Thursday, January 6, 2011

OLIVE, PARMESAN & SPECK BREADSTICKS with PUMPKIN SOUP

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE


I am terrified of heights. Put me on the top floor of a building looking down through glass panes or, worse yet, from the edge of a balcony, and my knees buckle as I grasp for a handhold. My heart pounds at the idea of funiculars or Ferris wheels and their anticipatory crawl up into the clouds. That glance down comes with the fear of knowing that when I finally reach the summit I will be staring into emptiness, a deep void, an near-endless drop only broken by the tiny ant-like beings down on safe, sturdy ground staring up at me, ogling, daring me to make the leap so they can break my fall. Roller Coasters slowly, painfully inching their way up until a mere thread is holding me over a dizzying descent make my head spin as my breath comes out, barely, in short, quick gasps. Airplanes, those silver boxes offering me quick passage to my loved ones, have me in a panic when I think of the nothingness holding them up. My very pragmatic, scientific husband refers to this seemingly (or so he says) irrational fear of heights as Cosmic Vertigo, these images in my overactive imagination of climbing up and standing on the edge of a precipice only to be pushed off of solid ground and plunging into emptiness, the unknown. So I never climb onto a Ferris wheel, it is impossible to convince me to climb aboard a roller coaster; as we spin our way up the glass elevator in the Mole Antonelliana in Torino or wander around the top balcony of the Eiffel Tower my eyes stay firmly squeezed shut and I can’t even look through the eyepiece of a telescope, nor am I comfortable wearing 3-D glasses or watching the world spin on Google maps. Yes, I am terrified of heights.

Yet here I am, teetering at the top of a very high peak, nervously peering downhill through squinted eyes, bracing myself for the moment someone tiptoes up behind and gives me that heavy-handed push, for I know that they will. And with that one firm, quick shove, I will topple over into the void and start that long descent down that slippery slope towards…

The second half of my life.


At the end of this month I will turn 51. One year ago as I pondered Fifty, I was caught between the love of birthdays, the cake and the gifts, the well wishes and all eyes being turned upon me (Oh, come on, don’t look at me with such disdain! You know we all love that!), and the absolute awe and anxiety of the whole aging thing, the leaving behind my youth and vivacity, turning, well, old. The silly schoolgirl inside of me clapped her hands and shouted with laughter in disbelief. “You?” she barked as she quickly thought of a dozen good pranks to play on me. “Old? As you sit huddled over your computer, giggling evilly, sending uproariously ridiculous, gossip-filled messages to your girlfriends? As your giddy laughter fills the house as you and your husband chase each other from room to room, shouting incomprehensible jokes to each other then tumbling into a heap on the sofa? Get over it!” Yet the charming, sophisticated, respectable woman of a certain age inside of me, the one peering judgmentally over the top of her eyeglasses, stares hard at the younger woman and snorts in derision. “You just mark my words!” she sneers between pursed lips, “She cannot run and hide from me! Age and all of those aches and pains, the stiffness and the added weight and droopy skin (not to mention the hint of mustache that always threatens), finding herself in bed at 9 p.m. and NOT for the good reasons! The crankiness and the forgetfulness! Well, deary, you can laugh all you want, but when my time arrives, I’ll be showing up, dressed and ready to take over!


Yipes! Yet as nervous as I was, as much as I hated, nay, dreaded the idea of making that leap onto the other side, my true friends gathered round me and eased the pain with absurdity and merriment. The year flew by joyously with projects and trips, visits and sleepovers. The distractions were big enough that I barely felt the time rushing madly by, the laughter and the noise drowning out the rhythmic ticking of the clock. But how long can this go on? How long can I ignore the finger of Old Man Time as he beckons, how many years can I trick youth into hanging around, tempting that young girl inside of me to stay and play? I stare at myself in the mirror and see the faint lines of battle scarring my gently fading youth. There is a hint of silver in my hair, a hesitation in my step as I glance at a set of steps or a slippery sidewalk and, yes, husband and I are glad to tumble into bed as the sun glides behind the buildings, resting our weary bones.

Yet….yet…. I am not ready just yet. Yes, I stand at the top of that mountain and stare down into the dark unknown, yet I will not wait for anyone to come and push me off, losing my footing and control, sliding, sliding down into a fusty, cranky old fuddy-duddy! No, I think that my inner 16 year old will think of a way to stay around for a while longer; she will simply climb out the window, clamber down the trellis while the parents sleep and join her friends for a few more years of pranks and partying. She’ll keep joking, gossiping, laughing, dressing and acting her inner age rather than any number printed on a piece of paper. She’ll flaunt her youth, swagger gleefully by as her son rolls his eyes in embarrassment, fool old Mr. Time for another few years, for as long as she can.


I have a few more days, a couple more weeks to think it all over, plan my attack, select my party outfit and brace for the beginning of what I hope will be a long, tranquil yet exciting, joyful descent full of adventure, love and friendship.

Now what kind of cake shall I bake myself for my birthday?


I am sending these fabulous Olive, Parmesan & Speck Breadsticks to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastpotting!

PUMPKIN SOUP
Nothing says comfort like this bowl of warming, savory-sweet soup, thick and creamy and best eaten with a swirl of cream, garlicky croutons and lots of freshly-grated nutty Gruyère, Comté or Emmenthal. Our favorite recipe, so simple, from The Book of Soups by Lorna Rhodes.

3 lbs slice (1 ½ kg) of pumpkin
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 ½ cups (625 ml) chicken stock or broth
Large pinch light brown sugar
Pinch ground nutmeg
¼ tsp paprika
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cup (155 ml) light cream

Trim the pumpkin and discard shell, seeds and stringy bits. Cut the flesh into large cubes.

Melt the butter in a large pot, add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, until soft. Add the cubes of pumpkin, the stock and the sugar and bring up the boil. Lower the heat, cover (I always leave the lid slightly ajar) and simmer for 30 minutes. The pumpkin should be meltingly soft. Remove from the heat and purée either in a blender, food processor or, as I do, with a hand-held emulsion blender, until perfectly smooth. Stir in the nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper to taste, and the cream. Heat gently until hot.

Serve with a swirl of cream, a dollop of sour cream or fromage frais and pass around the bowl of grated cheese.


FLAVORFUL BREAD TWISTS
Oh, joy! I had half a recipe of bread dough in the refrigerator and wanted to do something a bit different, more exciting than my usual focaccia. I came up with this fabulous breadstick, inspired by a recipe I found in The Good Housekeeping Christmas 2010 Cookbook (which is actually a magazine that I bought in London). Feel free to improvise, adding flavors and textures that you prefer. These are simply fabulous!

(The quantities are approximate as I pretty much ad-libbed it)
About 1 lb (500 g) bread dough, find my recipe here (enough for 12 long, thin breadsticks)
2 Tbs or so (about 50 g) pitted black Greek olives, sliced in half or coarsely chopped
Freshly and finely-grated Parmesan cheese, a few tablespoons
1 Tbs dried Basil
A grinding of black pepper, optional
12 thin strips of Speck or Parma ham

Briefly knead the dough to soften. Spread the dough flat and press the chopped olives, the Parmesan and the Basil – and a bit of pepper, if you like – and knead until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you like, knead in the chopped and grated goodies in two or three additions.

Divide the dough into 12 even pieces and roll each piece into a long strip, at least 7 inches (18 cm) long. Allow them to rest on a parchment-lined baking sheet while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Once the oven is preheated and the dough snakes have rested, simply but firmly wrap one slice of ham around each breadstick, twisting the two together and then placing them on the parchment-lined baking tray.

Bake the breadsticks for 12 – 15 minutes until puffed and golden.


Enjoy with a warming bowl of Pumpkin Soup!


42 comments:

tastesbetterwithfriends said...

Jamie, it's cliche but it's all about "joie de vivre" and you definitely have it!
I think you are approaching it in the right way and focusing on the important things like what kind of cake to bake for yourself! I'm a January baby too and i'm debating that very important question myself right now:) Bonne fete a l'avance and I could go for a bowl of that soup right about now:)

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Like you I am afraid of heights and dislike flying in those silver cigars called aeroplanes! ;-P

Wow, you never look 51! I hope I'll be as fresh and happy as you when I reach the 50's. You are the living proof that age is in the head!

A great accompaniment to that soup! Yummy-oh. Now I'm starving.

Cheers,

Rosa

Michele AKA 5am Foodie said...

You're almost 51 and just starting to get grey hairs? You lucky thing!Honestly girl, you certainly don't look 51 and from what I can tell you don't act it - and believe me I mean that in the most positive way! You've got a great attitude about it all and yes, the cake is all important. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Mxx

sarah said...

I don't think about the aging thing too much and try to get on with the fun (but I know, it's hard sometimes!). Like they say..The best is yet to come :-)

A Thought For Food said...

I have a pretty bad fear of heights as well... though I was able to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower (I even walked up!)

This soup and breadstick recipe is so comforting. I would love a big bowl of this right now!

Cherine said...

I'm also so afraid of heights I can't even stand on my tippy toes! :)

Wow, you don't look a day over 50!! Your age is only a number. True age is how you feel and enjoy life :)

Those bread sticks and this soup look wonderful. It's dinner time and you're making me hungry!!

Jennifurla said...

I am with you on the heights thing, once I am on top and look out...I feel jiggly.

I myself am enjoying life the older I get, I feel more at ease with everything.

Happy Bday...cakes I love are Strawberry ones...I say go for that please.

Peter M said...

Jamie, you've got good genes...lookin' good! I reckon if you weren't afraid of heights...still no grey. ;)

With the bread twists and soup, a meal is made here.

lisaiscooking said...

I'm already pondering possible birthday cakes, and mine's not until the end of March. (crazy) I bet you'll start your next year splendidly! And, this soup looks like just what I'll need for our chilly weekend that's almost here.

shaz said...

Oh Jamie, I reckon you will soar over this slope. Your sparkling joie de vivre comes through each and every post, I was a little surprised to hear your age! Looking forward to seeing what cake you end up making :)

The soup looks great but oh my, the breadsticks sound fantastic!

Maria said...

What fun breadsticks. Love the soup too!

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

This is such a lovely post. My parents are at a similar age as you and have been contemplating the same things. I think you definitely have a great, vivacious attitude and that is what counts.

As for your soup..we love pumpkin soup and I think the breadsticks would be the perfect accompaniment.

Niv said...

so beautifully written!
Happy Birthday!

MeetaK said...

we talked earlier about age and i too am reflecting on it and thinking "hec - i am going to be hitting 40 next year!" however i really believe we are as young as we feel and i know you so well saucy you are not a day over 21! so tell that old nag in you to take a hike - as long as your spice sisters are around she is fighting a loosing battle!

Deeba PAB said...

Meeta's still looking at 40...tch tch...baby girl? You go Jamie...I have yet to see a 50 like you; you are the new 30 dahlin' - everything about you! The enthusiasm, the passion for life, the way you take each stride - I'd sooner be like you sistah! I lean on you for inspiration, and I get LOADS of it! Love the soup and the bread twists... just what I'd love to have right now in this horrid cold. xoxo
Will mail you in a bit ... we have work to do!

Junglefrog said...

The good news is... you certainly do not look like your age!! I am fast approaching 50 myself so I kind of know how you feel... lol... I am gonna wish you a fabulous birthday already since I will be in Costa Rica at the time, so might forget..:))

SaraOneTribeGourmet said...

My dear Jamie, you look great and age is just a number. Even though I have not met you {in person} but still I can tell you have a positive attitude about life, family & friends. You da best! :) xoxo
Oh, the soup looks comforting..yum! :)

Nicole said...

It's just another time around the sun after all. And I always say, it's better than the alternative!
A decadent cake is in order!

Dinners and Dreams said...

Jamie, I'm not sure whether I want the breadsticks or the pumpkin soup more. I'll take the safe route and have them both.

I can't believe you're 51. I honestly thought you were a few years older than I am. (I'm in my early 30s.) I'm impressed!

Take care!

Nisrine

asiangrrl said...

Jamie, I want to be like you when I grow up. Happy birthday, and I am drooling over your breadsticks.

Aeroentropy said...

Remember, on the internet no one knows you're a dog, or that you've turned 50. If it's all about attitude you and I will both do fine!

Miss you on the 'flats, still!

Lana said...

It took me a day or two to sit down and savor your post in peace. I am switching from hilariously laughing to crying, while I read your words. "The number" might not be the same, I am not afraid of real heights, and I am 17 when I look in the mirror, but this could have been me writing. You have drilled a painfully sweet hole right through the middle of my heart:)
I think I will be smiling looking down that slope, too. Not ready for the white flag yet.
Thank you for yet another beautifully written piece.
As for the recipes, those breadsticks are going to find their way to my oven pretty soon.

Cherrie Pie said...

these breadsticks go perfecting with the pumpkin soup. Great pairing

Couscous & Consciousness said...

Jamie - welcome to the better side of 50 - this is where all the fun is! What's more once your on this side you never have to apologise for anything ever again! These breadsticks look wonderful - definitely a good things to snack on while you contemplate the cake :-)
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and your lovely comment - I'd love you to join in with "Making it with ... Mondays" when you can. I'll be by again soon :-)
Sue

elra said...

Jaime, are you joking, you look so young for your age, and when you take care of yourself, it really shows !

Your breadstick is very gourmet and I like that.

Alina said...

Unfortunately, I share your fear of heights. A pity I can't get a bite of your yummy bread sticks they are so appealing, and so are your great photos.
Happy new year!

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

I remember my grandmother's 75th birthday, a group of elderly women who didn't drive, sat around in Schrader sport tube dresses, and open toed white shoes. They even "smelled" old. We truly have come "along way baby". Where I live, 90 year olds drive Ferrari's and have the most active social life of all. We went to a party recently where an 82 year old was the life of the party and danced every dance, the 13 year olds couldn't keep up. These days, age is just a number and we can where purple whenever we wish!

All that said, birthdays are still something to celebrate. Mine is next Thursday and the girls have it all planned. I think I should be frightened :). I will probably need a bowl of your comforting pumpkin soup. How will you celebrate?

Sanjeeta kk said...

Age factor is scary and delightful at times. But then its all in the mind. With all the energetic and lovely bloggers like you around I feel young again.
Love the soup and the bread, a perfect combo for a great breakfast, Jamie.
Cheers!!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'm terrified of heights too and you described it so perfectly. But the second half of your life Jamie? You're ageless and as they say it's all in the attitude and you've got spunk and energy for 10! :D

Mary said...

Jamie the next few years will teach you that age is just a number and that only you control your destiny. You will see some surrender to age while others dare it to advance and confine. Your body will age, but your vision, intellect and passion will grow more keen. Those three are precious gifts for a writer. Enjoy this birthday but promise me you will joyfully celebrate the others yet to come. Hugs and blessings...Mary

OysterCulture said...

Happy Birthday and here's to new beginnings. I am behind on my reading the Economist, but the caption read that life begins at 46, in which case you are just out of diapers!

I seriously think its not about the physical age, but how you deal with life mentally, and to me you have the joie de vivre of a teenager. May we all look at life as you do!

tasteofbeirut said...

I hav a fear of heights too; I admire how you articulated the fear of aging that we all (aging gals) go through. I just feel that taking as models women who are older but still active and vibrant is a good antidote for any depression that may creep up; think Julia (Child) who started her career at 50, and lived to 94 (even though she had a bout with cancer). I love older women and admire them so much more now that I am older myself.
That being said, I absolutely would be the happiest gal alive if someone fixed me this soup and the breadsticks. Hmm, no, I will fix them myself and still love the experience of eating such tasty and refined fare. Happy birthday Jamie!

Thegustibus said...

It seems delicius... I like olive and Parmesan, expecially because I'm Italian and here we use a lot!
I'll continue to follow your blog it's very interesting!
Cheers
Anna
www.thegustibus.com

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I'll have what you're having! I hope it will rub off!

(I fear I've aged 20 years in the past 3 down to a certain little chap)

Thank goodness 40 is the new 30, I might be able to grab some time back!!

UrMomCooks said...

Luv ur "50" post!!! I went on a deep woods nature trip for my 50th. Probably should have stayed at home and cooked something yummy! Here's to the second half!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Well, in your photo you look great and you have nothing to fear (except high places). As one who is older than you, I have found acceptance is a gradual process along with aging.

I'm so happy to stopped in to say hello so I could find you!

Now on to those beautiful bread sticks and soup!

Kris Ngoei said...

Happy New Year, Jamie!

And cheers to your birthday! I must say this is a very special 50 post which I read carefully and had me pondered about life and all.

Wish you years of fun, laughter, health, joy and love!

Heather Davis said...

Jamie first off never in a million Sundays would I have guessed you were 51. And I am NOT just saying that. Knowing that is an inspiration! I am 45 this year and it's amazing to know so much more can be achieved between know and 50. It's hard not to sometimes feel the best years are over but really it's just in the mind (oh and perhaps the body when it squeaks & creaks first thing in the morning!). Your blog is looking better than ever too. Love the photos. Hx

Nuts about food said...

If I have your beauty and spirit at 51 I will consider myself darn lucky. And as my mother in law taught me, if you get old you are lucky because you are here to talk about it. Happy belated New Year to you and your family.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

I always say you are as young as the man you feel (OK, maybe don't share that with JP hahaha!). Seriously, it's all abotu attitude and you, Saucy, have it in spades. Viva the BEST half of your life! And OMG how good do those bread twists look... :o)

Recipe For Lasagna said...

I love the brownies! thanks for sharing

Liren said...

Jamie, besides the fact that I would have never guessed that you are approaching 51, I don't think we'll ever feel our age, no matter how old we are. Young at heart and in spirit, that is the most important!

Can't wait to see what kind of cake you make on your special day.

And this soup!! I just had a craving for pumpkin soup...this looks amazing, especially with those breadsticks.

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