despite being a fundamentally punctual soul, i tend to be late for plenty of things. in life, that is.
got married at 34. first baby at 36. last one at just shy of 45. so i shouldn’t be too surprised that we’re two weeks into the new year and i’ve finally gotten around to realizing it’s high time for a cleanse.
i’m not talking refrain from fuzzy bubbly, nor gulping goopy green drinks in an effort to roto-root my insides. i’m talking one of those good old-fashioned retreats from the noise and the headaches that too often encumber the festooned days of fa-la-la december.
fact is, after a string of weeks that brought to this old house canceled christmas eve flights, hacked bank accounts, more late nights than i’m used to, a general level of cacophony, and too many comings and goings, i am full-on frazzled.
i dream of hot bubbly baths. and towering monastery walls (of which i’m on the inside, safely ensconced, and far from the harsh, harried world). i imagine quietude. not a decibel louder than that of a page turning, a firelog crackling, or a kettle of soup lazily simmering.
i long for unfettered days, with nowhere to go, and no one to answer to.
it takes some of us a good bit of time to snap our synapses into order again, to de-frazzle our wee little nerves, to fill our heads and our souls with pure fresh breathable oxygen.
i basically long for a DIY friary, with compulsory silence. and menial chores.
yes, chores. and, yes, the more menial the better.
since this is a prime time of year to be confessional, and confession is a fine first stop on the monastic road, i’ll go first, and––ahem––admit to one or two quirks when it comes to the ways i unjangle my nerves: over the years, i’ve found uncanny pacification in hoisting bucket and mop. yes, i’m a serial cleaner. i often reach for fleece-lined yellow rubber gloves when i’m in need of mollifying. vacuuming dehydrated bits of the vacated christmas-y tree (wee little thing that it was) tends to quell my wobbliest self. scrubbing spots off the floor puts me together again. de-greasing the stove = the short route to nirvana.
you can bet your brill-o pad that soon as the college kid slips out the door and onto the tarmac this weekend, i’ll be peeking behind the bedroom door he’s all but barricaded these past many weeks (the better to bar me from tsk-tsking the mess). i’ll be switching out sheets, spritzing sweet herbal poofs in the air, rinsing the crud out from the drains. call me loony (if you didn’t already) but i tap into rarefied bliss when armed with squeegee and lysol.
only then, when every last wrinkle is smoothed, and the faucet and sink twinkling like venus, will i settle into my preferred mid-january posture: squished in a nook with a book. decidedly monk-like. and i might not look up for days. should the phone ring, i’ll not hear it. should the phone ping, i’ll play possum.
of course, this isn’t the only way to take on the starter month, the one roz chast (yet another of my new yorker supernovas) vividly declared the “cruellest.” (see new yorker cover above)
i realize i’m hardly alone in pondering new-year restoratives. just the other day, blithely turning the pages of the new york times, i found––in the food section, no less!––even the recipe mavens were proffering thoughts on how to muddle through the 31 days. here’s longtime writer melissa clark on the matter:
“maybe there’s another way to look at it,” she begins. “what if january could be quiet and centered, a period of calm reflection when it’s too cold to go out and no one wants or expects anything social from you anyway? to me this is the ideal moment to hide in your house, cozy up near the stove and simmer a nice pot of stew. go low and slow—after all, you’ve got plenty of time this month.”
sign me up, missy!
while i set my sights on the distant shores of far-off february (when things might really turn dreary), i’ve decided to up my january game, and thus will subscribe to a slight monastic upgrade:
as a firm believer that one shouldn’t starve while immersed in abstemious mode (a fancy way to say spartan), i plan on stocking my make-believe monastery with sumptuous soups, breads so grainy they give your incisors a run for their money, and, true to time-tested friarly ways, a good vintage to wash it all down (mine will be an $8.99 prosecco from ol’ trader joe).
here’s what i’m stirring this morning:
Carrot-Leek Soup With Miso
By David Tanis* (annotations by babs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups peeled, cubed carrots (from about 6 medium carrots)
2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped
Salt and black pepper
8 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons yellow or white miso
1 small lime
Thinly sliced chives, for garnish (optional)
Heat olive in a heavy pot over medium heat. When the oil glistens or ripples (both signs that it’s hot enough), add carrots and leeks. Season generously with salt and pepper, and stir to coat well. Sauté for a minute or 2, then add broth (Tanis insists lightly salted water simmered with leeks and carrots is plenty tasty enough; count me among the not-yet-convinced). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. As soup simmers, taste and add salt as needed. Cook until carrots are soft, about 15 minutes.
Once the soup is cooled, reserve 2 cups liquid, then purée the remaining contents of the pot in a blender. (Alternatively, use an immersion blender in the pot.) Use reserved liquid to adjust the purée’s thickness, adding just enough so the consistency is that of a thin milkshake.
To serve, heat soup and whisk in miso. Divide among 4 bowls. Grate a little lime zest over each bowl. Quarter the lime and add a good squeeze of lime juice into each bowl. Scatter with chives, if using.
well, that was a long-winded way to bring you a root-vegetable recipe. but this space for me is what a gym might be to a gymnast. it’s where i practice my twists and turns, and aim to stick my landings. as a long-ago failed athlete, i ply no bodily tricks, and confine myself to maneuvers of nouns, verbs, and a host of dangling modifiers.
because levity is a proven balm for most ails, i’m adding a bonus here this morning, and showing you a snap of what this ol’ monk shall be wearing during her retreat from the world. if it seems i’m on some sort of new yorker binge, it’s unintentional, and pure coincidence. but the one thing i got for christmas this year was this fine pair of cat’s pajamas (new yorker cartoon cats splattered up and down legs, sleeves, and even the pockets), which arrived in the post just the other day and which i just might never take off (the ad on the new yorker shop site shows new yorkers wearing these things out and about. even in art galleries, and on the stoops of their brownstones). i solemnly vow only to wear mine inside the friary.
what’s your preferred prescription for those chunks of the year when you’re in need of deep hibernation?
p.s. thank you roz chast for your eternal and forever brilliance. new yorker cover above, by dear roz!