Monday, December 27, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want Winter Salad

...But If You Try Sometime, You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need

The Rolling Stones have been in heavy rotation on the kitchen stereo. The girls absolutely love "Wild Horses," Coral requests it endlessly (literally) and Colby concurs with a beatific smile when it comes on. My favorite lately is "You Can't Always Get What You Want." I think it is a very Buddhist reminder of the way life goes. I was humming it to myself when Craig brought home a new stove.

Craig's dream stove, the one he visits at the local appliance store and rhapsodizes on all the things it would make possible in our modest kitchen, is a six burner, 36" gas cooktop, by Viking. That being far down on our list of priorities with things like insulation ahead of it, he focused on not what he wanted but what he needed. He scoured the resale spots and found a perfect little four burner gas stove, exactly like the standard issue in NYC apartments, to stand side by side with our 1970s electric stove. Eight burners! Gas and electric! Each stove was bought used, each for about $100.- dollars. He was in heaven. Thanksgiving for fifteen guests was what pushed him to action, and it has been a fun and helpful addition to our tiny kitchen-scape.

Every time I look at these modestly handsome siblings, side by side in the kitchen, I start to sing, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need." There are so many, many places in life this is true, this very moment in fact, trying to write with both girls hanging over me, demanding attention, is not the writing moment I would want, but I need the time, so this will do.`

Not quite having what you want, but what you need, happens all the time in cooking. We had friends over recently and Craig set out to make a celery root salad. Realizing mid way that he did not have enough celery root, he looked around the kitchen for what to add to extend the salad. He decided to try a couple of Gold Rush apples. The sweet, tart and slightly chalky apples were a pleasing counter balance to the earthy nuttiness of the celery root. We had what we needed, and it was great.

A Winter Salad

Celery root
Tart apples (such as Gold Rush) 
White (chardonnay or champagne) wine vinegar
Olive oil
Sea salt, powdered cumin & black pepper to taste

Wash and peel celery root and apples. Grate celery root and apples on the largest hole of a box grater. Amounts are about 2/3 celery root to 1/3 apples. Add salt, a small dash of cumin and pepper to taste.  Mix well with hands. Splash in a glug or two of vinegar and about the same of olive oil. Mix well. Let rest about half hour, the grated vegetable and fruit absorb the dressing nicely. And serve!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Season of "Yes"

Coral sat before her gingerbread house. The brown, hard cookies plain and ready. I watched as her chubby finger extended into the cup of frosting, past her knuckle and back out, and straight into her mouth. And so the sugar began. When we arrived I had physically tensed at the huge bowls of every kind of candy, spread like an industrial rainbow on the kitchen counter top. There was enough to recreate any scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It was a child's dreamscape, so bright and colorful, shiny and promising. I, meanwhile, worried about teeth and sugar crashing, about the rest of the day, about Coral's sugar innocence.

Colby has no interest in candy, in anything sweet except yogurt, so this moment with Coral was my first in navigating the addictive, fascinating sugar relationship, parent and child. How much do I let her eat? What if the other mom, my smart, generous friend, and I are on different pages with the volume it is O.K. to eat? Mainly though, I realized, I was thinking of my own self preservation: I was tired, Craig had been gone for nearly two weeks, I knew my patience was already very thin and I worried about how I would deal with a kid bedraggled and bratty from sugar. On a good day Coral and Colby can drive me crazy, what would happen now, after this bonanza, this wild up, and wild down?

And then I looked. I looked at the kids, bewitched by this sumptuous, out of the ordinary spread. I looked around at this home, filled with holiday cheer, Amaryllis bulbs, pine garlands, bright Christmas tree sparkling in the corner, and I decided to just say, "Yes." I did not want to be the aggravated, uptight parent, always full of rules. This was a truly special moment, one that Coral at nearly three years old may very well remember. This was a time for general guidance, how to lay Necco wafers into the frosting to make shingles for instance, but daily rules could relax at the seams a bit.

And my friend and I were on the same page about volume, and both relaxed about it. It was fun for all of us to let go a little. For the kids to have these new tastes and textures: Twizzlers, marshmallows, non pariels, ribbon candy, gum drops. All by 11 a.m. We sat back and gave gentle reminders that the candy was meant to mostly decorate the gingerbread houses. We talked, just a little, about how some sugar is so good and so fun, but if you eat too much it can make you feel pretty yucky and not be fun at all anymore. It is that way with rules too, having rules is good, makes life feel like it makes some kind of sense, but too many can just make you feel, well, yucky, and make you miss out on all the fun of life.

Happy Holidays, may your season of "Yes" be merry and bright.