A Recipe for Fighting December Doldrums

Inspired by Vacuous Minx’s way more interesting recipe posts.

Some whine to go with this meal: I want to love December, really I do. Advent is my favorite season of the church year: the music, the prophetic readings, the ritual of lighting one more candle in the wreath each week, the sense of joyful anticipation. Every year, I resolve to experience its spirit of reflective, patient waiting more fully, and every year, its arrival fills me instead with a sense of panic and inadequacy. OMG, I should be loving everyone and baking and sending cards and crafting! OMG, I’m so behind on my consumerist imperatives!

December is one of the worst times of the academic year: the end-of-term crunch of grading runs right up against holiday madness (for those who celebrate Christmas) and the need to prepare for next term. Holiday preparations become another chore rather than something joyful. And to top it off, my husband and I both have birthdays this month. Although I mostly don’t mind getting older, I suspect having birthdays starting with “4” contributes to the depression I feel at this time of year. As my husband said when he hit 40, “Well, I guess I’ll never be a rock star.”

Finally, while I love my adopted city, Vancouver in December is dark. Days are short, and on rainy days (which, you know, is an awful lot of them at this time of year) it seems like it never really gets light at all. The other day, the automatic headlights in the car came on when I set out to pick up my daughter from school. At 2:45. I am tired of dragging myself out of bed in the dark every morning, and would like to crawl under the covers until spring. Luckily, snowdrops start blooming in January here.

In this mood, small, simple comforts are important. The other day my husband came home from the new butcher on our shopping street with the makings for this recipe, and enjoying it together cheered us both up at the end of a busy week. I think of this as “70s food,” both because it dates from my own childhood and because it’s “ethnic” but not really authentic. I associate it with December, too; my mom once made it for Christmas dinner when we had a houseful of waifs and strays, and my husband and I have both chosen it for our birthday dinners.

These days, I often make a simpler, healthier version by omitting the butter and most of the olive oil and just tossing everything in the slow cooker. (I drain the tomatoes to make it less soupy). I don’t have a food mill, so I use my immersion blender or just break up the tomatoes with my fingers and have a chunkier sauce. Neither of my kids eats meat, but my daughter likes the sauce on pasta.

Italian Beef Stew with Rosemary

1 1/2 lbs. beef, 1 inch cubes

3 cups (28 oz. can) tomatoes with basil

3/4 c. chopped celery

1/2 c. chopped parsley

1/4 t. each oregano and thyme

2 T. olive oil

1 t. chopped garlic

1/2 c. white wine (I’ve used red too)

1/4 c. butter

1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1 t. dried

8 thin slices French bread rubbed w/garlic or noodles to serve on (I just serve a crusty bread on the side)

Combine tomatoes, celery, all herbs except rosemary, and olive oil in a saucepan. Simmer 30 minutes. Put through a food mill.

Heat 1/4 c. butter in a large dutch oven and brown meat on all sides. Remove meat, add garlic and wine and cook until wine reduced by half.

Add meat, rosemary and tomato sauce. Simmer, covered, 1 1/2-2 hours.

Just the smell of this cooking makes me happier.

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2 Responses to A Recipe for Fighting December Doldrums

  1. Mmm, stew in winter!

  2. Although I mostly don’t mind getting older, I suspect having birthdays starting with “4″ contributes to the depression I feel at this time of year. As my husband said when he hit 40, “Well, I guess I’ll never be a rock star.”

    Give your husband a hug for me, for articulating this so well!

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