I love the prospect of a new year. The clean slate. The potential. The chance to reinvent, to create, to start afresh. I can’t be bothered with New Year’s eve festivities. It’s the brand new year itself that appeals to me. All that promise just laying in wait….
And I’m not skeptical about resolutions either. I’m a believer in making stacks of them and writing them all down. The more the merrier. From drinking more water to climbing mountains and everything in between – making resolutions is really about the implementation and execution of the things that matter in your life. I should have started a book of resolutions years ago because it would be interesting to see how many resolutions I acted on, and how, when I did, those resolutions have influenced and changed my life.
When I was a teenager, my dream was to be a food writer. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more. I loved food. I loved writing. A perfect combination. But I dismissed the notion because it seemed way too lofty, an impossibility, much too scary to contemplate my inevitable failure. And my father, an engineer, really wanted me to do a science degree. He couldn’t see a future for me as a writer. He was probably right, it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a writer. But as it turns out, it’s even harder to live the wrong life because that is almost always half-hearted and unsatisfying. Eventually, it either wears you down and defeats you, OR, with a bit of luck and grit, you find a way back to your passions.
I made a quiet resolution about a decade ago to try to get back to my early dreams. I wrote a note on a scrap of paper about enrolling in a writing workshop and moving towards writing. I wish I had that scrap of paper because even as I wrote the words, I don’t think I really believed them to be possible. The truth is, I still don’t…
And yet, curiously, I recently found myself in the kitchen with chef and culinary professor, Carolyn Rundle, whose passion for food is a match for my own. When I wrote to ask her if she would consider cooking with me for my newspaper column, I read her answer back about five times. It’s fair to say I loved every word she wrote and at the same time, felt strangely as though I was reading something I might have written myself:
“I always love an opportunity to talk about food. And I might like to make my Grandmother Rundle’s gingersnaps. A family favourite. They are very intense. They contain blackstrap molasses, and with my mom’s disapproval, bacon fat (a trend that came about from wartime rationing), and vinegar. These were the only cookies I remember her making. The ones my Dad grew up eating and the ones she always brought along with her frequent visits, wherever we were living. They are dark brown and minimally decorated. I used to stand by her and watch her cross hatch them with a wet fork. Her deft, no-nonsense, let’s get-this-done approach. If she did get fancy she would pull out her gingerbread man cutter (he has guns in his holster). No sprinkles or royal icing. Maybe just once in awhile in a fit of whimsy there would be currants. My brothers loved them. I loved them.
So look what one cookie can do to me … and I had to stop myself from going on and on. I am happiest when making cookies. They focus and calm me, and bring back the most beautiful of memories.”
In the end though, we didn’t make those gingersnaps. We’d moved on by the time we got into the kitchen together. She settled on making borscht – a dish that Bon Appetit magazine once declared to be the greatest recipe of all time. It seemed right for a fresh new year. Chock full of nutritious vegetables, healthy, invigorating. A tonic for all the over indulgence of the holidays.
When I arrived in Carolyn’s kitchen, there was a large round loaf of homemade, slow-rise, rye bread, a platter of cheese, marinated olives, and homemade biscuits, all set out on the table, along with a fresh pot of hot black tea. The vegetables and stock were prepped, and the fixings for a batch of vushka (traditional Ukrainian mushroom dumplings) were laid out. I worked with Carolyn to make the soup and prepare and cook the dumplings. Then we sat down to eat…
And those dumplings. Oh those dumplings. Ethereally light, intensely flavourful, worth every bit of the effort. Sublime.
Carolyn’s borscht recipe can be found here, in my column, The Dish, in the Kingston Whig-Standard. Or you can make the Bon Appetit version by following the earlier link. Carolyn’s vushka recipe (given to her years ago by a friend) is below.
Happy New Year one and all! Make stacks of resolutions!! And remember this little bit of advice I saw at the gym last January…
For the dough
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 1 egg, well-beaten
- extra melted butter
For the mushroom filling
- 1 oz dried ceps or any dried mushrooms, reconstituted and finely chopped (follow instructions on package. Save and strain water for soup.)
- 1 cup very finely chopped mushroom (you can use the food processor here)
- 1 small onion, very finely chopped
- 1 tsp flour
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- salt and pepper to taste
To make the dough (do this first as it needs to stand)
- Mix together the flour and salt
- In a separate bowl, mix the warm milk, butter, and egg
- Add the liquids to the flour and salt and mix thoroughly
- Knead on a very lightly floured board until the dough is smooth
- Set the dough in a plastic bag in a warm spot for at least 2 hours
- Using the floured board, lightly roll the dough until it is very thin
- Cut the dough using a circular cookie cutter (or an empty washed soup can)
To make the vushka
- Saute the finely chopped vegetables with butter
- Add the flour and seasonings and cook for a minute or two
- Place a spoon full of the filling into the centre of each circle and fold into crescents. Pinch the edges well to seal. Note that Carolyn had to correct me here – my circles were not crimped tightly enough. Pinch your edges tight using pressure.
- Fold the into crescents into half again to make ears and crimp as above.
- Drop into a pan of boiling, salted water. Cook for a minute or two, then retrieve with a slotted spoon and place on a tray in a warm spot. Pour a little of the extra melted butter over each dumpling.
- Just before serving the soup, add the vushka and watch them take on a beautiful rosey hue.