Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas? I got many books, which is good because one of the things I am bringing back to my life more this year is reading for fun. I read a lot of trade magazines and books, and often that IS fun and that’s ok, but I miss reading just for the sake of reading. I got several cookbooks and food books and I have spent the last 3 evenings happily devouring my favorite so far: ‘Cooking With Italian Grandmothers’ by Jessica Theroux. 

My sister got this one for me and I love it so much I am going to marry it! There are stories followed by recipes and more stories and more recipes. It was a lovely book to read and I have marked many recipes, and I already made one of them because I just couldn’t stand it! It was a chickpea recipe and it sounded so good and soothing, that I got up out of bed and went to the kitchen to soak some of the garbanzo beans I got from Alvarez Farms at the last Port Orchard Farmer’s Market. (I stocked up on their many varieties of dried beans to get us through the winter and we have been thoroughly enjoying them!) The next morning I made the recipe, which starts out very soupy, and then when it has cooled is a very thick puree. I only changed one thing in the recipe, which is a big deal for me since I usually change everything, and I loved it! The next time I make it I will add more things in, but they way it is written is so simple and good that I had to make it right away. I will be having it for breakfast this morning!

It has been longer than I realized since I last wrote anything here and I am sorry to be gone so long! We were wonderfully busy at the cafe up through Christmas and I felt like I had no time. We did get to my BFF’s house for a dinner party with 8 other couples and that was FUN! The food was fabulous and the company was the best part of all. We went to the Downen extended family gift exchange, where all the cousins w/spouses and kids get together with food and visiting for an afternoon. Cousin-in-law Rob made some Barley Wine (it is more like a beer) that was really good and interesting to taste. I really liked it and will not hesitate to try others because of it, which I have avoided in the past.

Christmas was a whirlwind of fun starting with Christmas Eve at the cafe, baking lots of pies and other goodies for folks. We closed at 3 and went to mom and dad’s, where we always do lots of appetizer style foods (so delicious and it’s fun to graze all night) and friends and family stop by open-house style. My family downsized our gift giving over the past several years and we are very happy to donate to charity rather than do tons of gifts, though we still do some, and we take the entire evening to slowly open them between and after guest visits. Mark and I got home late (for us! around 10 or 11) and the next morning we dug into our stockings. Santa always visits us and I turn on the tv to the yule log channel so we can have a fire, and we stay snuggled in the bed cuz the heat isn’t on yet, and the kitties come play with the wrapping papers (Santa only wraps my presents, not Mark’s) and we have a lovely morning.

Then we head to his parents’ and have the traditional breakfast (this year it was with his parents and brother Don). Whoever was not there for breakfast shows up around noon for gift opening, and this year there was a BIG EVENT. Travis, the Best Nephew in the World, is finishing out his high school years by going to Bellevue Community College to earn his AA. He is the smartest, most responsible, worthwhile kid in the world and his parents wanted him to have safe and reliable transportation to get to school and back. They wrapped the keys in a box, which was inside 8 other wrapped boxes with clues and gag gifts along the way. Finally he opened the last one and the look on his face was pure amazement. The car was in the garage and even had a giant bow on it! It was really fun to watch and we are happy for him. Afterwards we enjoyed a casual dinner and got home by 7, which was good because we were very tired.

The next day we got together with our lovely friends from Rodstol Lane Farm to go to a new place in Georgetown called Urban Enoteca. It’s a wine tasting room like no other and we found out about from one of our favorite wineries, McCrea Cellars. They are one of seven Washington wineries with a tasting counter there, and the space is gorgeous. There is parking, which is fantastic in that area, and the venue has several rentable areas for parties. Even the restrooms are beautifully done, and the restaurant that is across the hall has fantastic food. We shared many tastes of wine at all the counters and then went across and shared several dishes from the menu. It was all delicious and what a great way to spend an afternoon with friends!

I took it easy for the week between holidays. It was sort of a forced slow down, where I didn’t set my alarm and I stopped working at 5 (2 hours early) most days. On Wednesday Travis drove out and spent the night with us. I made meatballs, marinara and pasta, which we ate while playing video games and watching movies. The next day we took him to see Harry Potter at the AMC in Silverdale and have lunch at the cafe. The girls were amazed to see how tall he is (taller than Mark now) and we had a great time with him. Whenever we get to spend quality time with him like that I forgive myself just a little for all the time I spent working rather than spending time with him when he was little… silly I know. The best part is I think he likes spending time with us, too! That week I also went out to dinner with my friend Kat and we totally derailed our New Year’s Eve plans but we had fun.

We went to Water to Wine in Gig Harbor with Erin for the Friday wine tasting (it was bubbles! I love bubbles!) and then next door to their wine bar for a couple of appetizers. Mark and I had originally planned to go out to eat and then realized we needed to not afford that. So we got some good stuff at Ray’s Meat Market in Purdy with the intention of grilling it up. We got home too late for that so just had a snack and then we cooked it up on Sunday. I had pork and he had steak, with roasted potatoes and carrots and a bottle of wine that we got from one of our wine-makers in Italy. It was a great first supper! We didn’t get it done on Saturday because we played instead! We went to the Olalla Polar Bear Plunge, where hundreds of fools, I mean people, jump off the overpass into the Puget Sound. Kat came over to watch it with us and we were all bundled up, shivering from just watching them jump in there! Granted, the 50 degree water was 20 degrees warmer than the air, but I don’t think that was much comfort, gauging from all the whoops and screams. They do this every year and it is a HUGE event! With Al’s closed now they took over the parking lot and grilled up hot dogs and offered soups and hot drinks, all for free, though they did ask for donations to the food bank, so that was nice. We found out that there is a weekly Saturday market in Olalla at the Community Center, and there is an egg supplier there so I am very happy about that! Later we went to a friend’s party and enjoyed a wonderful Spanish style seafood soup and some great conversation with lots of new people. I fear we overstayed our welcome and talked our hosts’ ears off, and I feel bad about that, though we did have a great time. I had no idea of the time when we left! They were very gracious and I am sure they would have rather been cleaning up and relaxing, so we owe them an evening and I hope we get together again soon because I really enjoyed them.

And here we are in the new year, a new week, lots to do and I feel like I am behind on everything. I know it’s ok and I will get caught up, even though I have little moments of panicky feelings, like I should really be doing more.. I don’t think that will ever fully go away so I will continue to breathe through it. We have some new ideas and things going on at the cafe, and I am planning the Winter Party on the 22nd and off we go! I hope you enjoyed your holidays, whether or not you celebrate those particular ones, and that you are also looking forward to what’s to come. The ebb and flow of life continues… as my dad is doing better with his health issues another important papa in my life seems to be declining away. It will always be so and the best we can do is focus on love and let the rest take care of itself…adapt to the change and other sayings: go with the flow, stop and smell the roses, go out on a limb, live like there’s no tomorrow, etc, etc, etc.

What sort of recipe would you like to make? How about a Lemony Lentil dish. This stew is great one pot cooking, quick and easy, satisfying and healthy, with a brightness that makes you think of sunny days. GI made chicken stock on Sunday, so my recipe calls for that, and I will offer a conversion to keep it vegetarian in case you would rather.

2 TBS olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1-2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 C lentils, sorted and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth (or veggie broth, or even water)
1 TBS fresh ginger, minced, or 1/2 tsp dried
grated peel from 1 lemon (no pith)
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Fresh parsley (or cilantro), chopped

Heat the oil in a large and deep sided saute pan or a 3 quart pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery and garlic, saute 4-5 minutes more, until it is all beginning to soften.

Add in the lentils and saute for about 2 minutes, then add the broth. Simmer, covered, until lentils are cooked through but not mushy, around 20-30 minutes.

Take off the heat, stir in the rest of the ingredients and let sit with the lid on but slightly askew, for 5 minutes or more. It will start to thicken and the flavors will melt together a bit more for serving.

You can always serve this as a side dish, but I think it’s a perfect meal with a salad of bitter greens. Ciao!