A calm

Someone told me the other day that in writing, my life sounds very calm. I don't want to mislead you, so for the record: it is not. I don't think there is such a thing as a calm life with a one-year-old and a job. Ha! 

But I know what she meant, and I think it has to do with the process. There is something calming about writing itself. To really write you have to be in it, which means you have to let go of the phone and the wood stove and the internet. You have to sit and be still, and when I do this, I end up thinking about the highlights of the day. The little things—the time I spent outside in the garden, or on a walk, or watching Sally read Fisher a book. Things like checking email, scrambling to get out the door, and waving a dishtowel beneath the fire alarm simply don't come to mind. Those are not the things I like to think about. 

So the truth about that pot roast up there is this: it was made by my husband after I ran out the door to an evening meeting in a rush. Sally has a running nose and was feeling clingy, so he had to hold her on his hip while he cooked. He got started late and didn't read the directions exactly right, so when I got home at seven the meat was just getting soft. Sally was naked, because he hadn't been paying attention to the wood stove and the house had gotten very hot. It was past her bedtime and we were all starving, so even though the meat could have used a little more time, we sat down and dug in.

But what I remember about the pot roast is this: we ate it on a snowy night, and the world was very quiet. The meat was from Vermont, from a farm a friend recommended, and it was excellent. The tomatoes were from our garden. Sally was happy to be up late, happy to be eating with us, and happy to smear beef and carrots all over her chest and face. She took a tub afterward and fell into bed, and Alex and I stayed up reading and watching the snow. The next day, I brought the leftovers to Alex at work in a mug. 

They were still steaming when he opened it up.


Alex found this in the Silver Palate cookbook, an old favorite of my mom's. It takes a good 3-4 hours, so leave yourself plenty of time. It's excellent with biscuits and a simple salad, and you can eat the leftovers for days.

3 and 1/2 pounds beef pot roast
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 1/2 to 2 cups beef stock
2 cups dry red wine
1 teaspoon sea salt, or less if your broth is particularly salty
7 whole cloves
2 and 1/2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions
2 cups peeled carrot chunks, about 1-inch
8 small potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced celery

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rub the meat with black pepper. Warm up the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and sear the meat for several minutes on each side until it's golden brown.

Pour in the stock and wine and add the salt, more black pepper, cloves, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and celery. The liquid should just cover the vegetables; if not, add a bit more stock and wine. Bring everything to a simmer on top of the stove, then cover the pot and put it in the oven to bake for 2 hours. Uncover and cook another 1-2 hours, until the meat is tender. Serve hot.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.