|It’s been a minute since I’ve sat down to construct one of these newsletters. Things were going along so swimmingly this fall. School has bounced along with only one quarantine to report. Halloween came in a flurry of face paint and achingly sweet candy. The pièce de résistance was a long awaited trip to the Caribbean for Thanksgiving which seems like a pretty bougie event to report on, and frankly it probably is, but I will share one big takeaway. |
I realized in our bustling adult worlds of work, child care, and home maintanance, we feel we need a vacation, and mostly we all really do after the past couple of bananas years. But what I stopped to notice while we were basking on a ridiculously beautiful beach is that my son was elated with free joy. The kid really needed a holiday from social distancing, masks, contact tracing, and a set schedule. Not to be too obvious, but kids are people too, with big feelings, and sometimes they need a freaking break.
The euphoria of a week away in the sun with our renewed, suspiciously ecstatic child wore off Saturday morning at breakfast. The NY1 newscasters were going on and on about the new virus variant, texts about our impending trip to Texas to visit family after 2 years were pinging furiously, no gifts have been wrapped, and the once-super-positive child complained his croissant was “too crispy.” In that moment I wished I still had my therapist to call and ask what an anxiety attack feels like? The floor felt like it was moving, and my ears were ringing.
I’m the worst about anticipating. My husband can totally back this up. I can come up with worst case scenarios like a champ. I’m usually pretty good at managing my anxious thoughts with the realization that most times things work out much better than I imagined. But this day, it got the best of me. Like a dyed in the wool Southerner, I took to my bed. I got back in my pajamas, put Home Alone on for James for the 1000th time, and I slept like time stopped.
My only point of sharing this with you is to perhaps normalize pressing pause when it’s really just too much. Christmas time really is grand with all of the lights, evergreens, Bing Crosby crooning, and adorable letters to Santa. But it is such a double edged sword at a time when fear and loss flash past our eyes and ears at an alarming rate.
After I peeled myself from my sheets, I emerged into the comfort zone of my kitchen. I cranked on the best holiday song of all time, and channeled my mother. My Mama was so industrious this time of year baking loaves of bread and spooning jars of hot fudge sauce for her friends, tying them up with crisp, gingham ribbons.
I remember her making cranberry bread because she liked the festive colors. I don’t think I have that same recipe, but this is a great one that is also easy.
Cranberry Orange Bread
Adapted from a recipe by Jenn Segal
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons grated orange zest, from 1 orange
1/3 cup orange juice
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, halved
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
1 1/2 Tablespoons pearl sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 375 and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray a 9×5″ loaf pan with non- stick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, stir together buttermilk, orange zest and juice, melted butter and egg. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just moistened. Gently stir in cranberries and nuts (if using). Do not overmix.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and spread evenly with the rubber spatula. Sprinkle the pearl sugar on top, if using. Bake for 20 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Continue to bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 40 minutes longer. Cool the loaf in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool before serving or packaging.
Notes: Cranberries are a bugger to chop because they roll all over the place. I cut them in half one at a time which is a bit of a pain, but luckily there are not too many this recipe.
I riffed on a Smitten Kitchen recipe to add the pearl sugar on top. Pearl sugar can be found in baking shops or online. This is the crunchy sugar you see on top of French brioche or choquettes.
Also during my Saturday of reality avoidance, I lay scrolling recipes which is something that weirdly soothes me. Nothing really sounded good to me which made me grasp that I was really in a funk. If pasta couldn’t improve the situation, nothing could. I landed on this gem of simplicity:
Golden Saffron Pasta
recipe by Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
A generous pinch of saffron threads (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 cup hot, but not boiling, water
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
10 ounces pasta of choice
Aleppo pepper, or red pepper flakes
In a small bowl, gently crush the saffron threads between your fingers to break them up and release their flavor. Pour the hot water over the crushed threads and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
Start the sauce: add the wine to a medium sauté pan or saucier. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the liquid reduces by half, 3-5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium low. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the butter, one piece at a time, stirring constantly to emulsify. Follow with the cream, as well as the saffron and its liquid and good pinch of salt. Stir to combine and simmer briefly until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir for a few seconds to prevent sticking. Cook the pasta just shy of the directions on the package, you want the pasta al dente.
When the pasta is almost done, return the sauce to medium heat. Transfer the pasta directly to the sauce with tongs or a slotted spoon along with the final tablespoon of butter. Toss to coat until the butter has melted. Loosen the sauce with a small amount of pasta water if necessary. Season with salt to taste.
Divide the pasta among bowls, and top with a sprinkling of red paper flakes. Serves 2. Mangia!
The weekend ended up on a high note. James had asked for a blazer a while back, but frankly we hadn’t been anywhere he really needed one in the last year! I surprised him last week with a snappy navy blazer, and he immediately wanted to wear it to choir practice. Then he asked his Dad for a tie, and voilà, we were decked and ready for a night at Lincoln Center with a date with the Sugarplum Fairy. I’m glad I got out of bed.
Merry and Happy to all of you… remember to take a breather/ open the Scotch if need be.
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