The long, vaguely mystical nights and short, dim days of the winter solstice are fully upon us. It has been unusually cold here, lately, making the winter feel more like winter to us. The nights have wrapped us tightly in their embrace, making a gentle joke of the pre-dawn alarms we set. Each morning brings a round of penitent moans as we awake to light coming through the blinds sometime after seven, and spend another good chunk of cozy time talking about how we really need to get up, until the sound of the furnace going on at 8:00, set to being the house temp up to 60, drives us guiltily into the day. Every year I feel the pull of the seasons more clearly. In the summer I have no problem getting up early, and a long day of activity is no trouble at all. But the deepest days of winter are another matter entirely.
Tuesday was a cold day, but we wanted to get out of the house, and Patrick had finally finished his fabulous new bike, so we had to give it a shake-down ride. So we left around 3:00, with the light already fading and rode around on some errands. I am in a melancholy way these days, and this was a good thing to do, to shake me out of myself a little bit. We went to lunch at out favorite restaurant, Navarre, where it is only possible to feel at home. Then we rode over to City Bikes, to show off the Kogswell. We bought the frame through them, and Beth wanted to see the build-up. And there are always a few more tidbits to buy to finish it off! We ran in to Shaun Deller, maker of fabulous hats, while we were there, and Patrick bought a jaunty new chapeau from him, on the spot.
We ended our run by going down to Woodstock to pick up our 47th Ave CSA share. We had a chance to have a good chat with Laura Masterson (now our East Multnomah County Soil Commissioner or commish, as Patrick calls her), who owns the CSA, hanging around in the dark over a bin of yellow and green striped delicata squash, pale orange pumpkins, and red-orange kuri squash. We mentioned that we plan to actually take next week off from work and she said she is now a firm believer in the power of vacation for people who run their own businesses. She took a good one in the fall. We also ended up talking up our favorite cargo hauler, the Bikes at Work trailer. We plan to bring it ’round next time so she can take a look. Her eyes lit up when she learned that it takes a couple of Rubbermaid tubs. It is the coolest thing.
I know that part of why I felt warm riding home, despite the dropping mercury, was the casual, friendly human contact of all of our interactions over the afternoon. Good people, doing what they do well, stopping to talk for a moment, making light in the dark.
Patrick and I have a solstice meal ritual that we do every year, where we make a meal with meat on the solstice proper, to recognize the end of the year, and remember the importance of death in the continuance of life. Then, on the first day following, as the sun gains a hint of ground, we have a vegetarian feast usually Indian to celebrate the new life that will bless us in the coming year. We had our solstice meal last night, a night early, because I am covering the pottery studio I work at for open hours tonight. It consisted almost completely of local ingredients, a fitting marker of the most local food year we’ve yet had. All the veg came from 47th Ave, and the meat from a pork producer from the Portland Farmer’s Market, a really really good smoked sausage, Mt Angel Oktoberfest. Apparently Mt Angel is known for their Oktoberfest sausages, and the pork people (whose name we can’t remember, darn it!) send their meat there to be processed into the sausage. It is perfect. Here’s what we made. A good Solstice to all, and peace and health in the new year.
Winter Vegetable Gratin with Sausage
2 slices bacon, chopped in 1/4 inch dice
1/2 yellow onion in 1/4 inch dice
2 cups yellow potatoes in 1/41/2 inch dice
1/2 head cabbage shredded
brussels sprouts from 1 stalk, quartered
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c heavy cream
1lb of smoked sausage or kielbasa, cut into rounds
3/4 c grated Gruyere, or a blend of cheddar and parmesan
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (about 4 slices bread)
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne
2t dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 425°
In a large sauté pan, cook bacon for a couple minutes over medium heat until it starts to give up its fat, then add the onion. Sauté, stirring frequently, until bacon is crisp, and onion is golden. Add potatoes, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and sauté, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the cabbage and brussels sprouts, stirring frequently, for 45 minutes, until they wilt a bit.
Meanwhile, in a cast iron pan, brown both sides of the sausage coins and caramelize a bit. Turn the sausage into a bowl. Deglaze the pan with a bit of wine or beer, and add the resulting juices to the bowl of sausage.
When potato/cabbage mixture is wilted, turn out into a shallow casserole (about 2 quarts), and add the sausage. Pour cream into sauté pan, deglazing it, and reduce the cream for a couple of minutes. Pour cream over casserole, and stir gently to combine all of the ingredients. Cover and place in oven for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place butter into sausage pan, and add bread crumbs after it foams. Sauté over medium high heat until crumbs are browned. Turn off heat, add garlic, salt and cayenne, and mustard, and combine well.
After casserole has been baking for ten minutes, remove cover, sprinkle cheese over the top and finish with the bread crumbs. Leaving the cover off, bake for another 15 minutes or so. Test a potato chunk for doneness.