I made a soup today. I thought it was going to be brilliant, fantastic. It had all the right stuff—garlic and shallots and cumin and coriander and enough cilantro to stuff a mattress. It had carrots and split peas and a little bit of spinach, and when you were done you were supposed to serve it with za'atar smothered bread. Yum! But it also called for 15 cups of water, and I questioned the measurement, and then went ahead with it, and the results were, well, meh. I should have known.

Tomorrow, though, I will be doing the biggest grocery shop EVER, and when I get home I will be making a big pot of Portuguese kale soup. They've been making linguica in house at the restaurant in Provincetown, and I've got a bunch of kale and potatoes from the farmers' market and tomatoes put up in the freezer and kidney beans left over from our grain & bean CSA. I'm going to make a double batch, so that when all the travelers arrive weary Wednesday we'll have something to get us through the Angie's baking and the sticky bun charades and the prep that will accompany Alex's questionable-yet-awesome plan to spit-roast two legs of lamb over a tray of potatoes inside of our kitchen oven. (Thank you, Darina Allen!)

Oh! and then we have to get ready for Christmas dinner, which will involve glazing the smoked ham we just got with our half a pig from Seawind Meadows, halving heaps of Brussels sprouts, and roasting, emptying, butter-adding, re-stuffing, cheesing, and re-baking a whole bunch of big ole potatoes, in honor of my grandmother who makes them best. GAAAH and then there are oysters to shuck and biscuits to bake and Manhattans to drink and maybe we should just make a pitcher?

Which is all to say: HAPPY MERRY, from us all. Hope it's good out there.

P.S. Apologies for the recent lack of food-related photos. Happy solstice and all, but I'm looking forward to the return of light during the cooking hour.

P.P.S. Also, in the New Year, can we talk about the January issue of Bon App├ętit? It is filled with so much good stuff, so many excellent ideas, that I'm not even sure where to start. (Although I'm leaning toward clams in this coconut stock.) I'll see you soon, friends.


LAMB SHANKS // elspeth

The other day, out on a walk, Alex remarked that it felt like spring. It was late afternoon, and the temperature was still in the high fifties, and when he said it, for a moment my whole perspective changed. I was caught up suddenly in that excitement that comes when the weather turns, when a long sleeve shirt and a hat but no mittens feels like freedom and you can see summer on the way. I held onto it for a minute and then it left as soon as it had arrived. Something stayed on, though—an awareness and an appreciation of the way we are now—folding in, quieting down, savoring home. 

Home is a nice place to be right now. The Christmas tree is up and covered with ornaments and cranberries and lights down to about three feet, just above Nora's reach. At fifteen months, she is difficult to take anywhere property or quiet are held sacred, which once I am out I realize is just about anywhere indoors. But in the sanctity of our living room and Sally's company, every day brings a parade of new words and joint ballet performances and babydoll tending that requires less and less parental tending. And on the days when they are both in "school", I am actually getting things done at a desk, albeit slowly. 

In the meantime, we have been eating some fairly terrific things. We made the eggnog, and last Monday when we were feeling down and out for no good reason two friends came over and we drained a fairly serious amount from the pot and passed it around until good cheer was restored. We had beef stew at a friend's house with lots of other friends, and several arugula-pomegranate-avocado salads with greens from our garden that have had just enough cold and warm to keep them going. We've been feeding our vinegar mother red wine fairly regularly for a few months, and I've been pleased to discover that it makes a killer salad dressing. We subsisted on leftover turkey for no small amount of time, a situation I am already slightly nostalgic for as it made every meal both delicious and easy. And last but not least, Saturday night we made not just lobster but also braised lamb shanks. 

The lobster is nothing that needs describing (steamed, cracked, devoured with butter), but the lamb shanks are worth a recipe. I'd made a similar dish once before—something from Darina Allen, I think—but I'd forgotten how magic the meat is, stewed down with tomatoes and broth until it melts on your plate. This time I used the version from the Joy of Cooking, laced with middle eastern and Mediterranean spices and bursting with flavor. Casey was here, our sitter from the summer, and she'd never had lamb and was slightly skeptical. But this won her over, and Nora, and even Sally, who refused to eat it for a solid ten minutes ("Bread and jam, Mama"—some days I think I'm raising Francis) before finally digging in and declaring it "good." So here you are: a stew for staying in, for early evenings at home, for both health and merriment. 


Every year or two, we buy a lamb from Border Bay Junction Farm in Barnstable. The meat is excellent, and the shanks almost always go first—they are simple, flavorful, and incredibly satisfying.

2 large lamb shanks
sea salt
black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger, divided
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of cinnamon
2 cups lamb or chicken stock or water
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup tomato puree
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced, peeled butternut squash

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper and rub with 1/2 teaspoon of the ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of the paprika. Heat up the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over high heat. Add the shanks and cook until browned, about five minutes, turning halfway through. Remove the lamb shanks from the pan and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender. Add the spices: the mint, 1 teaspoon paprika, and the coriander, cumin, and cinnamon. Stir well to coat and add the stock or water, the white wine, and the tomato puree. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Return the lamb shanks to the pan, cover, and bake until the meat is almost falling off the bone. This should take 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours. Now stir in the carrots and squash, cover again, and bake until the veggies are tender, roughly another 20-30 minutes. Pull the lamb from the bones (if the shanks are ready, this should be very easy to accomplish with just a fork), cut it up, and return it to the stew. Serve hot.


CARROT SOUP // elspeth

I hope my sister and I were as good to my mom as my girls are to me. On Friday Nora and I got a terrible virus. We spent the day throwing up and in and out of bed, trying to sleep and trying to breathe and trying generally not to bring any more misery to each other. Alex went to work and Sally spent the day with a friend, and by the time they both got home, we were done. Alex took Nora and I crawled into bed with wet hair and clean pajamas. I was just about to pull up the covers when Sally came in. 

"I love you Mama," she said quietly. "I'm worried about you, and I hope you feel better tomorrow." She took my hand, and just sat on the side of the bed for a few minutes, saying nothing. Then she gave it a squeeze, and kissed me good night.

It is one of the most unexpected parts of parenting for me, these occasional role reversals. It gives me confidence that maybe we're doing an ok job, that maybe these girls of ours will grow up to be the caring, kind, responsible adults we hope for and try to create every day. 

It is also a good reminder to be kind and patient to each other. To take up the little tasks, and to let the little grievances slide. 

The soup you see up there is carrot, incredibly beautiful and incredibly simple. Alex made it last night while I was upstairs with the girls, trying to bring them a little relief with a hot bath and tippy plastic boats. We usually do things the other way around, me in the kitchen and him upstairs, but it was nice to make a switch. It made me appreciate the meal in a way I can't when I cook it: to feel simply grateful, without the work. 

Quickly, before I go, I wanted to share two nice pieces on love: We Need Never Economize Love, from mother and simplicity advocate Kyrie Meads. And an article on love, fear, and the environmental movement from the Globe Magazine that I read last night in bed, and that had me thinking long after I turned out the light. 


My mom sent me this recipe, from Heidi Swanson's blog 101cookbooks.com. Alex tweaked it in a few very tiny ways, and it's simple, lovely, and an absolutely stunning color. It's quite thick as written, and nice with a piece of toast and some of the accompaniments below sprinkled on top.

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon red curry paste
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
1 14-ounce can full fat coconut milk
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
1 and 1/2 cups water, or to cover
1 lemon or lime
optional: chopped cilantro, toasted walnuts, olive oil

In a large pot over medium-high heat melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, a few minutes. Add the curry paste and the carrots and cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring often. This will help develop the flavor. Add the coconut milk, salt, and water and simmer until the carrots are tender, another 10-15 minutes. Puree with a stick blender until velvety. Taste and add more water and salt as needed. Serve topped with chopped cilantro, toasted walnuts, and a drizzle of olive oil. Sourdough toast makes a nice accompaniment.


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