Journal Entry: A Holiday Reflection

Scout on the sofa

Heavenly Peace

Today is my last ‘official’ day off in a week with a couple of holidays plunked smack into the middle of it, courtesy of our Gregorian calendar. I exercised a little opportunism, nudging some unclaimed vacation time around what was already coming, like a pair of bookends. There is still the weekend ahead, which will look like most weekends, and that is okay. Holidays—the Christmas holidays, for those of us who observe them—are anything but restorative. Instead, they’re days fraught with overstimulation, too much sugar and butterfat, impossible to-do lists, and rushing, rushing, rushing ourselves senseless. I thought this pace would slow when my child reached adulthood; I was wrong. Routine days and nights, I submit, feel more like heavenly peace.

butter and sugar in the stand mixer

sugar and butterfat

Toll House cookie bars

Homemade Dog Biscuits

Stepping into my eighth year as a Vermonter (I can scarcely believe this as I write it), I realize now I’ll spend a decade in this cold state in the Northeast before my life’s next chapter begins with The Chef, a thing I could not have fathomed in August of 2012 when I arrived here. But I’m not sure, precisely, what I expected at a moment I was so utterly distracted by survival (skinny, anxious, fearful, alone) that I didn’t dare look far beyond the immediate horizon.

Almost seven and a half years later, and Chef David and I are starting to look beyond it. We have some fairly clear ideas about what’s coming, others still shape shifting all over the place. Here’s a shape that needs to shift: I need to lose my ‘happy fat,’ as I like to call it—the weight I put on when I knew this thing with my handsome chef was real, and when I decided to let myself finally exhale after a few perilous years.

So even the ‘routine’ before and after the holidays looks different now. About six or so weeks ago I started something I’m calling mindful eating, and somehow managed to stay true to this new practice right through Christmas week, except on the day itself. I’m down about a dozen or so pounds. I won’t go back where I was in 2012, which was an unhealthfully low weight, but will stop at something just this side of it. There’s nothing especially magical about what I’m doing: logging food with a popular app, loosely adhering to the Pritikin Principle (which has worked for me several times in the past), drinking a lot of water, and I mean a lot, and fasting 16 of every 24 hours.

There is also the fitness piece of shape shifting. Scout-the-Goldapeake-Retriever and I are running almost every day of the week these days, and I’m hitting the gym once or twice a week for yoga, which helps oil the hinges. The running is unimaginably difficult in winter in New England and requires so much resolve. Here’s how much: I resolve to run when the temperature is 20 degrees or warmer (it’s too cold for us, especially Scout, in the teens, and anyway, I believe temperatures that cold do bad things to eyeballs and other mucous membranes); I resolve to run on icy roadways and sidewalks just as soon as the crampons I ordered for my running shoes arrive in the mail; I resolve to make Scout wear his shoes on the days he needs them, which includes even dry-pavement days in the bitter cold or after a big rock salt dump on the sidewalks. Putting four shoes on four reluctant paws is time consuming and requires no small amount of resolve, but after taking his first few awkward steps, Scout forgets he’s wearing them and now he’s an expert even at running in them, just as Clarence-the-Canine was before him.

Maybe I’ll add swimming and cycling to the mix for variety when the winter finally relents up this way in a few months, but we’ve only just begun, and already we’ve dealt with sub-zero temps and snow measured in feet.

Soup making continues. Last weekend I tried a new one from Pritikin called barley vegetable soup. It’s loaded with vegetables (this particular recipe is completely vegetarian, and probably also vegan, if you’re interested), so much so that I finally had to back off the quantities in the recipe, as you can see, because had I not, the stock pot would runneth over. Like many soups of this type, you make it as a brothy concoction, and then when the vegetables are fully cooked, remove about a quarter of the soup to run through a food processor, before adding it back to the pot. The result is a hearty, aromatic, and filling meal-in-a-cup:

barley vegetable soup

barley vegetable soup

The day I made soup, Chef David was baking cookies—our kitchen was busy.

barley vegetable soup

dry pearl barley

Pearl barley adds substance and a pleasant nutty quality to the soup.

barley vegetable soup

The stock pot was full even before I added all the liquid vegetable stock to it.

Sometimes I suspect the chefs who create these recipes are still thinking like restaurant chefs, and that is to say, thinking in restaurant quantities. The struggle in our house is real and ongoing. Chef David makes beautiful dinners for us and plates enough to serve a small country. (I’ve also caught him referring to my plate or bowl as an “order” on occasion.) It is the American way: We collectively lack self-control when it comes to portion sizes. We’re getting there in this house, a little at a time. Anyway, this soup yielded so much I think I’ll excuse myself from soup making this weekend.

soup for days

Beautiful Rancho Gordo Beans

Exquisite Rancho Gordo beans: future soups in the make, courtesy of my ex-sister-in-law-but-still-my-sister.

I’ll still throw a bunch of potatoes into the oven as I’ve been doing lately, to see me through the week ahead. I’ll eat my supper most nights before David comes home, so I can start fasting on time. Supper will be a baked potato reheated, with a dollop of (‘lite’) sour cream, a cup of soup, and a generous tossed salad. These are reasonable portions (remember those from your childhood?), and some nights, I can’t even finish what’s on the plate. Can I sustain these kinds of eating habits over the long haul? I hope so, but time will tell.

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve morning started quietly in our house. I plucked my copy of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory from the pile of Christmas stories I always arrange on the coffee table this time of year, and read it cover to cover; it made me bawl like a baby, as it always does. I bookmarked a particular page with an exquisite sentence I’ll use at work in the coming weeks, to illustrate the brilliant use of not-commas for the cadre of writers whose copy I edit day in and day out.

After that brief pause, the manic pace resumed. I baked no fewer than 30 biscuits, which I divided into pretty cellophane holiday bags and toted around to the neighbors along with a pot of jam for each bag. Last year we delivered pies to the neighborhood. But The Chef had to work a long day on Christmas Eve, so I visited our neighbors by myself. I love doing this. Our neighbors are as different from us and from each other as different can be (and come from as far away as Jordan), but we all live together, and these small moments of communion feel so important to me, somehow.

Calm came finally on Christmas Day. The Chef has worked himself to exhaustion in the weeks leading to this one and has spent restless nights fighting off a head cold. Seems like one or the other of us always ends up like this during the holidays. One day, Chef David, we’ll figure out a better plan.

The Christmas tree is growing stale and crusty, reaching that fire-hazardous state where you think better of leaving on the sparkling lights for too long. We’ll wait until one brief and final present-opening occasion happens on Sunday, and then I suspect down it’ll come, and the holidays will go back once more into their bins, thence to the attic whence they came.

We’ll settle back into our routine and push up our sleeves in the new year, just now coming into view. I bought some black-eyed peas to fix on New Year’s Day, a good-luck tradition The Chef didn’t know (is it a Southern thing only?). I won’t charge headlong into 2020 with oversized ambitions, but instead will stay the course at a pace that seemed to suit me in 2019. And I’ll do it unapologetically, with a bit of opportunism thrown in for good measure.

Scout in the Human Bed

Dogs (including this one on sleeping on the human pillow, in the human bed, just like the human who vacated this spot) are the most clever opportunists.

2 thoughts on “Journal Entry: A Holiday Reflection

  1. Merry Christmas! I love the heirloom beans -we will be combining the tradition from my family and Sparky’s family for our new years feast – corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes AND black-eyed pea soup with cornbread. I think that with just the 2 of us I won’t need to cook for a week!

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