[Sonoma Coast, January 2011.]
I took today off. No working from home, no working at work, no working, really, at all. I pushed off thoughts of my Friday deadline and went for a run in the morning — just a short one, because I’m doing a 1/2 marathon this weekend and wanted to save myself — after tea and breakfast. When I got back, I stretched and then stretched again, cat-like, and lay down on the cool cement in front of the house with the sun shining full on my face. It was my version of savasana: I let my arms and legs fall as they were, but propped my head up on my running shoe, somehow achieving the perfect balance of comfort and protection from the ground. The sun blazed down and dried the sweat pooled at my hairline, forearms, shins. I floated in this sort of suspended few moments of emptiness — my muscles were warm and well-worked but not too tired, I listened to the birds in the birch trees (and the neighbor raking), thoughts were unformed and unimportant –for at least 10 minutes. It was glorious.
Then I went to Bodega Head because today was a day to remind us why we live in California. Improbably, while the rest of the country braces for yet another snowstorm, in Northern California this last day of January 2011 was crisp, clear, and sunny. It (almost) made up for those summer days of endless fog and a cold wind; it certainly compensated for a lot of the rainy days of last winter. It even felt warmer than July (!). Some days you get lucky, and today was one of them.
So we went out the coast, my parents and I, because usually when you’re given a gift of a warm sunny day in the middle of winter you head straight for the ocean. We had clam chowder in Bodega Bay (well — they did. I brought along a cheese and avocado sandwich.) and I drank a cup of hot chocolate and we all finished off the last of the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I’d baked for a friend who recently had a baby (she calls them the “make everything better” cookies and though little could have made today better I tend to agree — they are utterly addictive and the recipe is here, though I think I will revisit it in more depth soon.). At Bodega Head the wind was whipping around a bit but not too much and I took my requisite photos and squinted into the sun.
I thought about how many times I’ve taken pictures out there — too many times to count, of course, and probably even for most of my life. And yet though the landscape remains familiar it is different in some way each time I’m there: depending the time of day, the time of year, the season, the light is unique and shifting, more rock may have been shaved off the cliffs by the passing of time and wind, sometimes whales spout and blow far out to sea, more often than not a fishing boat will be chugging in past the breakers into harbor to put in for the night. I’ve walked along that land’s edge in fog, rain, sunset, moonrise, freezing sun, and hot summer, all. I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.
It was a good day, and will be capped with bowls of homemade vegetable soup and bread and cheese for dinner.
[Dinner at home, January 2011.]
But last night for dinner we ate one of my especial favorites: pasta (in this case usually penne) with pesto, potatoes, and green beans. I was a little worn out from cooking, after making some things for my friend (she of the ‘better’ cookies) and her family — an enormous pan of macaroni and cheese casserole with veggies (spinach, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms, oh yes and LOTS of delicious sharpsharp cheddar), sweet potato soup, chocolate cupcakes, and the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The last thing I felt like doing was cooking more — fortunate, then, that I was in Sebastopol with my mom there to make sure I was well fed.
The first time I had this dish I wasn’t sure about it (though I do remember when I had it — January 2, 2010, my last day at home after the holidays. My dad and I drank the dregs of a bottle of Ravenswood Zin and spread good bread with butter and ate and ate with the sun streaming in through the windows of the dining room). It seemed funny to have pasta and potatoes together, though I’ve happily eaten many, many plates of delicious potato-chard (with pasta) lasagna, the flavors blending together in perfect complement and never tasting too heavy. But still, I initially wasn’t sure although of course anything involving pesto tends to be aces in my opinion. Had to at least give it a try at any rate.
Well, it’s not funny, and it’s not heavy. It’s quite addictive, actually, and is hearty enough to tempt committed meat-eaters (the potatoes serve both as a sturdy foil to the crisp green beans while giving the overall dish a good bit of heft). I’d eat it with a green salad, or roasted asparagus, though last night we ate it as-is, the entire batch of it. I was full, but if there’d been just a little bit more I’m sure I could have made room … Of course, this is best made at the height of summer when basil and green beans are in full swing, but, — it’s January. It’s winter. Surely we deserve a small treat every so often …?
If you’re more organized than me, maybe you’ll defrost some of that pesto you made and froze last August (or even buy a container). Then splurge on a handful of green beans at the market and whip up a pot of whole wheat penne (or ziti, or a mix of wheat-white). Throw in a few more pine nuts, pour yourself a glass of wine, and hold on. Summer’s not toooo far away, after all. Today proved that. Promise.
For the pesto:
1 1⁄2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
3 Tbs. pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 lb. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the veggies/pasta:
1⁄2 lb. small red potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1⁄4 inch thick
1⁄2 lb. young, thin green beans, stem ends trimmed
1 lb. dried penne
Make the pesto
Put the basil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in a large mortar. Using a pestle, and working in a circular motion, grind the ingredients together until a dense, thick green paste forms. This could take several minutes to do, but don’t be discouraged. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while stirring continuously with the pestle until a thick, flowing sauce forms. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and then use a spoon to stir in the cheese. OR use a food processor: garlic, then pine nuts, then basil, then cheese, then oil. Process until smooth and blended.
Cook the penne according to package directions until al dente, reserving a bit of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a rolling boil and add about 1 Tb. salt. Add the potatoes and green beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.
In a large bowl, toss the penne with the sauce and vegetables, stirring well to coat. Add a bit of the cooking water if it looks too dry.
Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.