I've been thinking a lot about the darkness. Ever since November arrived and we turned our clocks back, it seems the rainy, low-light days of northerly living are inevitably here.
It's been almost six years since we moved. Coming from the relentless heat of the Pasadena chapparal, adjusting to the darkness of Western Washington falls and winters has taken me a while.
I'll admit, there were days during those initial Decembers and Januarys when I would turn on the TV to watch Hawaii 5-0 with its shots of bright Oahu beaches. It was my...sun porn (Is that a real term?). This, so I could pretend that I lived with the full glory of the tropical sun and imagine that I was about to dive into the ocean sans rain pants or waterproof boots in the middle of winter.
I've finally made a discovery that in retrospect feels like it slowly crept up on me. Or, was it blantantly flinging itself at me without my noticing -- until now?
Darkness is not terrible or even bad.
Just as we need the light and warmth of summer to really enjoy things like walking alongside the lake or savoring the flavors of the berries we've picked ourselves, we need the darker days for slowing down and reflecting. As in, who am I? How do I relate to others? How do others see me?
You just can't do that sort of wondering in broad daylight. Somehow it doesn't match up.
So let's give a cheer to the shorter, darker days. Celebrate its necessity as a counterpoint to all that is wonderfully outward and external about summer.
There is beauty within each of us, and this is the time of year when we should slow down, just be, and take a look inward to explore and renew our connections to ourselves.
While you are holed up this fall and winter in your cabin by Walden Pond or another such appropriate place, don't forget to also make an occasional foray into the world.
Reach out to friends. Remember to check in with the people you love. You can even invite a bunch of them over to cook up and share a bubbling casserole with you. This one, perhaps.
Tangy Kimchi Mac n' Cheese
Adapted from Serious Eats.
I had forgotten all about the jar of kimchi I’d made a couple of months back in an attempt to use up some napa and savoy cabbages and a sad-looking daikon. Upon finding the jar, I promptly opened it up and gobbled some down (ummmm! tangy! funky in a good way!). Then I decided I had to put it together with that ultimate comfort food, macaroni and cheese. The richness of the cheese tempers the kimchi while the buttermilk adds to the tangy flavor, bringing the dish into balance.
1 pound elbow pasta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 ½ cups buttermilk
1 ½ cups whole milk or evaporated milk
1 tablespoon powdered buttermilk (optional)
½ teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces cheddar, grated
8 ounces jack or other melting cheese such as gruyere, American, Gouda, grated
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ cups kimchi, finely chopped
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon finely ground red chili, such as Korean gochugaru
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Butter a 9 x 13" casserole dish. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, buttermilk, whole/evaporated milk, mustard, and hot sauce. Set aside. In another bowl, toss together cheeses with cornstarch and set aside.
In a large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt and cook pasta to al dente, about 7 minutes.
While pasta is cooking, make bread crumb topping. Mix together breadcrumbs, butter, red chili, and salt. Set aside.
Drain pasta and return to pot. Over low heat, add butter. When it has melted completely into the pasta, stir in milk mixture. Add cheese and stir gently, allowing sauce to thicken. Stir in kimchi then taste for salt, adjusting to your liking.
Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared pan. Top with the seasoned breadcrumbs. Place on middle rack of oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and crispy.
Serve on its own, or complement it with a green salad.