Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Comfort Cooking

Saturday dawned cold and drizzly . . . wet and overcast . . . bleak and chilly.

I've heard of comfort foods and comfort eating, but on Saturday all I wanted was comfort cooking---cooking that made me think of prairie settlers and roaring fires in walk-in fireplaces and cast iron pots hanging from pothooks, simmering all day long.

Not that there is a ghost of a chance that any prairie settler would have prepared this stew that originally graced the pages of Gourmet magazine, but it sure does appeal to my romantic sensibilities.

It was a grand day for puttering in the kitchen.

For chopping up celery and onions and garlic and carrots.

For searing the meat in olive oil and adding the flavors of bay leaves, thyme, red wine, and balsamic vinegar.

For adding in tiny round, white boiling potatoes to poach in the delicious broth until their tender skins split.

It was a day for cleaning out the refrigerator and feeling happy that for one day, at least, all the dairy products sat lined up on their own shelf, and all the produce was right where it should be, in the clean, center drawer free from mold and blight and goo, and the butter was stacked neatly in its own shelf in the door.

It was a day for getting all the dishes washed and listening to Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries on my ipod and being geeky enough to take notes to help me keep track of the suspects.

And it was a day to sniff and sniff the gently bubbling stew that is really a deep rich beef soup and to stir and stir and taste and sigh deeply.

And to be glad I wasn't outside where it was bone-chilling and drippy and raw, but to be,instead, inside, where the warmth was embracing and where I could enjoy the comfort of cooking.

Comforting Beef Stew (adapted from

2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into small chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1/2 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups dry red wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
1 1/2 cups reduced  sodium beef broth (gasp . . . I used chicken because I forgot to buy the beef!!)
1 1/2 cups water
1 pound small white boiling potatoes
3/4 pound carrots

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.  (I actually cooked mine on a burner, and it also worked fine!)

Pat beef dry and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Heat oil in pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown meat, without crowding, iabout 8 minutes. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium, then add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes.

Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook paste, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into vegetables.

Add vinegar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Stir in wine, bay leaves, and thyme and boil until wine is reduced by about two thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add broth to pot along with water, beef, and any juices from platter and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

Set a large colander in a large bowl. Pour stew into colander. Return pieces of meat to pot, then discard remaining solids. Let cooking liquid stand 10 minutes.

While beef braises, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges (oops, I left mine whole!!). Slice carrots diagonally (1-inch).

Add potatoes and carrots to stew (make sure they are submerged) and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 40 minutes.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Life vs. Knitting

My hands have been itching to do some knitting ever since the weather cooled and sitting in an embracing leather chair by the fire was what I wanted to do.  I envisioned socks.  I dreamed of a baby blanket for a sweet friend's expected child.  I pondered a chunky gray cowl.

And then reality hit.

When you've got stacks and stacks of sports paperwork, can you splurge on learning to knit socks?

When your Child #1 needs help with his essay and Child #2 needs to review for his Spanish test and Child #3 needs to make a wind sock out of a hanger, trash bag and tape, when will there be time for a chunky cowl?

And when the dishes stacking up in the kitchen are threatening the health of the household, can you possibly indulge in knitting the cutest baby blanket ever?

And so, the daily, critical "to do's" of life squeeze out creative dreams, until finally a crisis hits,

I'm running out of dish cloths!!

I love my hand-knit dish cloths.  I need my hand-knit dish cloths.  Once you have used hand-knit dish cloths, nothing else seems to fit so well into your hand and do quite the same job of wiping down the counters.

My current trio of hand-knit dish cloths is trying to make a quiet exit---fraying edges, holes, and dumpy gray-ish color changes are rendering them ineffective and depressing.

Time for some fresh yarn and new patterns.

Enter Blue Sky Alpaca's Organic Cotton Yarn in the winter-busting color of "Poppy," in one of the 3 patterns below.

Somebody, fill the dishwasher.  Athletes, postpone your soccer season.  Kids, Google your homework help.  

There's a crisis, and I'm knitting dish cloths!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Happy Chaos and Old Dogs

It began around the time my oldest left for college.  A desire to bring some order to the happy chaos of the household.

I've always been quite comfortable with my easygoing outlook toward routines, schedules and lists.  In fact, I've probably been a little smugly happy over the fact that I wasn't an "uptight" mom.

And then Oldest Daughter left for college.  And Oldest Son leaves in 6 months.  And Middle Son is only a few short years behind.

And suddenly I find myself re-evaluating the way I want my household to run . . . and especially the home I want my kids to come home to.

It was one thing when it was the 7 of us living in a whirl of craziness.  I made sure every dish was done at least once a day.  But sometimes the time that happened was 7:00 a.m.  I could live with the kitchen in all its post-dinner upheaval waiting patiently through the night for me to attend to it.

But when Oldest Daughter arrives home at 1:00 a.m. after a 12-hour shift on her feet at Old Navy, cranky customers and the endless folding and refolding of stacks of sweaters and jeans, a kitchen of upheaval is not what I want to await her.

It was one thing when the 7 of us were basically within the same 4 walls, all making messes together, working to clean up together, and occasionally closing our eyes to it and sneaking off together for a bike ride around Furman Lake.

But more and more my older kids are not home.  They are out in a world that has a discord and tumult all its own . . . emotionally, physically, spiritually.  And if we aren't all together living our quirky chaos together, then I choose for home to be a contrast to the chaos outside the four walls of the house.

I now find myself wanting peace and order and simplicity and calm to be what my children come home to.  Because chaos away from home and chaos at home is just a little too much turmoil to deal with.

To that end, I find myself back reading Flylady's book, Sink Reflections, trying to be a little more open minded about routines, and cutting back on some volunteering.

Can I do it?  Wow . . . that remains to be seen.  There is, of course, the whole matter of old dogs and their tricks!!