I'm resolved to be grateful
Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 12:39 a.m.
While nearly everyone I know is virtuously keeping New Year's resolutions to lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, get more organized, etc., I have decided to take another path this year. I've resolved to simply be grateful.
Woodsy Mushroom Soup
In a large pot, sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until they begin to brown and all the moisture has cooked off-about 8 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pot and set aside. In the same pot, sauté the onions and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 2 minutes.
Stir in the flour and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in the wine and cook for a minute, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Blend in the chicken stock and 1/2 of the mushrooms and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the tarragon and cool slightly.
In a blender, puree the soup in batches and return to the pot. Stir in the cream and the reserved mushrooms and reheat, but don't boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, garnish with sour cream and chopped parsley. Serves 6.
Burgundy Beef Stew
In a plastic or paper bag, mix the flour with the salt, pepper, paprika and dried herbs. Working in batches, shake the meat chunks in the flour mixture until well coated, and sauté them in olive oil in a large heavy pot until all the meat is well browned. Reserve the remaining seasoned flour.
Remove the pot from the heat, and add the burgundy. Return the pot to the heat, and cook until the alcohol has burned off the wine, about 3 minutes. Add all the meat back into the pot along with the vegetables and the garlic. Add enough water to cover the stew ingredients and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the meat is very tender, at least an hour. Turn off the heat. Skim off and reserve 2-3 tablespoons of fat. In a small bowl, mix a half cup of the reserved seasoned flour with the skimmed fat, adding butter as needed to make a creamy paste.
Turn the heat under the stew pot to medium. While stirring, drop tablespoons of the flour mixture into the stew and blend in until the gravy is the desired thickness. Lower the heat and simmer until all the floury taste is gone, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serves 6.
Gingerbread with Sour Orange Glaze
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. In another bowl, combine the beaten egg, brown sugar, molasses and melted butter. Stir in the baking soda mixed with the boiling water.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, and stir just enough to combine well. Stir in the raisins and nuts. Pour into a greased 8-inch square pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the center springs back to the touch. Cool the gingerbread in the pan on a wire rack.
In a small pan, heat the marmalade until it melts and stir in just enough water to make a thick syrup. While the gingerbread is still slightly warm, spoon the marmalade evenly over the top and allow to finish cooling. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Makes 8 servings.
We tend to believe that the past year was somehow more difficult than it should have been, and that we can wipe the slate clean and get a better deal this time around the calendar. So I'm trying something different by reminding myself to appreciate what is right in front of me.
Everything I need to know about gratitude came to me years ago in the form of a big old Irish Setter named (what else?) Red Dog. Red was rescued literally from the gutter by Sally Morrison, and he was so ill and starved he had to be lifted into her car for the first of many trips to the vet.
Though not expected to survive, Red flourished under Sally's care and lived for a number of blissful years as her faithful companion. As he lolled at Sally's feet or sat up like a person in the back seat of her vintage Chevy, Red Dog maintained an expression I'm sure he thought was dignified, but which was, in fact, utterly ridiculous.
Red seemed to appreciate every meal and walk and nap and was famous for his loud groans of pleasure as he basked near a fire on a cold day or cooled himself in the shade on a hot one. While thankful for his life in doggie heaven, he nevertheless fancied himself entitled to it because of his sterling character and previous travails.
When I commented to Sally once that Red Dog seemed particularly devoted she nodded and replied, "yes, he's a grateful dog." There couldn't be a simpler or better expression to sum up my intentions for the year 2003.
I soon discovered that keeping my resolution means itemizing in my mind the many things for which I am grateful on a daily basis. This is most easily done as I sip my morning coffee but it soon spread to other activities. Walking our own dog becomes an opportunity to consciously notice the quality of light in the morning woods or the way the sun contrasts the vivid orange of citrus fruit against the blue of the sky.
As an artist, you'd think I would do this as a matter of course, but even the beauty of this special place in the world becomes part of the routine as I go busily about my chores. I even have to remind myself to be thankful for being able to ramble in the woods since I've had my share of problems with legs and feet.
Once in the kitchen I have further opportunities for appreciation as I put together a pot of soup to simmer while I do the dishes. In a frantic world where even children have little time to dawdle and play, an hour doing simple chores while the woodsy scent of cooking mushrooms permeates the air seems like a luxury.
Being too busy for our own good is now made to seem desirable by being called "multi-tasking," as though never-ceasing activity were a virtue. I must not be the only one who thinks this is a shame since the food magazines are now glorifying the concept of "slow foods," which are nothing more than meals that take more than 15 minutes to prepare.
My other lesson in gratitude also came to me long ago in a book about the painter Winslow Homer. Homer was one of the first American artists to break from the custom of slavishly imitating European painters and make his art from his own experience. He painted New England seascapes in oil and took his watercolors on his many hunting and fishing expeditions to the Adirondacks and Florida.
Homer was known to be a confirmed bachelor and curmudgeon who once put up a sign saying "SNAKES . . . MICE!" on his studio door to deter genteel Victorian ladies from visiting him while he worked. I've been inspired by his lucid and vigorous watercolors since I was very young, but it is something he said that really sums up my philosophy of life and art: "The sun shall neither rise nor set without my notice and thanks."
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