Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In like a lamb

March was ushered in on the back of a lamb today. Here in St. Paul, the day was warm and the sun made occasional appearances. The days are getting longer, and it's no longer pitch-dark when I leave the office at 5:30. Soon Hambone and I will make picnic dinners (cold cuts and cheese and salads) for Alpha and Beta so we can grab the last hours of daylight at the playground. But, until then, I'm still wearing a big wool sweater and sitting under a pile of blankets on the couch each evening as I read all the Nigel Slater I can get my hands on. I have just finished Toast, which is a memoir written in vignettes, each memory fueled by some item of food. The book starts with this exemplary piece about toast. Here's my favorite bit:
It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you. People's failings, even major ones such as when they make you wear short trousers to school, fall into insignificance as your teeth break through the rough, toasted crust and sink into the doughy cushion of white bread underneath. Once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue, you are smitten. Putty in their hands.
Slater has a real economy of language, with a seemingly effortless way of conveying a lot using the fewest, but best, words possible. I could not put this book down, and I look forward to rereading it.

Now, on another note, Nigel and I are on the same wavelength about March. In his really amazing and absolutely unpretentious cookbook, Appetite, he writes that March is the "lowpoint of the cook's year." Tired of roots, citrus, and apples, Slater copes by eating "golden fruits from tropical climates" and seafood, such as mussels, to get through the end-of-winter doldrums.

I can't look at another clementine. We have eaten six boxes since November, and I've eaten at least three of those crates with no help. In an effort to add some variety to my citrus consumption, I have recently purchased minneolas (the rind is such a deep, rich orange color) and honey tangerines, and to my great disappointment the pulp has been shriveled and dry. Blessed relief: each of the three grocery stores I frequent has piles of luscious mangoes and the pineapple looks promising.

Slater also writes, "I might make the last truly winter casserole...Something light and stewy, like braised lamb with carrots." So, my March menu is shaping up. Every wintery meal that I've dreamed of making--stews, braises, cassoulets, another batch of chili, heavy pasta sauces--will make the A list over the next few weeks. March 31 marks the last day of winter for Hambone and Spice. That's the day we go tropical for a week in Costa Rica. Once we touch down on Minnesota soil, with visions of fruity drinks and fresh fish swimming in our heads, no one will be able to stop me from storing the stew pot and cleaning off the grill. Just you wait.

Chez Hambone and Spice: Week of February 26

Sunday: Chicken-corn-potato chowder and cornbread
Monday: Garlic shrimp, basmati, and chimichurri
Tuesday: Hamburgers, peas, onion rings
Wednesday: Ploughman's (Morbier, tomme de savoie, country pate, cornichons, bread)
Thursday: Spaghetti carbonara and green salad (w/oranges, avocado, Maytag blue)
Friday: Grocery store sushi
Saturday: Hambone and Spice have dinner out

A few notes about the posted menu:

One, Hambone and I are really making an effort to cook every weeknight. But, truth be told, we have crazy workloads and children so by Thursday all bets are off that either of us feel like cooking. I try to make a menu each Saturday for the next week, which helps me keep the grocery shopping focused and allows me to stay as organized as possible. I can plan a menu but I cannot, for the life of me, manage to fold the laundry or dust.

Two, we have small children who can be picky eaters, but they can also surprise us. For example, the six-year-old (Alpha) will devour a small package of lox, but he will not eat salmon sushi. The three-year-old (Beta) will eat sushi, but he will not touch any sort of fruit or drink fruit juice. And, on other fronts, they're like Jack Sprat and his wife. One will eat egg whites, the other egg yolks. One will eat pizza crust, while the other will only eat the cheese. They are in complete solidarity, however, about flecks of black pepper and herbs in their food (hate) and wasabi peas (love). I have declared 2006 to be the year that I stop making special meals for them when Hambone and I are eating something spicy or weird (please don't ask me what constitutes weird to a three-year-old). As a result, I find myself altering the menu to please the little ones, who are also asked, once or twice a week, to try something new, something challenging.

Three, Hambone makes the best hamburgers in the world. Remind me to post about them some day.

Four, Our grocery store makes respectable sushi, especially once it's allowed to come up to room temp.