I hope you are having a peaceful New Year’s day. When we can, we like to stay put on this day, somewhere, and enjoy the present. I am frequently drawn to French cooking around this time. The tension between the austerity and decadence of French cuisine suits my winter mood. I love having some high quality ingredients on hand, maybe a bag of local mussels or lamb shanks, and some interesting winter vegetables. It’s a satisfying accomplishment to grow them into a redolent bouillabaisse or osso buco to warm us up after an island walk or polar bear swim.
That may not sound frugal to you, but my idea of frugality doesn’t suffer a bit in quality. I think we should source the highest quality of everything when we make purchases, but then stop purchasing when we have enough, and make the fullest use of everything we have.
I’ve just spent the longest amount of time I’ve ever had at our Lummi house and I will admit that there were days when it was closing in on me a little. We ask ourselves a lot if this is where we can spend our life when we are retired. It is beautiful, but it has challenges, for sure. I have found over and over again that the answer to dissatisfied thinking about my possessions is to go through the following sequence: look around and begin to fix stuff that’s broken, clean stuff that’s dirty, especially windows, get rid of things we don’t need or want, and then apply our creativity to make the most of our home, our wardrobes, and our refrigerator. We have a 5 star life when we attend to those things and having a bigger house somewhere else wouldn’t make any of that better.
I’ve had two observations this season that are driving my motivation for 2014. This first was at a holiday dinner party. During the clean up, my jaw dropped to see the hostess dump the carcass, still shaggy with meat, of a 20something pound turkey into the garbage can. I’m still thinking about that and what I maybe should have said. There went all of that goodness and nutrition to the landfill, and then when a recipe calls for chicken flavor, a bouillon cube or canned broth will be purchased. In contrast, I read a quote from the Bon Appetit January 2014 issue. One of the editors, Andrew Knowlton, hosted a lunch for four well-known, successful American chefs, facilitating a conversation about eating well. Daniel Patterson, who has been a chef for 30 years, said, “At home I cook for little kids, so I don’t make 12-course tasting menus. We have a lot of one-pot meals. We roast chicken, eat it, and then all the bones go in the slow-cooker overnight for stock. In the morning, the bones go out, beans go in.” Glorious.
I roasted a duck for our New Year’s Eve dinner last night and while I was making the dinner, I got my slow cooker all set up with onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and pepper corns. While we were cleaning up I carved off any remaining chunks of meat and then put the carcass in the slow-cooker, covered it with water and left it to cook overnight. As much as I love the simplicity of just adding beans in the morning, I needed to do a little more than that. I strained the stock and discarded the solids, composting the vegetables, then I put the stock in the fridge for several hours to cool so I could skim off the fat before continuing. While the stock was cooling, I soaked the beans. Finally, I put the soaked and drained beans, chopped onions, sprigs of herbs, and stock into a heavy bottom pot. I also added leftover duck from the night before to make a heartier dish, a mock cassoulet using these pretty green flageolet beans, common to French/Mediterranean cooking. I checked the liquid level frequently and stirred from time to time so the beans didn’t boil dry and stick to the pan, adding additional water as needed. They were finished when the beans were soft and had a creamy consistency.
Have a happy 2014, making the most of the life you have.