Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Friday, February 24, 2006

The hunger gap of late February and March

Late February rolls around each year and brings with it the late-winter ennui, especially if you live in a place where winter lasts into April. Even with this remarkably warm winter I'm feeling the weight of the season with its sweaters, coats, hats, and scarves... especially in the produce aisle. More squash? No. My eyes glaze over as I scan row upon row of root vegetables -- beets, radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, rutabaga. How to get through the next several weeks until the spring produce arrives?

I was wondering just this when I came across a delightful food essay by Tamasin Day-Lewis in this month's Vogue (see, it's still good for something). She writes about how this time of the year puts her in the mood for foods she remembers from her childhood, fish and bread:

So why, in the lean, threadbare "hunger gap" of the year, late February and March, do these memories surface and my thoughts turn to the twin pillars of sustenance, comfort and succor? To the oily fish--preserved, salted, soused; smoked, cured, cooked, or just raw like sashimi or ceviche--that the body craves after the fleshy excesses of holiday feasting? And to a simple loaf, fresh from the oven with the memory of warmth about it and the best unsalted sweet French butter or a beautiful unpasteurized goat's cheese spread on the crust?

...It's all a matter of preference and of listening to your body, even if it means summoning up instincts you didn't even know you possessed. The French, the Italians, the Spanish, who have not altered their native diet significantly over the past decades or even centuries as Americans have, just know what good food is, and know that it does them good. Instead of calculating carb-to-protein ratios, they understand the age-old maxim of all things in moderation.
That's it! Fish and crusty bread would fill in that post-festivus/pre-spring "hunger gap." Tamasin had found what I'd been craving. (And OK, yes, it's always just a little too easy for the naturally thin to preach about eating in moderation and listening to your body.) Wouldn't a colorful, flavorful soup round out the meal well?

While searching for that vanilla scallops recipe I'd mentioned the other day I also found a tomato soup recipe that uses vanilla (both are from a spice company that sells vanilla, but I've long lost track of its name). Tomato soup with vanilla may sound horrible, but with beef stock it really works. The vanilla cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, in a way putting a cozy sweater on a summer fruit. I've made the vanilla scallops a few times and love them, especially over black squid ink pasta for the kind of visual jolt you might need in these grey months. To the greenmarket I go tomorrow morning for my bag of sweet scallops.

Quick Tomato Soup
serves 4

1 28-oz an whole or chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups rich beef stock
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup finely died carrot
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a 2-quart saucepan melt butter. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add flour and stir to blend. Gradually add beef stock, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, breaking up whole tomatoes, if used. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. If smooth texture is desired, puree mixture in a blender. Serve hot. Garnish with minced parsley leaves and grated parmesan cheese.

If you want to make a vegetarian version I'd use mushroom broth rather than vegetable.

Jasper provided me with a few new lines to add to yesterday's list: "sometimes Mommy needs a break." He learned that one from Lane. And just before he dropped to sleep tonight: "The sun is not on now. It dark." I'm tempted to end the post there, but I have leave you with a few lines from the Nora Ephron essay in last week's anniversary New Yorker. First there is the way she describes her mother making egg rolls from her Gourmet Cookbook:
A recipe for them appears on page 36 of the book, but it doesn't begin to convey how stressful and time-consuming an endeavor it is to make eggrolls, nor does it begin to suggest how much tension a person can create in a household by serving eggrolls that take hours to make and are not nearly as good as Chinese takeout.
I know that scene well. And then towards the end she explains why she added recipes to a "thinly disguised novel about the end of my [Nora's] marriage." (Heartburn?) For me it perfectly draws the connection between food and writing:
The point wasn't about the recipes. The point (I was starting to realize) was about making people feel at home, about finding your own style, whatever it was, and committing to it. The point was about giving up neurosis where food was concerned. The point was about finding a way that food fit into your life.

1 comment:

ticklethepear said...

Hmm...tomato soup without cream and with vanilla. Will have to check that out!

Ironically Feb-Mar here is the most abundant month. We had cantalope this past weekend, a rare treat.