Here comes the sun
The end of winter is always a waiting game. By March, the sun is strong enough to whisper spring, but the rest of nature roars winter in unison. The secret to surviving is cooking, as we discovered during the recent renovation of our kitchen. Cooking is coping, especially at this time of year.
February 29, 2016 | Text: David Rollins Photography: Rob Lee
We have a new kitchen. We got started with the renovations right after Christmas and had hoped to be finished in three weeks, but of course there were some surprises. The worst was nine days of asbestos removal, during which a huge industrial air filter ran day and night, just feet from our home office, and home bedroom. It’s why we haven’t blogged anything since mid-December. We’re happy to be back. It’s all just a funny story now, and the kitchen is wonderful: ordered, functional, true to the character of the house, and most of all ours.
We didn’t cook a meal at home for six weeks. We had a little kitchenette set up in the basement by the laundry sink, with a microwave and coffee machine on the deep freeze. We ate a lot of take-out, drank a little more wine, and tried hard to be a little more jokey than usual.
It made me realize that somewhere along the line we started cooking essentially all our own food. And that the stress of the renovations was not so much the noise, or decision fatigue, or the endless parade of trades in and out of the house. It was that we weren’t cooking. Cooking for yourself isn’t just about making the right choices. Cooking is grounding. Cooking is restorative. Cooking is coping.
Neither of us was much of a cook when we met 13 years ago, but we worked as a team, for the same company, all day, for many years and quickly discovered that cooking recipes out of the weekend newspaper at the end of the workday was a great way to stop talking about work and start focusing on building a life together. I suppose it could have been skiing, or volunteer work, or jazz, or children. For now, it’s cooking.
Throughout the renovations, we talked about what we’d blog about when we finally got our life back. I’ve been wanting to do a raw-feeling piece on chicken stock (all bones and salt), and we have some single-origin cocoa beans in the basement that have several stories to tell. But when we finally went to the market to buy the first food to actually cook in the kitchen, we stumbled upon a display of about 10 different kinds of citrus. Italian lemons, mandarins, white grapefruit, oranges of all kinds, and bergamot! Bergamot is the citrus used to scent Earl Grey tea. We roasted thin slices of it with chicken, Brussels sprouts, shallots and bacon last Sunday night, and ate in grateful silence.
That’s the story of this citrus. These fruits always land in the dead of winter as a kind of promise of spring’s coming excitement. Citrus is hopeful, like the light that has started creeping into our new kitchen around three o’clock in the afternoon. It starts off as a clearly defined oblong on the dining room wall, and then touches each of the stone, steel, and ceramic surfaces that define our new sandbox. Around 4:30, you can see sunlight dancing in the water that flows from the kitchen tap. A ridiculously moving thing. Because it’s still very much winter. And the kitchen isn’t really done just yet – there are shelves to be put up and holes that need filling. But we’re cooking. We have oranges, and sunlight in the kitchen.
“It’s the wind blowing free, it’s the end of the slope,
it’s a beam, it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope,
and the riverbank talks of the waters of March,
it’s the end of all strain, it’s the joy in your heart.”
– fom The Waters of March, by Carlos Jobim
Winter fruit salsa
Makes about one pint
- 1 blood orange
- 1/2 pink grapefruit
- 5 kumquats, sliced
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped red onion
- ½ c pomegranate seeds
- 1 c cranberries, halved
- 2 small persimmons, peeled and diced
- ½ c diced fennel
- 1 long green hot pepper, sliced
- a handful of mint, torn
- a handful of cilantro, torn
- 1 tsp. roasted and cracked coriander seed
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- salt and pepper to taste
Cut the orange and grapefruit into supremes: pare off the rind and pith, then slice whole segments out from in between the remaining membranes. (This will require a sharp, patient knife.) Cut the supremes into two or three pieces, and combine them with the other ingredients, including the zest and juice of the lime. Season with salt and pepper, and let the flavours meld in the fridge for 20 minutes. Excellent with seared fish.
Boil 12 medium-sized slices of citrus in water for one minute, and drain. Discard the water. Combine 1 ½ cups of water and 1 ½ cups of sugar in a large frying pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the citrus and cook over low heat for an hour, or until the fruit is coated in a thick syrup. Remove the slices to a cooling rack, and allow to dry for about a day.
Delicious with dark chocolate and ice cream, or finely diced into savoury dishes like risottos, tagines, and curries.