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Celebrating Renewal

Posted by William Fennie at Jan 01, 2010 11:55 PM |

Marking a moment in time doesn't need a big budget - just a bit of thoughtful attention

Celebrating Renewal

Celebrate beauty and sensuality - you're worth the effort

New Year's food saga

Ritual is not high up on my personal list of priorities. Marking the beginning of a new year, however, begs for some kind of enactment to focus it in the mind and to reinforce its message of renewal.

This year, Alana and I prepared for the big day, first of all, by relaxing for a solid week after our last day of employed work for the year. That felt good, believe me. Because we believe that you can eat really well without necessarily working your tail off, we chose a tasty but straightforward "slow-cooker meal," adding value by getting the very best possible ingredients. The only exception here is the wine - a $40 bottle of vintage Bordeaux or Cabernet was not feasible, but we did quite well with a nice Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from the local épicerie fine, Balducci's. The dish itself is Italian, and an Italian wine worked beautifully.

veggiesWe began, of course, by cutting up the vegetables. We had potatoes, onions, garlic and fennel. (If you have not yet had the joy of cutting up a fennel bulb and sauteeing it with some meat you are missing one of the great secrets of the Mediterranean.) The meat had already been cut, but it needed to be trimmed down to 2-inch chunks. Finally, a tangy marinade needed to be created using the red wine, beef broth, tomato paste, and seasonings. Most of the beef broth in the markets calls itself "beef flavored broth" these days, so we opted for what ended up being an excellent product : "Better than Bouillon," which is actually closer to a thick reduction that you can turn into a very robust broth by adding one teaspoon to a cup of hot water. Thyme is great, but the whole splinters can be aggravating in the mouth, so we took a moment to grind them up into something close to a powder.

fennelAfter putting all the ingredients together we set the slow cooker on its lowest setting and discussed how we would spend the 9 hours until it was ready - one of the easiest conversations we've ever had. We drove up to Frederick, Maryland, a good-sized town about 45 minutes northwest of Washington DC. Life is a lot less manic up there and we've gotten to know a lot of the antique dealers and shopkeepers thanks to our regular visits in the company of Jim Renza. If you want to find the perfect piece to fit your place Renza's your man.

The weather was miserable but the trip was fun, and the tree branches were beautifully outlined with snow. We had English-style tea with scones and lemon curd at a place called (no kidding) Café Anglais, and we stopped by our favorite Italian deli to pick up a home-made lasagne to eat later in the week. Going home we opted for two-lane roads through the beautiful rural Maryland countryside. The smell of the cooking food welcomed us in the door when we got home.

I put some time in cleaning and then prepared the table for our meal (top of the page). A nice, seasonal table cloth from Provence, candles still on duty from our Yule celebration, the best glasses for the wine and, to make the occasion extra special, a split of very good French champagne (Jean Vesselle brut, from a family operation in Bouzy, France).

platesWe cooked up some noodles to go alongside the meat dish and served it all on beautiful big white plates that we only use a few times each year. It was a very special meal that the two of us worked on together at every phase and then ate together.

For our first meal of the new year, Alana created a Texas-Hawaii hybrid dish of eggs, potatoes, and rice scrambled together and stuffed into a tortilla with salsa and as many jalapeno chips as you like. This was nice, but the best was yet to come.

We have established, between us, that the killer chocolate chip muffins that Alana made for me back in the days of our early courtship were actually a Tool of Seduction. That's because they vanished from her repertoire soon after she had finished up her graduate program and gotten a job in "the real world." By that time we were in residence together. We're talking five or six years ago.

seduction muffinsEvery once in awhile I would say, "What ever happened to those muffins you used to make ?" and I would be fended off with some kind of comment intended to distract me. I may be persistent but I'm not pushy, so usually I would give up. Anyway, in the spirit of a brand new year, Alana agreed that one of her activities on the first day would be to make the muffins again - and she did. They are based on a recipe from the Moosewood cookbook, but Alana insists that her modifications are not trivial. I can't verify that - if she's going to make them I'm happy enough to keep my nose out of the process.

See the original Moosewood Restaurant muffin recipe.

See a slide show including full-sized images of these photos and more.

So enough about you, William - what's the point ?

Renewal is calendar neutral

The creation of a special moment can happen at any time. Each one is a recognition of the beautiful and the good. They don't have to cost a lot of money, but they take time and attention. I think they may be the antidote to the mechanization in our lives. We are so caught up in tasks, obligations, *stuff* that needs doing - it's great to take a few moments to create something of one's own.

The New Year is just the most obvious example of a process that is always available. At any moment we can choose to discard the old and welcome the new. That sounds simplistic, and I hear stuff like it all the time. It takes effort - mostly the courage to face the aspects of your life that have become tired and heavy - and sometimes involves difficult choices.

Still, life is new every moment. Somewhere on planet earth, right now, a brand new individuation is waking to life in this sphere. Somewhere, too, ancient eyes are looking out on a scene and remembering. The ancient and the immaculate spring from the same source, which is our source - now and always.

When we identify ourselves with that greater life - what Thane called the Ontological Self - it's a lot easier to discard the limitations that appear to be hemming us in.

Happy renewing - and Happy New Year.