Schloomp went my knife as I cut through the potatoes — first, into flat planks, then into strips as long as my stubby fingers, and then into nearly perfect cubes. I stacked them up high next to my plump red bell pepper and my pile of diced carrots. It felt great to be back in the kitchen, slicing and dicing while simmering soups and stews.

I opened the can of chickpeas I salvaged from the pantry then washed the beans in a colander. As the tin can and colander clattered in the sink, Stanford trotted off to the kitchen to see what was going on. He sat next to me, alert and attentive, waiting for something to slip and plop to the floor. I tossed him a piece of carrot and within a split second it was gone.

Things are slowly settling back to normal in our household. The last piece of ornament from our noble fir has been stowed. The last greeting card has been read and recycled. The family visits to Ohio were wonderful. Even though I didn’t get the White Christmas I dreamed of, it was lovely to be around family for the Holidays. It is a luxury Dennis and I don’t get to enjoy often and so we try to make the most of it whenever we do.

But the chaos of Christmas — the red-eyes and layovers, the cold, miserable rain, and the Midwest diet bereft of rice and fish sauce — left me craving for the comfort of routines and the safety of the familiar. Walks with Stanford. Three-mile runs. Coffee in the morning. A book before bed. Home-cooked meals. Corned beef and menudo. Roast chicken. Rice. Plenty of rice. And, of course, fish sauce.

Routines can be a good thing, you know. They keep you grounded. They make the reward of novelties and luxuries in life so much sweeter.


Menudo Recipe, makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil
1-1/2 pounds pork butt or shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, about 2 cups
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, about 1 cup
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, chopped
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 bay leaves
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, washed and drained
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips, about 1/2 cup
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in a pot over medium high heat. Brown pork on all sides. Transfer pork to a plate as they finish browning. Fry potatoes and carrots for about 5 minutes and set aside. Saute garlic and onions until fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes. Place pork, potatoes, and carrots back in the pot. Add tomato sauce, water, fish sauce, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat. After twenty minutes, add potatoes and carrots. Simmer until cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes. In the last ten minutes, add garbanzo beans and red bell pepper. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.


Cooking Notes:

Menudo Notes

1. Cut pork, potatoes, and carrots into cubes with roughly the same size so that they cook uniformly.

2. Rinse the can of tomato sauce with water and use this to add to the stew.

3. Fresh tomatoes instead of tomato sauce can be used to flavor the stew. Use two medium tomatoes, chopped and seeds removed. Saute the tomatoes along with garlic and onions. To make the color of the stew more vibrant use achuete oil instead of canola.

4. For a more traditional menudo, add cubed pork liver along with garbanzo beans and red bell pepper in the last ten minutes of cooking.