Over the holiday, shiny new things everywhere, I thought a lot about minimalism. Now, five days into 2011, though I’ve read approximately 2746 resolutions, it’s fitting only one is stuck in my head.
I’ve always considered myself a minimalist of sorts. I rarely buy things that lack a practical purpose. I like bare surfaces and the word sparse. I treat each new year as a space to curate. But a minimalist mindset also diminishes the importance of stuff, and sometimes stuff is okay.
I uncovered all kinds of stuff during the holiday, holed up in my childhood bedroom, combing through old drawers. My dressers are treasure troves of things and enemies of minimalism. As I excavate, I thank my younger self for denying her minimalist impulses and for these souvenirs. Not magnets or keychains or seashells or snowglobes. But souvenirs of long-abandoned stories as objects, ones that honour this word’s true meaning: memories, remembrances, tokens.
On Christmas day, I marveled at the paper wrapped around a gift from my grandmother. It felt old and delicate, the white background yellowed with time. Inspecting the pattern I saw a trademark: MCMLXXXVIII. I exclaimed across the room, holding up the paper – “Gran, this paper is from 1988! It’s nearly as old as me!” She replied, ever insightful: “You don’t say! It still wrapped those presents pretty darn well, didn’t it?”
Many of us have been taught to live in the default setting of purge: our closets, our desks, our hard drives, our minds. In that process, we toss out bits and baubles that help frame tomorrow. I think about a passage I once read. The author lamented not keeping a few 50s housedresses for her daughter, relics of the everyday and the life she lived, the best kind of vintage. But reaility television tells sordid tales of hoarders and compulsive shoppers – people buried under stuff, real and imagined. Holding on to common objects defies the magazine rally cry to streamline, toss, discard!
We’ve been taught that minimalism is inherently good.
But those childhood drawers. Hidden deep in one is a cheap spiral-bound notebook from a summer in Greece. Lining its pages, recipes. Recipes dictated by my YiaYia, translated and transcribed in my hand – spinach pie, walnut cake, stuffed tomatoes, baked lima beans, honey-soaked custard pastry … versions of classic dishes that live only in her mind and this notebook. A goldmine, and all mine.
From dime stores spring prehistoric wrapping paper and notebooks filled with family history. Stuff, unexamined. We assign value in the game of toss or keep, but value is driven by meaning and context and future memories. Objective assessment is impossible. How do we separate the trinkets from the treasures, so the best recipes don’t get thrown away?
Aside: I’m humbled to be amidst some of Canada’s best food writers as a nominee at the 2010 Canadian Food Blog Awards. I hope you’ll head that way to discover some wonderful Canadian-made food writing.
Revithosoupa (lemon-chickpea soup)
This chickpea soup made many appearances at our island table: a peasant dish that we’d sop up with paximadia, rye husks that are a specialty of Crete. (If you subscribe to the Art of Eating, issue no. 82/fall 2009 had an in-depth feature on paximadia, well worth a read.) Traditionally, this soup requires advanced planning to prepare the chickpeas overnight, but I’ve modified YiaYia’s recipe for a speedier version.
I include oregano in my soup, which isn’t standard. You could omit it, but I love the herbal quality it gives. I also use half stock, half water – traditional recipes use only water, but given the reduced cooking time, stock lends richness. The amount of lemon I prescribe makes a bright-but-gentle broth. Lemon enthusiasts could up the quantity to one-half cup. For a less-bracing soup, reduce the lemon to one-eighth cup.
1/2 large onion, minced (~1 cup)
3 Tbsp good-tasting olive oil – this is for flavour as much as fat
1/2 tsp dried oragano
1 can (540 mL/19 oz) chickpeas with liquid
3 cups your best stock, vegetable or chicken
3 cups water
1 large piece (~1×1 inch) lemon zest
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
lemon slices and olive oil to serve
1 large heavy-bottom soup pot with lid
1 potato masher
In soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low. Add the onions and oregano, and sweat until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. Increase heat to medium-high, and add the chickpeas with liquid, stock, water and lemon zest. Let this mixture come to a rapid boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt, adjusting to your preferences. If your stock or chickpeas were particularly salty, you may need to add more water.
Simmer, covered, for approximately one hour. You’ll know the soup is ready when you can easily mush a chickpea between two fingers. Before serving, mash soup slightly with a potato masher to thicken the broth (or if you prefer a brothier soup, skip this step).
Ladle into bowls, and serve drizzled with olive oil and extra lemon wedges. Serves four for dinner with some crusty bread for dipping, or six as a starter.