It’s winter, alright. Until today, we’ve been making all the jokes about global warming and how we haven’t seen a good snow in years, but then bam! We woke up and had to shovel, twice. It’s not terribly deep, but deep enough that the grass isn’t poking pathetically through. And snow is in the forecast for the rest of the week. If I had snowpants, they’d be on.
We’ve been well here in apartment 6. After a trudging, wearying fall semester, we took a long break and are ready to begin again. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping busy…
…reading Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition. I am this book’s newest evangelist. If you know 20-somethings or are one, read it. Smith and his research team have spent the past ten years surveying and interviewing American teens and emerging adults. During one of the most difficult, confusing decades of our life, we’re expected to navigate alone. We’re supposed to discover our identity and emerge in our thirties as responsible, well-rounded adults, but we only have other 20-somethings as companions. We’ve not been taught adequate moral reasoning, we have the enormous pressure of a consumer-driven economy, and, despite our record turnout in the 2012 election, we are politically and civically disengaged. We belong to a culture that prizes individualism above everything else, and I’m no exception. Honestly, if you’re in your twenties, I’d love to hear if this book resonates with you.
…discovering yoga! A hot yoga studio opened up in Holland, I bought a groupon, and have been dashing over every chance I get. They’re not kidding: it’s hot. 95 degrees hot. But in the January cold, 95 sounds luxurious. Again, I’ve become an evangelist. I tell everyone I meet about it. Dan is suspicious it might be yoga-honeymoon infatuation, but I don’t believe him. (It might be worse: “You’re a junkie, Grace,” he says.)
…getting energized by a book list for Christianity and Lit that includes Gilead (ah, dear Marilynne! I’ve just finished Housekeeping for the second time), Jayber Crow, A Tale of Two Cities (did you know I’ve never read Dickens except for a terribly illustrated, abridged version of Great Expectations in ninth grade?), Flannery O’Connor, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Steven, if you’re reading this: reconsider!)
…gorging myself on the clever, bewitching sentences of my new favorite blog, Remedial Eating. If I could write like anyone, it would be Molly. She loves words! She knows how charming they can be! She has a poet’s ear and a scientist’s eye. She notices everything, remembers things I imagine she hasn’t read since tenth grade, and take such easy photos, like it was no trouble at all. Wordsmiths, subscribe and try to suppress your envy.
…cooking, baking, concocting. Two new cast-iron pans—a skillet and a dutch oven—and a microplane zester have enriched my kitchen life since Christmas, and I cannot be accused of letting any of them sit unused in the cupboard. I haven’t even bothered to put away the skillet. In the fall, my mom passed on a dairy kefir that I’ve been negligently managing to keep alive. Since I can’t stand the carbonated milk sensation, I’ve been using it to bake. After trying Joanna’s honey oatmeal bread over the weekend, I’m adding it to the rotation. I baked Heidi’s black sticky gingerbread cake, which lead to my borrowing a quart of heavy cream from our local grocer, because the store was out but he had some for baking. I returned the rest at his request, grateful for shop owners who are willing to lend to cake-bakers in need of whipped cream. And I made a wonderful split-pea soup, with ham hocks I’ve been saving, frozen, since September, because every time I go to Meijer to buy split peas, they’re out. Every time. I finally settled for whole dried peas, which complicated the meal and forced us to wait a day to eat it, but our insides were so warmed by the soup, we forgave it all.
Happy Winter Ham and Split Pea Soup
adapted from The New Best Recipe
3 quarts water
2 lbs. ham hocks, thawed
4 bay leaves
1 lb. split peas, rinsed and picked over
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium celery ribs, diced
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of sugar
4 small potatoes, scrubbed and diced
In a large pot or dutch oven, boil the water, ham, and bay leaves over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 or so hours, until the meat is tender and pulls off the bone. Remove the ham and bone from the broth and let cool. Add the peas and thyme and let simmer for at least 45 minutes (with whole peas, may take two hours), so that the peas are soft but haven’t dissolved. When the ham has cooled, shred it into pieces, discarding the rind and bone.
While the peas are simmering, sauté the carrots, onion, and celery over high heat. After 5 minutes, when the vegetables have begun to brown, turn down the heat, add the butter, garlic, and sugar, and cook for half an hour until it’s a gorgeous, fragrant mess and deeply brown. Don’t forget to stir.
Add the vegetables, ham, and diced potatoes into the soup. Simmer until the potatoes are tender and the peas have dissolved, maybe 20 to 30 minutes. (If you use whole peas, the skins won’t dissolve; they’ll just crowd the top of the broth. Don’t worry! They still taste good.) Sprinkle pepper to taste. It’s sufficiently salty as-is (too salty?), so don’t even touch the saltshaker.
Serve with thick slices of homemade bread, smothered with butter and honey. The soup lasts in the fridge for a week and tastes at least as good on subsequent days.