There’s something about the concept of the Western world’s New Year that never sits quite right with me. Until now, I thought I was simply anti-diet. The New Year’s pooch is a symbol for me; it represents the cookies and cake I’ve consumed, and also the people I’ve shared them with. If I pour my energy into dieting on January 1st, like half this country seems to do, I effectively cut myself off from the biggest soul-quenching time of the year, because food connects me to memory. It’s like ruling out bright sunlight in August. (Sure, we could all use fewer UV rays, but what would August be without sunburns?) I usually start the year out bingeing on soups and stews, precisely because so many other people are avoiding them.
This year, for the first time, I figured out why January 1st seems so meaningless: Here, it seems like the same new year every time around. We’re supposed to create a resolution to battle whatever it was about the previous year that left us feeling unsettled, but there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s intrinsically needed. Every year, there’s basically the same expectation: This year will be better. Why?
2010 was kind of an outrageous year for me. There were months with no appetite, followed by an experiment with eating gluten-free. In the end, the culprit was something close to kidney failure. Then there was chemotherapy, crazy complications with my son’s health, and (surprise!) two cookbook deals. It was a roller coaster, for sure. As December faded to January, I had trouble resolving to do anything but make sure 2011 was a little more calm.
This past weekend, my parents visited, and I was somehow able to drop everything. (Not my son, of course. I didn’t drop him.) We played human-sized chess at the Pacific Science Center, and gobbled soup dumplings, and watched humans pretend to be dogs driving cars, and it was all light-hearted and boatloads of fun. Last night, as I read Graham a book before bed, my eyes fell to the Chinese zodiac hanging in his bedroom. Now there is the right approach to the new year thing.
2010 was the Year of the Tiger, right? In my world, certainly. The Chinese zodiac called for unpredictability, recklessness, and aggressiveness, but also generosity. My year couldn’t match more perfectly. Last night, as I looked down the chain of animals, I realized that long, long ago, someone realized this next year is just the year I need.
This New Year – the one that started this week, for me, with a calm mind and my son emerging happy and clear-sighted from eye surgery on the first day of the Chinese New Year – will hopefully be more rabbity. I want the year to be soft-spoken and flexible, creative and gentle. Luck would be good, but it’s not necessary.
In this kitchen, the Year of the Rabbit means clean food. It means being kind to my body – more Zumba, less zeppole. (Yes, I tried Zumba. It’s like a dance party for those of us who can’t stay awake past 9 p.m., and it’s fabulous, even on days like today, when the average participant age is about 103.) Anyway. For some reason, I’ve been all hopped up on the idea of eating a little less meat. Crazy, I know, but for some reason, right now, it feels right. It feels clean.
It started with a book. Clean Start showed up on my doorstep, and I thought, Really? Do I need a book to tell me how to eat well? But it had an orange cloth cover, and if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s the color orange. I opened it, and fell in love with the photographs – tahini-glazed heirloom carrots, sautéed greens with sesame seeds, and this wacky Carrot Cashew Miso Spread (PDF) I immediately wanted to dip my fingers into. The concept of a carrot spread made my brain whir.
I realized, as I started listing out all the recipes I wanted to try, that not a single one had meat. It took me a good day or two before it registered that the book is totally vegan, which I thought was a good sign; my body seems to be craving what’s in those pages regardless of the ingredients. Well, almost regardless.
See, I’m sort of in a carrot phase. Last week, I made a carrot and chickpea tagine for the cookbook (which will most likely be called Pike Place Market Recipes, but more on that another time). Then, when my parents were here, there was an Indian coconut curry with carrots and chicken, and a mysteriously carrot-heavy tom kha gai. On Superbowl Sunday, neither the television nor the tacos held much appeal for me (only the latter is really a mystery), but I was all about the raw carrots. I might in fact be turning into a rabbit.
This morning, when second breakfast seemed inevitable, I simmered up some carrots, and whirled them into a hummus rich with olive oil inspired by that spread in Terry Walters’ book, and flavored it with lemon juice and harissa. Healthy? Perhaps, but not intentionally. Just what I happen to need right now, that’s all. The harissa (an African chili paste) gives it a touch of heat, but because it’s still a bit warm after you being pureed, it feels soothing soothing. I think it should be the new snack du jour in preschools, because its effect is somehow calming.
Please don’t be surprised if I appear to have a slightly orange hue next time we see each other. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I just hope my teeth don’t start growing first.
Carrot Hummus with Harissa and Lemon (PDF)
Made by whirling cooked carrots, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and harissa (a North African spice paste) together, this simple spread is healthy and a little addictive. Adjust the spice level as you see fit.
Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 servings
1/2 pound carrots, chopped (3 large or 2 big handfuls baby carrots)
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon harissa, or to taste
Place the carrots in a small saucepan. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until completely tender. (Time will depend on the size of your carrots, but about 10 minutes should do it.) Drain the carrots, then transfer them to a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer to a bowl and serve warm.