumstances.
Long-running projects, finally completed. Brand new projects, instantly hatched.
Just enough road tripping to learn the frindle's etymology, plus the collected stories of one marmalade-loving bear from deepest Peru. (Ace, both.) Just enough nothing to enable a full morning of Minecraft (them) and office drudgery (me).
Best of all, there was zero pressure to see anything, since it's all our backyard. Motivation, therefore, to see many things, because we had the time and space. Presidential libraries, of amazing scope. Movies, plural, old classics and new. Daytrippin' it to IKEA, to re-up on .79 dish towels and eat meatballs and load up on fish paste.
Spring break does not often enough include fish paste.
(I realize, for most of you, this is probably a good thing. What can I say. My Danish is showing.)
Friday, I woke to a text from my friend Kate, communicating their plans for the day. We'd been trying to arrange an official play date, all week, and were still half-heartedly hoping to succeed. I sent back a stalling, ambiguous update, over breakfast. Then looked up and zoom!, it was nearly noon. "We seem to have voted for a long, lazy, unencumbered morning," I replied.
The same could be said of our entire break. Not exactly winning cruise brochure copy, but man oh man, it floats my boat.
Our eating, and cooking, changes not insignificantly, when school's out. Even for a week. The schedule shifts; the appetites follow. Store runs are scarce. Ice cream runs, frequent. Mealtime can (and often does) wait for the end of a riproaring game/movie/book. Priorities, people. Food's but a small part. It all tilts away from three formal squares, toward a series of small munch-fests, smattered throughout the day.
What makes this work, what keeps me sane, is a huge pot of soup in the fridge, at all times. I'm the worst offender, when it comes to mealtimes, preferring to eat at ten, two and six, when everyone else equates lunch with noon. So bizarre.
I went through enough soup last week to keep a small flotilla afloat. Boozy bacon lentil. Miscellaneous minestrone. Anonymous freezer fodder. And toward the end, a pot of this chicken quinoa sweet potato soup, a bang-up riff on a bowl I inhaled in Toronto last November. I've been meaning to reverse engineer it ever since. Sometimes a kick in the pants arrives looking like long and lazy.
I started here, tweaking and twisting to suit my memory and more, my tastes. In went fresh ginger, and more garlic, and enough turmeric to make the broth blush. Sweet potatoes, cubed and vivid. Poached chicken, meaty and mild. Quinoa, which I love in soup, for the way it acts like a grain with attitude. And at the very end, a heap of spinach, to barely wilt, all sweet emerald silk. I was so pleased, so slurp-happy with the first go, that I wanted to tuck it away for future vats. Consider it tucked.
It's a simple soup, which I love, both in the making and the eating. If you start from scratch, you will be tucking in within the hour, most of that spent playing quoridor. If you have your quinoa and chicken on hand (which I often do, as both so help along a week; see notes, below), it's an easy half an hour, start-to-finish. And then, only if you're grieving your seventh failed maze.
The eating is equally unfussy, a suitable sup for a cold crisp Spring day. The base is a clear fragrant broth, whose aromatics add up not to heat or spice, but a well-rounded soothing savory. (Two of my three ate several bowls full. The third doesn't do soup. At all. Period.) The ingredients are few, well-matched, straightforward, sweet meets oxalic meets mild meets, well, tiny tender snap, a constellation of curlicues, sparkling up each spoonful. You can call it quinoa. I call it jolly.
The net effect is a happy bowl, easy, freewheeling, soul-satisfying. As the weather warms—no snow forecast, this week!—I can see adding in asparagus, new peas. Or just memorizing the simple steps below, making pot after pot, until it's too hot. Because soon enough, the garden will come calling. And late nights, and more light, and less time for kitchen mischief. And I'm all for all that, less stove, more elsewhere. And the soups and such that enable our days to reach their highest level of lazy. Amen.
Sweet Potato, Quinoa + Chicken Soup
inspired by a Toronto café; seriously adapted from Donna Hay
Leftover roast or rotisserie chicken is fine, here, or simply poach some anew, per the notes below. I can imagine a splash of hot sauce, here, or a smattering of cilantro, or parsley, or lemon. I can also attest to the fact that I love it straight-up, simply, as is.
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. kosher salt + more to taste
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4" cubes
8 cups chicken broth
8 oz. fresh spinach leaves
4 cups poached or shredded chicken*
3 cups cooked quinoa*
In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, then add onions and salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until transluscent, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and turmeric, and cook another 2 minutes, stirring, until fragrant. Add broth, then cubed sweet potatoes. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender. Add chicken and spinach, and cook another 3-4 minutes, until chicken is warmed through and spinach is just wilted and bright emerald. Taste and adjust salt to suit (you may need up to another teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of the broth). Add a scoop of quinoa to each bowl, ladle hot soup over all, and enjoy.
*To Cook Quinoa: I follow The Kitchn's slam--dunk, foolproof instructions, adding only this one step: after simmering your quinoa for 15 minutes, and before setting it aside off the heat for five, slip a clean, taut, doubled-over dishtowel under the lid. This absorbs excess steam, and helps keep the quinoa light, fluffy and wonderful. Cooked quinoa keeps beautifully for 5 days, refrigerated. I typically prepare my soup grains separately, as I find they go gummy and sponge up the broth.
*To Poach Chicken: Add 3 boneless chicken breasts to a medium pot, cover with cold water, add 4 teaspoons kosher salt. Bring to the boil, slap on lid, turn off heat. Let sit 1 hour. Done. Chop or shred, as needed. See further chicken poaching details at the bottom of this post.