Friday, December 24, 2010

Simple Gifts: Gingered Cauliflower Soup

Just over a day from now, members of my family will get together and open what are, really, extravagant gifts.  This is something I've lobbied against openly for a few years, now; while I like giving gifts that I know will make the recipient happy, I hate having to fulfill "lists" just because it's Christmas, and I don't feel like I should have to get an expensive gift to show someone I love them.  In the past few years, I've actually gotten a "wish list" from my 30+ year old brother, and he asks us to send him a list, too.  The whole thing feels contrived.  I don't like getting extravagant gifts, either; they make me feel uncomfortable, especially when they're not exactly a good fit.

The best kinds of gifts are the ones that take us by surprise; they're not often even the largest or most expensive ones (in fact, most often, quite the opposite), but the ones that come from the heart.

Today we went to New York to travel to the top of the Empire State Building, and to show I. the tree, the department store windows, the Rockefeller Center ice skaters.  He loved it all (except for the fact that he had to walk a long way in the icy wind).  As we were standing there in Rockefeller Center, marveling at the height of the tree, I remembered a gift that I'd gotten here over 15 years ago.  It was a day or two before Christmas, and I was with my then-boyfriend.  It had just started to snow, and it was late enough so that the pedestrian traffic had started to dwindle.   Looking up at the start high up in the tree, the snow falling gently all around me in the city lights, it felt almost magical, hopeful somehow; I remember wishing I could capture that feeling and keep it for the days when I felt sad and alone.  The tree-guard, who was watching us, saw me looking up at the star and the tree through the gentle flurries, and approached us, slowly reaching into his pocket.  "I have something for you," he told us.  Smiling at me, he pulled out of his pocket a single blue bulb from the string of lights on that giant tree, one that he told us he'd found no longer worked.  For more than fifteen years I'd saved that bulb.  Today, after we got back home, I gave it to my little boy.  It was a reminder of his trip, of looking wide-eyed for the first time at a tree taller than any houses and most buildings that he knows, a reminder of the way the world can feel magical sometimes.  He held it to his heart, and put it in his "treasure box," for safe keeping.  I hope that he keeps it for another fifteen years.

In our mailbox, there was a package waiting for me.  In it was this: an ornament made by an amazing fellow blogger who knows all too intimately about repeated loss, to remember our lost loved ones.  I don't know if you can see the silver snowflakes in this picture, but they're there.  The gift brought tears to my eyes; it's the kind of gift whose simple thoughtfulness and generosity take my breath away. I put it in a place on our tree where it stands out among the other ornaments; and I noticed, hanging it, that it was the same color as the bulb I'd just given to my little monkey ... as if a reminder, again, of the people and the places and the feelings that are always there, even though we miss them.

The other gift I got this week was a box of cookies from the cookie exchange with another blogger:  I'd sent her some Chocolate Toffee, Sugar Cookie Cutouts, and Jam Pinwheels. she sent me her Triple Chocolate Chunk, Ginger Cookies, and Peppermint Bark.  They were so beautifully packaged, I couldn't help but feel bad about the poor Tupperware I'd sent off (in an attempt to ensure that my cookies arrived in one piece).  And they tasted wonderful.

These were simple gifts, but in so many ways, they've touched me and made me happier than I suspect the pile of gifts from my non-immediate family will on Christmas morning.  This is the Santa Claus that lives in all of us, the one that the editor of the Sun wrote to Virginia about those many years ago..

In celebration of simplicity, I thought I'd share a simple recipe for soup.  I love Madhur Jaffrey.  I know I've talked about her here and here, but I needed to say it again.  If I had to purchase one cookbook these days, it would be Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.  This happens not to come from that book, but from her Quick and Easy Indian Cooking.  In my house we have been eating one-bowl meals for what seems (to my husband at least) like weeks, and I see many more in our future, especially with this child expected in just about a month.  Because sometimes the simplest of things just seem to fit better.

Here's wishing you a holiday--and a new year--filled with the simple things and the kinds of gifts that give you glimpses --however brief -- of joy.

Gingered Cauliflower Soup

3 T . vegetable oil
1 med. onion peeled and chopped
1 1" piece fresh ginger peeled, slivered
4 cloves garlic -- peeled and chopped
1 t. ground cumin
2 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
2 med. potatoes, peeled, 1/3″ cubes
1/2 lb (2 c.) cauliflower florets
5 c. chicken stock
salt to taste
1/3 to 2/3 c. heavy cream

Set the oil over medium-high heat in a good-sized saucepan. When hot put in onion, ginger and garlic. Stir-fry for about 4 minutes or onion is somewhat browned. Put in cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne. Stir once, put in potato, cauliflower and chicken stock. Stir and bring to boil. Cover and turn heat to low; simmer gently for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Put soup into a blender and blend or use a hand blender to purée. Add cream and reheat gently.
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  1. I LOVE World Vegetarian! It's such a great book. This recipe looks delicious- I've never actually made it :) And how wonderful that you got to do a cookie swap! I'm so jealous :) <3 ICLW #96

  2. I so agree with you view of presents- I hate the contrived nature of 'lists' and I really prefer simple presents. Truth be told, my favourite part of Christmas is often the pair of socks and magazine I get in my stocking (yes, I know I am too old for a stocking, but we do it anyway).

    And yum! That soup looks amazing. Going to have to try is. Oh, and I still owe you a cookie recipe! I promise I will get to it, now that the craziness is over.
    ICLW #28

  3. Your son is such a super cutie and simple gifts are the best!

  4. I love your story about receiving the Christmas light years ago and now giving it to your son. Isn't it funny how often the most inexpensive item is the most priceless...

  5. Hi Justine,
    I'm a native of NJ too, though living in the UK for many years now. I agree about the contrived nature of holiday gifts, but thankfully, don't have to deal with that in my family. Because postage is so expensive, we never got in the habit of sending my family gifts from the UK or vice versa. So, now that the internet is more widely useable, we don't do that except for really special gifts like my Dad's 75th birthday this week. My husband's British family aren't great gift-givers because they don't place a high value on getting the right thing for the specific person. I actually love searching for a perfect gift and seeing someone's surprise and joy at opening it, but I save that now for my close friends and my children. This year we all really want a Wii, so we agreed to give each other 1 small gift each and save our money for the Wii. The kids are putting in any money they got from aunts and uncles, and we are putting in the money we would have spent on gifts, plus some extra. I was really proud of how the kids handled it, especially since I know they have friends who will have gotten tons of stuff.

    I will definitely try your New Mexican stew this winter. I used to live in New Mexico and cook a lot of that cuisine, when I can get hold of the right ingredients here in London. I'm just about out of my tins of chopped green chiles and my Chimayo red chile powder and need to re-stock. Thanks.

    Best wishes for a beautiful, healthy and happy new year.
    Lisa (ICLW 74 Your Great Life)

  6. I missed this the first time around, and I'm glad that Time Warp Tuesday brought me to this post. It makes me smile to think of you receiving meaningful gifts from fellow bloggers.

    Love the story of the bulb, too.

  7. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday... What a beautiful post about the gifts that matter most in our lives.

    I too really enjoyed the story about the light from the tree that your received many years ago and then gave to your son.

    I have a story like that, which I should blog about some day, but many years ago we were on a family road trip. We stopped at a gas station and on the ground by the pump my dad found a small toy car. He handed it to me and said, "don't say I never gave you anything!" I laughed and kept it. When we got home I put it on my dresser and a few years later when I went to college, my parents were helping me unpack in my dorm room. My dad saw me take the toy car out of my pocket and put it on my desk. He asked me what it was, not remembering the story. When I told him he said that he thought that was sweet. But later followed up and shared how blown away he was that I had kept it all those years and even brought it with me to college. To this day, it is one of my all time favorite gifts from my father, as it represents his sense of humor, the fun we had on our family road trips and how our family has always celebrated simple pleasures.

    Okay, that was a huge tangent, but your story made me think of that! I agree with you that holiday gift giving for the sake of gift giving has gotten out of control, especially when it comes to extensive wish lists et. al.

    Thank you for reminding me and your other readers:

    "The best kinds of gifts are the ones that take us by surprise; they're not often even the largest or most expensive ones (in fact, most often, quite the opposite), but the ones that come from the heart."

    So true. xoxo

  8. So lovely that you were given that light and that you kept it for so long and that you were able to pass it onto your son. Your ornament is stunning.


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