January is characterized by a feverish desire to make personal changes, a rush of oppressive jet lag carried over from the previous year. I try not to get swept up in the addictiveness, a fervor that conquers the nation with cult-like ardency. This year, against all odds, I am awash with ravenous desire to unravel the quotidian, tear apart the nitty gritty. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can be exceedingly inefficient and I’m tired of wasted, lackadaisical moments. Winter can be depressing, and with the solstice comes a sense of solitude. As we collectively surrender to the punishing season, a morose absence of color in the atmosphere, I am surrendering to the infamous resolution.
I was at the market around the first of the month, alone with my black and blue brain, a bit exhausted from excessive ruminating. I held a Satsuma tangerine between my fingers, still covered in a spiny branch and firm green leaves, the skin oily and aromatic, the smell anointing my fingertips. I pressed my scented, citrus-infused pinkie to the tip of my nose and a strange feeling overrode my brain, like a lightning bolt striking my conscious. It was odd and unexplainable, as if a year’s worth of unfulfilled promises weighed on my shoulders like a tattered blanket of guilt.
I came home more or less empty handed with the exception of leeks, some broccoli for my son and a huge bag of Satsumas. The winter air in my house smelled of strong tea, my counter top flecked with loose tea leaves from the breakfast hour and water rings caused by damp mugs left too long to percolate. The air was cold and thin and translucent and odorless, except for the stale tea and Satsumas beginning to emanate.
Feverishly, I began zealously chopping leeks, wasting no time. I started chopping garlic and melting butter, thinking about wasted moments, those refrains that leave me melancholy, uninspired and feeling guilty. When was the last time I actualized a promise hinging on the turn of a calendar page? I threw the creamy leeks into the pan, watching them sizzle and the butter spatter, thinking about the melancholy trees outside my window, stiff against a grey and white streaked backdrop.
I pulled a starchy potato from a cobalt bowl on the counter and began to peel it. Into the pan went the potato, along with the garlic. I knew soup was a brilliant idea at that moment, as I realized a resolution was already underway, my dexterous hands working eagerly to stay ahead of brain. “Be more spontaneous,” I thought, and tossed in my son’s utilitarian broccoli, as well as homemade stock, the precious liquid gold I had saved for a rainy day. I pulled ad hoc ingredients out of the pantry. Nutritional yeast? Sure, why not. Honey? Yes, honey will restore balance to a very savory soup. A few handfuls of aged cheddar and Beemster went into the pot as well.
The spontaneity led way to a sweet and savory, creamy and filling soup, and a handful of New Year’s resolutions: I will go to sleep earlier, I will read more, I will take better care of myself so I can care for those around me, I will visit my grandmother more frequently, I will write at least once a week.
We gobbled up the soup, dipping crusty roasted garlic bread into our bowls, steam hitting our nostrils, our hands warmed by the toasty white porcelain. Dinner made me sleepy and cozy, enough to drive me into bed, early, with a good book.
Broccoli, Leek, Potato and Cheese Soup with Honey
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts
1 small white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minces
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
4 cups broccoli florets
4 cups homemade beef bone broth (or chicken broth or vegetable broth, preferably homemade)
1/2 cup Beemster and/or extra sharp aged cheddar, shredded
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon local honey
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1. Trim ends of the leeks and remove outer layer. Cut lengthwise and wash thoroughly. Slice the halves into 1/2-inch pieces.
2. Melt butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks and onion and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until leeks are wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and potatoes and cook for three minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Add broth, bay leaf and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover pot. Simmer for 10 minutes and add the broccoli. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes, covered, until the potatoes are soft. Remove the pot from the heat and extract the bay leaf.
4. Blend the soup until smooth using an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender or food processor. Pour the soup back into the pot, turn the heat to medium-low and add the cheese, stirring until melted. Add additional salt and pepper, cider vinegar and honey.
Yield: Serves 4 as a main course.