Little Victories

If you know me, it's no secret: I hate winter. It's my least favorite season. Once the magic of Christmas is over, I'd love nothing more than to just flip the calendar to April, bypassing all the gloomy cold and shooting straight ahead to windows-open, run-outside, daffodil-blooming days.

But I live in Michigan, so January through March finds me alternately trying my best to embrace the season (be cozy by the fire! borrow some snowshoes and traipse through the woods!) and despairing that the end will never come as I look with longing at airfare to warmer climes and, sometimes, give in to my desire to eat carbs in bed with a book for an embarrassing amount of hours in a row. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'll be sure to let you know when that happens. Give me about three more weeks and I'll probably be in a very dark place.)

I'm happy to report, though, that this weekend was pretty full of our family embracing the season. There were lots of little victories, which I'll take where I can get when it's January and temperatures are in the single digits.

First of all, we skied. Together. And there was no crying. Now, I didn't grow up skiing, so I don't know if I'll ever quite share Jason's love for the sport. So even after years of haphazard lessons and random days on the "mountains" of Michigan, after we've finally acquired all the gear by buying a friend's brother's old skis here, going to some guy in Hudsonville's garage there, and after we've packed two ginormous bags of said gear into the car and driven it up north, I still rarely feel like a real skier. There's always that moment when I have five or six layers of clothes on and I'm sweating profusely while trying to force a child's foot into a ski boot while my goggles fog up that I'm like, Why do we do this again? And there was that moment this weekend, too, but it was followed by a surprisingly sunny afternoon of the four of us laughing on the lift, Jemma skiing her first black diamond, me consistently being the last one down the hill, and lots of hot chocolate by the fire and warm baths apres ski. For once, all the logistics and gear and driving were worth it. And one morning? I really did snowshoe through the woods.

Another little victory I've noticed recently: I've basically stopped checking my email on the weekends, and it's making a huge difference in my happiness -- and in my productivity come Monday morning. It's probably one part intentional time away from technology inspired by this project and one part sheer laziness, but I've slowly realized over the last several weeks that the world does not fall apart if I don't write back to that freelancer looking for an assignment or wait one day to respond to an invitation or a question. I'm not the president of a country and I'm not an ER doctor on call, so whatever it is can likely wait a day or two. And when Monday morning comes? I actually feel rested and refreshed, ready to sit down at my desk with a big mug of coffee (please note that the January detox does not extend to coffee, though I think I have successfully weaned myself off the carcinogenic-but-delicious CoffeeMate creamer by replacing it with almond/coconut milk) and dash off a few dozen emails in a row.

To be sure, it's still tempting sometimes to pull the laptop onto the couch and "just do a few things" while Jason watches football on a Sunday afternoon. But I've found I'm happier when I don't, when I let myself stare off into space for five minutes, do one thing around the house, take a walk, browse through a cookbook, hang out with the girls, and enjoy one last hour of an above-average winter weekend before embracing work again on Monday. 

One of the astonishing attributes of Sabbath time is its unflinching uselessness. Nothing will get done, not a single item will be checked off any list. Nothing of significance will be accomplished, no goal realized. It is thoroughly without measureable value.
— Wayne Muller

One last victory this weekend: cassoulet. To be clear, not the delicious, authentic, full-of-duck-confit cassoulet I ate on Saturday night at La Becasse in a pre-planned deviation from No Treat January (because when you're eating at that restaurant with good friends for the third year in a row after wrangling kids on the slopes all day, you throw No Treat January out for the night -- and you get some good Gigondas red to go with the cassoulet). I'm talking, though, about the modified, pretty-healthy-for-you cassoulet we made for Sunday supper last night when we returned. It's a Shauna Niequist recipe from her book Bread and Wine, and she cites an old Real Simple recipe as its origin, and I've modified it to make it my own; isn't that the way with most recipes? In any case, it manages to be hearty and healthy. It makes the house smell great. And one of the second-graders at the table last night had seconds. 

So this is me, writing from the cold of January, reminding myself to enjoy these freezing cold weekends while they last, to keep ignoring my phone on the weekends except perhaps to use its camera, and to make more cassoulet. Nobody is ever sorry about cassoulet.

Easy Cassoulet

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 lb Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 large parsnip, diced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1/4 c. red wine
  • 2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 T. butter, melted

In a large, oven-proof dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the sausage until browned, breaking it up with a fork. Remove to a plate; do not drain the drippings from the dutch oven.

In the same pan, saute the onion, carrots, parsnips, tomato, tomato paste, half the garlic, salt, and pepper for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Deglaze the pan with wine, and when it's cooked off add the chicken broth, cannellini beans, and sausage back to the pot. Add the thyme and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about one hour, until vegetables are tender. 

Meanwhile, heat oven to 425 degrees. Melt the butter and combine it with the breadcrumbs and the remaining garlic. Sprinkle evenly over the cassoulet and place cassoulet in the oven, uncovered, to bake until the crust is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.