On the theory that this blog is all about using everything to its fullest, and because I just wrote this and am not feeling further inspired at the moment, I offer you the piece I read to my writer’s group this morning.
Our prompt for this month was “And then it was winter.”, a fitting theme even though it is nearly 75F today in central Texas! Ah well, I hear we should expect winter to be here (again) tomorrow… and perhaps an ice storm on Monday although I don’t believe it.
In any event, here’s what I came up with. Enjoy (and dream with me…)!
The island is quiet now. No tourists, the ferries run less often and the packet boat only comes once a week. The hotels are nearly empty, and some of the restaurants in the port close completely. Our big grocery is open, but even there the shelves are less than full.
I’ve learned to plan ahead, though, and we are well stocked.
The cafe my uncle left me is a pleasant place. White stone front, a few tables outside under the big plane tree just in sight of the bus stop catch the tourist’s eyes in the summer months. Sometimes, after a ramble in our hills they sit and cool off with a fruit drink and a salad or a bit of cheese and bread. I’ve even learned to make iced coffee, if you can imagine it, for those rare Americans who wish it.
Inside the cafe there is a bar and again just a few tables. The walls are whitewashed, clean, with a stone floor that is easy to mop even if it is hard on the occasional cup or plate that falls.
The only ones who eat here are my husband and his mother and myself it seems. Still, occasionally someone wants a full lunch and we are happy to oblige. Now though, the season is over for a few months. I’d be surprised if we see anyone much before April at the earliest.
It is cloudy most days, rainy often, the hills smell of fresh earth and young plants. I wouldn’t call it cold, but I spent winters in Canada those few years, taking care of my uncle. Now that was cold, and dark early, and snow in dirty piles for weeks – I never saw the ground! Here the old women grouse and pull on their black woolen shawls and the old men wear extra sweaters and sit about indoors, waiting for the hot months and the sun that warms their bones.
I love to walk the hills in this weather. The earth is soft underfoot and giving, and I snip herbs to bring home and dry, chamomile and thyme, and trailing plants to put in the stone horse trough turned planter near the cafe window. It will be so pretty in the summer and the tourists will ask what is that plant? Something like oregano or sage, but not quite…
The short days are peaceful. I get my chores done early; the only problem is the washing. These rainy days I have to dry the bed linens inside and be mindful of my cooking or the pillowcases will smell of fish! Still, that isn’t so very bad.
The fireplace gets a workout on drying days. Even if it isn’t cold enough to actually need it, the heat pulls the water out of our clothes quickly and leaves just a tiny hint of wood smoke that fades with the scent of the cedar that lines our armoire upstairs in our apartment.
My kitchen, the cafe kitchen my uncle built, is a wonder. Large windows open to the plaza, with a double wide sill for serving. That way the summer trade can watch me cooking and have a clear view of all the beautiful old copper pans my aunt used for so many years that hang on the back wall. Many’s the tourist that has offered me a pittance for the pots and pans thinking they were a decoration I wouldn’t miss. Oh no, they stay here! I love them and wouldn’t part with them even if I didn’t have need of them!
I have the big oven of course, a gas stove top, and several small burners for making good coffee. If it is a quiet day and someone seems truly interested, I may invite them back into the kitchen to show them how a proper cup of coffee is made. I enjoy the company and they go home with a story to share.
Still, I love my rambling days best, I think. I mean, even with our huge windows and open doors and the breezes we tend to get up here in the hills, summer can be stifling. Last spring my husband and I bought a used ice cream freezer. Now we can offer bars and cones to the tourists and even to the occasional kiddo who has the money for a treat. It has nearly made up for its cost already from the tourists last summer and we look forward to stocking it again when the weather changes.
For now, though, it is time for stews and soups and hearty great pots of food that can be reheated easily any time of the day. Bones from lamb or goat, for the flavor and a bit of meat, lots of beans and whatever greens I forage make a fine evening meal. Even though it isn’t cold like when I was taking care of my uncle when he got so sick after he went to Canada to work, we still need our strength.
This is the season for repairs and painting, for pruning the bougainvillea and getting ready for the summer, for planning menus, for gathering and drying herbs, for cleaning the cafe until everything sparkles, and perhaps, just perhaps for a short vacation on the mainland, for now it is winter.
Winter Lamb and Fennel
1 pound of white beans
several pounds of meaty lamb bones
1 pound each of onions and fennel, peeled, cleaned and chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large bunch kale, chopped
last night’s red wine
Soak the beans overnight. Drain and set aside.
Brown the bones in a deep pot, remove and set aside. Add the olive oil and the onions and fennel. Saute for 5-10 minutes, do not brown. Add the garlic and mix well, saute for another 5-10 minutes over very low heat. Add the chopped kale and cook down for 5-10 minutes. Add the drained beans. Add the wine to cover. Place the bones back in the pot and add as much water as needed to completely cover.
Add several sprigs of fresh thyme and a bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer partially covered for 2-3 hours. Enjoy with good bread, good friends, a good fire and rough red winter wine.
Mmmmmm…. hungry now! I think I’ll have a light salad (and maybe some Greek yogurt) while I wait for winter to come back. Be safe and warm, and enjoy the season!