Just this morning a friend on the other side of the country and I had an anger-management confession-fest via phone. Their winter has been the mirror-image of ours, and both would drive a saint into a lather.
I spent last Sunday, a week ago, beneath a pile of blankets on the couch reading furiously to finish a book in whose last throes I was inextricably caught*, waiting for the temperature to rise above zero so I could dash outside and shovel only the amount of snow absolutely necessary to let me get down my sidewalk and into my vehicle. Five below was as high as it got. I bundled up, got the shoveling done, and returned to my couch, which I normally find comfortable to the point of heavenliness, especially when a couple of cats pile on, too. But I’ve spent more time on it this winter than at any previous point in its history with me, and frankly, by now I’m sick of it.
In fact, the list of what I’m sick of about winter is the longest ever. My down coat and snow boots and gloves and hats and wooly scarves: I’d love to burn them in a bonfire in the back yard. As if I could. It’s such a bog out there that it’d be like trying to set fire to sponges.
I never want to see a turtleneck shirt ever again. Enough already of dark colors. Heavy sweaters. Socks. I hate socks. Especially wool ones. My fish-belly-white feet long for flip-flops. My electric blanket. Ordinarily, I love the night it’s finally cold enough to surrender to winter and put it on the bed; the first thing I do when I get home from work is turn it on so it’s like climbing into a warm cocoon later on. This year, though, winter arrived early and has stayed late; the party’s over and right now, I’d throw that sucker on the bonfire. Along with my couch.
What a difference 70 degrees make; yesterday it got up to 65, and a week of warmer temperatures and sun has ricocheted us from one extreme to another. Suddenly it’s a challenge to find a place to run the dogs where we don’t bring home a shitload of mud. As opposed to the shitload of mud we track in right from our own yard. Low-lying areas are flooding left and right. You know it’s bad when your area makes Weather.com headlines.
And my fuse is about a half inch long; everything and everyone pisses me off. I’ve mentioned that I’d rather eat cat food than one more pot of stew, largely because going to the grocery store simply feeds the bile. What are all those people doing there? Why is the only parking place in the south forty? And while we’re at it, I’m sick of Dr. Oz and his sharp little teeth grinning at me from Every. Single. Maga. Zine. Rack. Bonfire material.
Today is bringing rain, which I never thought I’d be so happy to see. Tonight it is supposed to turn to snow, but on the bright side, the three to six inches predicted will be heavy, wet stuff that will melt quickly once the sun returns. Which may not be the best possible news for flooded areas. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that it’s not all about me. I may not set things on fire after all.
But I draw the line at Dr. Oz. He stays on my list.
LEMONY BROCCOLI & CAULIFLOWER WITH STROZZAPRETI
Yield: enough for 2 generous dinners, or one dinner and a couple of lunches
Strozzapreti. I grabbed a bag of it at the store partly because I just like it, but also because my decision-making attention span is as short as my fuse. It was the first one my eyes landed on. In searching for how it came by its name, it turns out to be somewhat alarmingly in step with my winter’s mood.
The name translates as “priest-strangler. There are a few variations on how the long-ish, curled pasta came by its name. Not surprisingly, more than a few of them revolve around rage. Whether on the part of a housewife discontented with her life or that of a husband who may have used the product of his wife’s labor to pay rent for land to a priest whose church owned it, the end result appears to have been a wish that the gluttonous priest choke on it.
Irony aside, tonight I need something that (a) is neither soup nor stew, and (b) has some color and good texture and bright flavors to it. This is all that, with the tender creaminess of goat cheese to boot. Sweet Meyer lemons are still in season here; if you can’t find them, use the juice from half of a regular lemon and that from half of a tangerine or orange.
3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 medium bunch of broccoli
1/2 head of cauliflower
Juice of 1 meyer lemon
4 ounces vegetable stock
4 ounces goat cheese
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bag Strozzapreti**, cooked
Wedges of Meyer lemon
**Because of the chunkiness of the sauce, a shaped pasta will do much better here than a long one. Farfalle, fusili, penne will all be lovely as well.
1. Fill a pot with water to cook the pasta. Cover it, and begin heating it. Once it boils, add enough salt that the water tastes like the ocean, a good tablespoon. The sauce comes together very quickly, and if you wait to cook the pasta, the vegetables in the sauce will surely be overcooked. At my elevation, strozzapreti takes about 7 minutes to reach a firm al dente.
2. Trim off the broccoli florets and cut them into spoon- or fork-size pieces.
Once you’ve divided the cauliflower in half, cut one half into two quarters and trim the core out of each one.
Again, trim off the florets and cut them into the same size pieces as the broccoli.
3. Select a skillet large enough to accommodate both the sauce and the pasta at the end. Film it with enough olive oil – 2 or 3 tablespoons – to cover the bottom and warm it over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, or forms ribbons, it is hot enough to add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Let them cook just until the garlic is fragrant. Add the broccoli, cauliflower, lemon juice, and vegetable stock. Bring everything to a simmer and cover the skillet (if yours doesn’t have a lid – lots don’t – borrow one from large pot, or use a baking sheet). Let the vegetables simmer only until they can be somewhat easily pierced with a knife. NOT until soft or even al dente, in other words, as they will cook additionally once the pasta is added.
4. If the pasta is not ready yet, remove the skillet from the heat and take the lid off. When the pasta is not quite done, a little more al dente than you’d like it in other words, use a skimmer or a slotted spoon to lift it straight from the pot into the skillet. Add about 4 ounces of the pasta water, along with the goat cheese (break it into chunks with your fingers – then lick your fingers; it’s your kitchen, and besides, no one’s looking). Cook for a couple of minutes more; the pasta and vegetables should be ready for Goldilocks (juuuuuust right) at the very same time.
5. Just before serving, season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowl and serve with a wedge of Meyer lemon.
*The book was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I recommend it highly. It is lusciously long, and the story is un-put-down-ably absorptive – perfect for a long winter’s siege, a lengthy road trip, a week at the beach. I read it on my Kindle, so I could pull it out for stolen moments here and there during the day, then settle in at night under my electric blanket with a pot of tea and some cats and read myself off to sleep. It was such a constant companion that I feel the void it has left; I’m in search of something to fill it.
Just watch, my blanket will hear that I said bad things about it and quit working before I’m quite done with it for the season. I know cause and effect when I see it.