It's the part of February that I hate: the intermediate space between the holidays (even if we're counting the Hallmark holiday of Valentine's Day) and spring, when the days stretch out mostly grey and interminable. It's a space of the year which is full of remembrances of loss for me. And it's often full of random winter storms these days, which bring wintry weather, but not enough to go sledding; just enough to make driving hazardous. My son and I have been reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I've been admiring the pioneering spirit that got the Ingalls family through those interminably dark days.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of my father's death. It's sort of an odd coincidence that he lost his battle with cancer in February; after all, he loved Valentine's Day (which, for him, was an excuse to buy chocolate ... the romance of Hallmark was lost on him), and blustery Sunday afternoons sleeping or watching Spanish TV in in his well-worn leather recliner. I've never visited his grave; grieving is different for everyone, and for me, the kitchen is a more useful place to remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones lost than the cemetery.
My father was an eater of winter foods. Roasts, hearty stews, potatoes. And great quantities of bread. I'm not sure if it had to do with the region of Spain where he was born (despite the fact that he spent such a significant part of his life in the warmer climate of Florida and the Carribbean), or if it was just his preference for hearty fare, but we knew better than to feed him a meal that would make him demand, "where's the meat?"
I've been following a nearly vegan diet lately. Not because I want to be vegan, necessarily, but because I want to make more mindful choices about my food, and a vegan diet makes me more mindful. I've removed almost all of the dairy (very little cheese, no yogurt), cut way back on refined sugars (almost no baked goods or chocolate), minimized carbohydrates (almost no bread or rice or pasta), and consumed only marginal amounts of meat. I've been eating more vegetables, and hummus, and nuts, and legumes. I can almost imagine what my father would say about this. Something, no doubt, along the lines of what he told me when I informed him--old world Catholic that he was--that I was going to be married by a Unitarian minister; food was, after all, a little religious for him, despite his insistence that we "eat to live, not live to eat."
But my husband and my son are decidedly not vegan, and I still have to cook for them, too. And when I'm cooking hearty winter stews in the kitchen, I'm remembering my father. Who would nod with sage approval, watching me throw something like this together, even though he wouldn't agree about the beans.
2 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2 pork tenderloins, 1 lb. each, cut into 1" cubes
2 15 oz. cans cannellini beans
4 apples, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 - 3 c.broth (your choice)
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. dried cranberries (no sugar)
2 t. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Add everything to your slow cooker; make sure that the pork is just covered by the broth. Cook on low for 7 hours. Remove cover and boil on high for 15-20 minutes or until the stew is a bit thickened.