Recipe for survival

Overbooked for the holidays

4 minute read
Illustration by Hannah Kaplan for BSR.
Illustration by Hannah Kaplan for BSR.

The Veterans Day parades have passed and squirrels have finished off the two pumpkins on the front porch. Time to face (and occasionally not face) the holiday chaos that is my calendar.

Making a list, checking it twice

A few of my iCal events are mundane (like getting in a handful of doctors’ appointments before my deductible starts all over again on January 1, 2019). The rest are merry — and many. Very many. Between November 12 and December 26, 2018, I will have:

1.) Attended local author events at Swarthmore Public Library, the Asian Arts Initiative in Chinatown North, and Penn Book Center in West Philadelphia.

2.) Visited three Center City churches for music performances: St Mark’s on Locust and Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square for holiday concerts, and Christ Church Neighborhood House for a workshop on a choral-theater production about passengers on a spaceship leaving the solar system (with local composer Robert Maggio, conductor Donald Nally, and a creative team from Finland).

3.) Inhaled hors-d'oeuvres at a neighborhood party in Media; downed drinks at the Union League in support of Opera Philadelphia; and eaten three breakfasts, four lunches, and five dinners in Philadelphia dining establishments, from Andy’s on Ridge Avenue to XIX atop the Bellevue, with paella at Jamonera, escargots at Townsend and more in between.

4.) Served Thanksgiving dinner, with a turkey from Lancaster County and a pie from Linvilla Orchards, and Christmas dinner, with a goose from the Devon Whole Foods and Brussels sprouts from Wolff’s Apple House.

Oh, and my son is getting married December 8. My husband and I will host a rehearsal dinner for 60 guests on December 7.

Bring us some figgy pudding

Every night (or, really, morning) I wake up at 2:30am, heart pounding, brain racing — and sometimes heart racing and brain pounding. Where are my grocery lists? Whose name will I forget to put on the seating chart for the rehearsal dinner? When will I get our family Christmas tree, let alone all the Christmas presents? Will everyone understand if I don’t send holiday cards until January? Who will never forgive me? How am I going to get through everything? I feel like a new Philadelphia mascot: the Philly Phrantic.

Let others attempt Nigel Slater's recipes (such as the Spiced Beef shown here). Taylor's happy enough just imagining it. (Photo by Andrew Fogg via Creative Commons/Flickr.)
Let others attempt Nigel Slater's recipes (such as the Spiced Beef shown here). Taylor's happy enough just imagining it. (Photo by Andrew Fogg via Creative Commons/Flickr.)

In all this madness, I have found my way to a couple minutes of respite most days: I read cookbooks by Nigel Slater.

Nigel Slater is a British “cook who writes.” As his website explains, he is not a professional chef. He just loves cooking and loves to write and talk about cooking. He has written a column for the Observer for more than 25 years, presented several cooking programs on British television, and published 16 cookbooks. (I own seven of them.)

Slater writes about every aspect of cooking, from visiting his local shops in North London for ingredients to harvesting medlar fruit in winter from the tree in his garden. He reminisces about his favorite childhood foods and describes the comfort of using his own well-worn pots and pans in his own kitchen when filming his TV shows.

Many of his books take the form of diaries, in which seasonal recipes are woven in with observations and ruminations beyond cooking. Such are the four books I am using to help me get through the next six weeks: The Kitchen Diaries I (2005), II (2012), and III (2015) and The Christmas Chronicles (2017).

Mind you, I have no intention of cooking anything from these four books, even though his recipes are simple. (For one thing, two of the books are British editions, with volumes in metric and oven temperatures listed as marks.) No, I am reading them to step out of my world and into his. I make a cup of tea, sit at my kitchen table for 10 minutes, and read what Nigel Slater did on that day. Here is a taste:

November 19: “Winter gardens hold a spell all of their own. Roses frozen in bud, beads of glass dew on the leaves of hellebores, orange berries peeping from beneath a layer of sugar-snow… The time is right for a cheap, cold-weather potato supper.”

For those few minutes, I rest in a cozy North London kitchen where time slows down, where I can catch my breath, where calm contemplation prevails. Then I shut the books, toss the tea bag, and return to Philadelphia frenzy. I have the best of both worlds.

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