Hobbits, you will remember, were great connoisseurs of food and tobacco flavors as well as riddles. One of the riddles Bilbo used to trick Gollum deep under the Misty Mountains was a very old one.
A box without hinges, key or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid
The answer, naturally, is an egg. It’s such a marvelous invention; the egg is a completely contained and self-protected package of protein and nourishment that lends itself to endless uses. Some great writer claimed that the ideal meal is a perfectly cooked omelette, a crisp salad and a glass of Sancerre. A great food writer pared that down to an omelette and a glass of wine. I could vote for that but I’d miss the salad.
Eggs were being foraged before there were food historians to document it. In India, along about 3200 BC, someone noticed that removing the eggs from a nest would entice the hen to lay additional eggs. Thus began the domestication of the egg and the chicken. But they never explain which was first. Eggs are the epitome of versatility. They can be poached, hard or soft boiled, fried up or over, scrambled, souffléd, souped, shirred or baked. Without eggs, there would be no custards, and fewer cakes, no French Toast, no pancakes or egg noodles. In fact, it is hard to image our cuisine or our food culture without the egg.
The French claim invention of the omelette, though perhaps they meant that they perfected it. The British adopted the process and the French spelling, but the Americans went their own way (there’s a surprise) with omelet. Omelets, however you choose to spell it, have been an integral part of Japanese and Chinese cuisine for eons. Surely others can say the same.
The art of the omelet is actually simple. It is best when the eggs are whipped with a whisk to incorporate air which makes the omelet lighter and fluffier. Though it only takes minutes, an omelet prefers low to medium heat. It is perfected when cooked through, with a bit of a golden gloss. Avoid making it brown or it will have dried out. Eggs play well in the sandbox with many other ingredients, herbs and spices, giving way to flavor explorations and to creating omelet varieties from jelly to fine herbs to bacon with tomatoes and to elegant rich cheese omelets.
In previous columns we’ve provided recipes for other kinds of omelets: Ramp Frittata, Oven Frittata and a Caramelized Onion Frittata. Today we are offering a simple Feta and Basil Omelet. It makes a great quick dinner or an elegant lunch.
At last! There is room and time to take a deep breath and allow ourselves a bit of relief. The tree may still need to be taken down, the ornaments returned to their nests, but the freneticism of recent weeks is at a close. For the next few weeks and months, even the most obsessive of us can give up our extended task lists and accept the possibility of serendipity.
Snowbirds will flee to warmer climes. There are, however, many of us who prefer the familiar comfort of our own surroundings, a book, a cat, a couch, a fire in the fireplace and the freedom to drowse and daydream. Naps, we are constantly informed, are truly worth their weight in rest. Unfortunately, ours is a culture that does not put its mouth where its money is. Though we can tell ourselves that it is beneficial to nap and go to the trouble of scientifically proving it, few have the luxury of freedom to schedule our day contrary to the norms of the environment.
Nonetheless, that same extended culture has produced legendary sleepers. Rip Van Winkle being a reasonably local favorite. We ought, perhaps, to take a leaf from the book of cats. Cats average sixteen hours of sleep a day, broken up into longer and shorter cycles based on the whim of the moment. Maybe we should start a movement to make January National Nappers Month. I bet a fair number of folks would be overwhelmingly in favor at the moment.
There are so many last minute changes to holiday menus and guest lists that getting the quantities right is a serious challenge. Along about this time there is a refrigerator full of yet unused ingredients and leftovers. Sounds like a perfect day for soup. What is it about soup that qualifies it as a comfort food? Sure, it is filling and nutritious. Of course, there is the appetizing perfume of all its many ingredients carried through the kitchen and beyond. There is the feeling the warmth of it traveling down through your body and heating the even most chilled sleigh-riding child and parent. But exactly why it is so satisfying, is too esoteric to define and would take longer than making and enjoying the soup.
There are scores and scores of delicious soup recipes on our website. Just plug in the ingredient you have in quantity and make your choice. At nearly every winter market, either our market master or our farmers bring wonderful new soups for us to try. Today, thinking about that refrigerator full of leftover holiday meals, we are offering The Roast Beast Remains Soup. It’s a terrific prelude to a nap.
We’ve all been told about laughter being the best medicine. Certainly, we’ve all had the experience of laughing until there were tears in our eyes. There have been countless studies on the value of being positive, its effects on family and friends, the powerful impact on your health and longevity, even on your sleep and energy. Yet how many of us have allowed doubt and darkness to creep their way into our lives? Would you be surprised to learn that it is a centuries old phenomenon?
Darkness has long been a scary thing, as those in northern climes know better than most. That unknown out there beyond the fire, beyond the light and warmth, lurking and meaning no good. Human imagination, being fertile, will fill almost any blank spaces with fears and foreboding. Fortunately, many of our ancestors were more than a bit clever. The leaders among them knew the importance of good cheer. They preceded Mickey Rooney and many others in this spirit. When things looked the most dire, they must have shouted, “Let’s give a party.” or “Let’s put on a show.” That steadfast pushing back of the darkness at its deepest with a surge of festivities may be one of our truly great inventions. After all, we invented that “right jolly old elf” too. The benefactors vary, including the Italian Befana, the Nordic Father Christmas, the Turkish St. Nicholas and all their cohorts.
The solstice marks the turning point of darkness to light, that shortest day of the year followed by cheerily lengthening days. A turning point minutely measured and noted through centuries of expanding sciences and diverse cultures. Suddenly it feels better to make a plan, to build something, to prepare for the coming year, prepare a feast. How appropriate that this bustle of activity should arrive in time for Christmas, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Solstice, Kalends, New Years and all the holidays of this season?
Now Christmas is come
Let’s beat up the drum,
And call all our neighbors together,
And when they appear,
Let’s make them such cheer
As will keep out the wind and the weather
Festivities abound worldwide, with many charming rituals. In coastal parts of Brazil, where Christmas arrives in summer, Brazilians dressed in white gather on beaches at midnight to sing together. They set out candles in the sand and scatter white flowers on the receding waves. The Thai construct floating lotus bowls filled with incense and lit candles to send down the mighty Mekong and its tributaries, across lakes and down canals carry wishes and hopes. Across all these celebrations, geographies and cultures, there are commonalities such as light, song, rituals, traditions, family, food, drink, gifts, wishes, inside greenery, friends, reflection and hope. Good cheer, good wishes and good intent to drive back the darkest unknowns and push away the coldest fears.
Who is not cheered by a table laden with good food and surrounded family and friends? With an eye toward such a table, we offer an amazingly simple recipe, Cinnamon Pork Roast. You might want to look at the website where you will find many holiday-oriented recipes including Prime Rib Roast with Red Wine, Frosted Fruit, Figgy Pudding, Sugarplums, Cranberry Walnut Tart, Spicy Pumpkin Bundt Cake and even Roast Goose. Laugh with those you love and feel the worth of that mirth and all the comfort of being merry.