Happy New Year, everyone. How it’s going? Hang in there. We’ll get through this winter together.
SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: SALLIE FORD
You know that impossibly nerdy, bookish girl in your high school class who was also the coolest kid in school except that you were too clueless, conforming and self-absorbed to see it?
Sallie Ford is that girl. She’s all grown up now and still way cooler than you and me.
I don’t go out on New Years Eve, so when Sallie Ford announced a show at The Sunset in Seattle for New Years Eve this past year, I was disappointed. Do I dare break my rule and brave the revelers? I had caught Sallie Ford’s show at The Sunset earlier in 2017, right after the release of her latest album, Soul Sick, and was an immediate and ardent fan. Shows at The Sunset will do that to you. Sallie Ford will do that to you. Lucky for me, she soon added another show, this time on December 30. I snatched up my ticket, excited to ring in the New Year one day early.
I am so glad I did.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon by way of North Carolina, Sallie Ford is a force to be reckoned with. Her big, treble-and-twang guitar sounds pair perfectly with the clear, sometimes plaintive, tones of her well-oiled vocals. Described as part rockabilly, part soul with a hefty dose of good old-fashioned 1950’s rock and roll, Sallie Ford and her band are always crowd pleasers. Her songs are often filled with intimate, confessional lyrics wound around deceptively toe-tapping melodies that make you forget she just spilled her guts out in the process. Opening her set with a tight, powerful version of “Get Out” from Soul Sick, she extinguished any doubt about who was in charge that night. Although it’s easy to get swept up in the nostalgic sound of Ford and her band, there’s something unmistakably relevant and timely about the music and her message. I strode out of The Sunset on the second-to-last day of 2017 feeling empowered, ready to kick ass and take names in the new year. Soul Sick is clear confirmation that Sallie Ford continues to grow in leaps and bounds and I can’t wait to see what she brings us next.
I have a very short list of artists who I make sure to see every time they roll through town. Sallie Ford is on that list.
SOMETHING I’M COOKING: CASSEROLES
It’s January. It’s wet and drippy, dark and downright bone-chilling at times. Comfort food reigns supreme in winter, but after the heavy feasting of the holidays, I know I’m usually looking for something on the lighter side once we’re past the parties. I find myself craving vegetables and green things, but salads are still too cool and summery to hold much attraction for me.
Bring on the casseroles, baby.
Casseroles are pretty divisive, I think. If you’re the type of person who gets squeamish when different foods touch on your plate, I imagine casseroles are not your thing. For me, however, some of my fondest childhood food memories revolve around casseroles–after all, in the ’60s and ’70s, casseroles were king. Tuna noodle, homemade baked mac and cheese, pork chops and rice and other concoctions that almost always required a can or two of Campbell’s Cream Of Something soup. And then, there was Super Supper.
Super Supper is the one childhood dish that nearly all my siblings and I can attest to loving unconditionally. Born from one of those little paperback Betty Crocker cookbooks that grocery stores still stock at the checkout counter, my mom made Super Supper regularly. It was only recently that I realized that it is basically an inverted version of Shepard’s Pie–a bottom layer of mashed potatoes, covered with a tomato-based, herb-spiked layer of ground beef or turkey with a few kernels of corn mixed in, topped with shredded cheddar cheese. Not necessarily light, but with a side of steamed broccoli, a perfectly fine winter meal.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with a few revisions to the original–subbing a cauliflower mash for the bottom potato layer proved to be tasty but not quite sturdy enough for the base. (I’ll be reworking that one a bit more.) Ground turkey is my choice over beef, but you could even try a vegetarian substitute and toss in a few chopped portabello mushrooms for a meaty but meatless nutritional boost. Like most casseroles, I’ve found Super Supper to be easily modified and customized to suit a variety of tastes. Although there is no can of Campbell’s Soup required, there is the couple cups of instant mashed potato flakes it calls for. (After all, the original was from a Betty Crocker cookbook, so of course it calls for a box of Betty Crocker Potato Flakes.) Dried mashed potato flakes are not something I keep in my pantry, so making the potato base from real potatoes would work great, I think. Swapping out processed stuff for the real thing is nearly always a win. Just make sure the potatoes have enough body and heft so they don’t get squishy. And make sure to add enough sour cream or yogurt to give that layer its requisite “tang.”
You can find the Super Supper recipe here. This week, I’m also including a bonus recipe for a most marvelous wintertime soup that is sure to warm the cockles of your heart and belly. It’s also a great way to use up that ham bone left over from Christmas. It’s called Ham And No Bean Soup because I first discovered this soup while in the midst of a very low-carb phase of my life when beans weren’t a part of my diet. If you love beans, feel free to add them towards the end, but if you don’t, I guarantee you won’t miss them. As is, this soup is thick and smoky, studded with chunks of leftover ham. The thickness comes from pureed cauliflower and carrots, so you get your fill of veggies in one, big, satisfying bowl of comfort. It’s The Mister’s favorite, and one of mine, too.
SOMETHING I’M DOING: DISROBING
The house. I’m disrobing the house of its holiday cheer. After all, Saturday was the Twelfth Day of Christmas.
Taking off, taking down, packing away, cleaning up. It’s like a seasonal dance, a ritual of sorts. The sharp pang of contrast against the giddy, breathless pulling out, putting up and dressing the house in its finest Christmas suit just weeks prior. A touch of melancholy, regret that time has slipped away again. Too busy to simply sit and simmer in the season. It’s always too fleeting, it seems.
“We have such a great, cozy Christmas house,” my daughter often observes. That makes me happy, and she’s right. Twelve-foot fresh-cut tree bursting with forest scent, garland draped along railings, lights, lights and more lights. The simple, wooden nativity gifted to me from my mom, her handwriting still on the box. My Swedish candelabra, my grandmother’s painted dala horse and red and white Scandinavian table runner to connect us to our roots. A tall, skinny tree tucked in the corner of the family room, now home to my mother’s collection of delicate crocheted snowflakes and soft white lights.
Remembering. A nod to the past. A prayer of sorts. Amen to all that.
I insist on keeping all the decorations up through the Twelfth Day of Christmas. It’s as if I feel the judgement of my father beaming down on me, who instilled that tradition in me and some of my siblings. I like it because it makes me feel wonderfully out-of-step with the too-busy, too-quick-to-move-on, hey-look-it’s-Valentines-Day world just outside my door. It invites me to linger longer and slow down. Pay attention.
The impermanence of everything.
So it begins, usually with a sigh. First, yards of red plaid ribbon get tugged from the branches of the tree and carefully rewound on their spools. Then, the shiny red and green balls and finally the bears, one by one. Hundreds of bear ornaments, mixed in with a few dinosaurs, glittery ice skates and cheeky sock monkeys. Some soft and cuddly, others hard and resilient, more than a few fragile ones, prone to breaking. Kinda like humans.
Each bear, each ornament, each decoration holding the gift of memory. Love. Life. Time passing.
I’ll take more time to sit and stare at the tree next year, I promise to myself.
I hope I do. I hope you do, too.
Happy New Year. Be well, be kind, be true.