You can always tell when winter is in full swing and I don’t mean by the thick frost in the mornings. It’s the time of year where the nights get longer and the kids’ begging for five more minutes actually sounds reasonable. That is until you realize you have ten minutes to haul the kids to the car and drive them to school, while nagging them to put on their mittens and scarves. It’s that time of year where holiday cheer meets frosted cheeks, diets fade away for a few weeks and you would give anything for a cuddle beside the fireplace.
While certainly not my most favorite season, winter has a special kind of charm for my family. Growing up, it was the one season that I could really see the small things my mother did that made me feel her love. Nightly showers were met with freshly warm and laundered towels. My mittens were always stuffed carefully into my jacket right in the mornings. Meals were always picked to fill my heart and tummy with warmth. Oatmeal with fruit in the mornings, a bowl of warm soup for lunch and always a hearty, thick warm dish for dinner.
My mom was the best, I could never doubt the amount of love she poured into me growing up. It was the warmth of her love that made winter seem more than a holiday packed, frozen season. Winter was all about family.
As an adult, I try to keep on my mother’s traditions. I don’t always get it perfect—I’ve slept in more times than I can count. I’ve been guilty of rushing a kid out the door without mittens. I’ll even own up to popping a TV dinner into the microwave now and then. Not as if I’ve gone into a store wearing my pajamas. Who am I kidding? I’m no superwoman.
But the one thing I do try to do a couple times during the frostier weeks is pull out my mother’s eggplant stew recipe. It’s the kind of recipe that I spend extra time picking the right ingredients even if it means stretching a little bit more on the meal budget. Not as if my husband or kids complain as long as they don’t have to go with me. My husband stopped keeping me company after we married and he caught me having a debate between two eggplants. In all fairness, I didn’t know he was watching my little banter back and forth over which had a better fullness over the other.
Probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t make a joke about him being jealous over the eggplant I picked. Years later, he hasn’t divorced my weird self so I’ll count that as a victory.
I usually start a little bit before the kids are due home from school and the husband is due back from work. Stew is good right when it’s finished and hot, but tastes even better when everyone is gathered at the table. It is almost as if the company is the secret ingredient that adds a thick richness that no microwaved bowl could capture.
I usually put on a small bit of music while I work. My kids would always know I’m cooking when they hear me belting off-key tunes from the driveway. Embarrassing for them, but I know one day they’ll look back on it fondly. That and frankly, it’s fun to match the beat of the music to my chopping.
My oldest will always try to rush in, snickering and trying to volunteer to handle “quality control”. The little sneak will keep it up until I throw my hands up in a made-up look of frustration. “Brain food,” my kid would claim. “Do you want me to starve?” Personally, I think my kid didn’t want to work on some essay due at the end of the week. But I loved their lying little face anyway. My second oldest would be the one to set the table while my youngest ones usually try to mess things up or rather “keep things interesting”.
The chaotic directions, the bubbling laughter, the occasional burnt pot; I wouldn’t change it. Moments like this I wouldn’t trade for a quiet house or a trip around the world. These imperfect moments of perfection with my family is what I live for. Each day my kids grow older and it never fails to surprise me how fast time seems to fly.
My husband usually takes his time strolling in. I’ve accused him of sneaking around to see if it was “safe” to enter or if he wanted to avoid being part of our chaos. Once or twice I’ve caught him peeking through a kitchen window and winking at me. But in the end, he always gives in. Who could resist our fun? That or he is well aware that the kids and I will eat his portion if he takes too long.
Eventually, he will kick his boots off at the doorway, calling inside to announce his return home. Our youngest two take off rushing to play the game of “Who Can Tackle Daddy First”. I like to think the only one that loses is my husband. Since his back hasn’t broken (yet), I suspect this game will continue for a bit longer. Even after spending all day at work, my husband always manages to check his day at the door. Sometimes frost has coated his hair and I’ll make a show of brushing it off.
“You missed a spot,” he’ll usually add. Playfully, he’ll point at small, growing patch of gray in his hair.
By the time dinner has rolled around, our faces are pink with laughter and the frost has been melted from our limbs. We gather around our kitchen table, brushing elbows and whispering to one another. The cold weather is nothing more than a distant memory as we pass the rice and ladle. My husband likes to bug the oldest, teasing relentlessly and cracking terrible puns. Sometimes the kids will share their days; their frustrations or good moments.
We don’t use the good china, we don’t take out the cloth napkins or even lay out any centerpieces. Sometimes there’s a spill here or there. Sometimes a passionate disagreement or even tears. We pass around a single large bowl with our mismatch china, but the imperfections are nothing to us. My eggplant stew while hearty and warming, takes a backseat to everything. I’m okay with that.
The cold weather can suck the lives from the trees outside. Snow can hide away the colors of nature. The wind can leave skin chilled and raw. But around our dining room table, there is nothing but warmth and laughter. Scoop by scoop the food might dwindle, but I could spend hours sitting there not even touching a single bite. I watch the excitement dance in my children’s eyes, I watch the love warm my husband’s face, I see my family growing and changing before me.
- Eggplant, 2
- Onion, 1 large
- Green pepper, 1 large
- Potato, two medium
- Tomato, 3 medium
- Beef, fillet or sirloin
- Flour, 1 tablespoon
- Beef Stock, 2 cups
- Tomato paste, 1 tablespoon
- Allspice, 1 tablespoon
- Salt and Pepper, 1/4 teaspoon each or to taste
- Lemon, half juiced
- Cut up your beef into cubes and add flour to it.
- Saute the beef in two tablespoons of olive oil on medium to low heat.
- Add onions to the beef after it has been cooked.
- Add green peppers.
- Add allspice.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Add tomato paste.
- Add beef stock and let it simmer for about two minutes.
- Add lemon juice and set it on low for about 5 minutes. Then it is done.
- Take two eggplants and cut them in circles.
- Brush the eggplants in olive oil both sides.
- In an oven safe platter, place parchment paper and place the eggplants on the parchment paper. Bake 375 º15-20 minutes.
- While the eggplant is cooking, cut up three tomatoes in circular shapes.
- Place the tomatoes in a big pyrex.
- Add the beef stew.
- Take the Eggplants out and layer them last.
- Set back in the oven with everything layered for 10 minutes to simmer together.