A lot to go on about citrus

So far, 2013 has been the year of the head cold, the year of the stomach bug that took us down one by one (whoa), the year of the 2002 Honda Accord in sudden need of a new transmission, and the year of the grapefruit. You’ll understand if we focus on the grapefruit today.

I never get excited for winter citrus the way I do for summer berries or fall plums, which is odd, because once the oranges, and grapefruits, and lemons are here, I can’t get enough. When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother Edith would send us HoneyBells from Florida each year. Did you know they’re part grapefruit? And the other part tangerine. They’d come in a box with faux warnings on the outside about the extreme juiciness within, and tie-on plastic bibs, like lobster bibs, for emphasis. There were many more HoneyBells among the grassy plastic padding than there were bibs. I assumed you were supposed to wipe down your bib between uses and wear it again, so I did. We ate them with ceremony on a newsprint-covered hardwood floor, bibs tied beneath our chins, one a day after school until they were gone.

Grapefruits were for cold weekend mornings, for halving and sectioning and topping with honey or heaped teaspoons of sugar, and eating on fold-up tables in front of the TV. I’d scrape and squeeze the skins clean, move to the floor by the heat vent, pull my knees up under my nightgown and, lips still burning from the pith, watch the rest of the show from there. I ate grapefruit just like that – minus the TV and nightgown, eventually – until late 2006, when my mother-in-law Sarah taught me how to supreme. I spent countless hours that winter sliding a sharp knife between membranes and plump, pink vesicles, transferring thrillingly intact slices to plates of arugula and avocado. Eli would joke sometimes that I didn't even like that salad, but made it just for the chance to supreme.

Well. That was a lot to go on about citrus when all I’m offering today is juice of. But when I started thinking about grapefruit, this is what came out. Bear with me, if you would; there’s vodka on the way.

The grapefruit juice currently in my fridge is from a guy called Uncle Matt. And by “a guy,” I mean a company, I guess. The point is that this Uncle Matt, whoever (whatever) he is, makes a very nice juice. We’re only 25 days into the new year, and I’m already on my third jug which – considering that I am the only grapefruit juice drinker in my household and that for a few fevered days I consumed nothing but Gatorade and the entire first season of Downton Abbey – is healthy evidence that this juice and I are ON. The first jug arrived in the final hours of 2012 with my friend, Julia. She’d been mixing up Greyhounds – vodka, grapefruit juice, and lime – and came equipped on New Year’s Eve to spread the good word. I didn't have one that night, or for many nights, sticking instead to a tamer grapefruit juice and soda while my head cleared and stomach quieted. That's what I'm drinking right now, in fact, a – what shall we call it? A "Virgin Greyhound?" A “Grapefruit Fizz?” A “Fizzy Pup?” I knew I was in trouble when the words “Dog Soda” flashed through my brain. In any case, I’m sold.

On the alcoholic version now, too. The Greyhound is clean, simple, sleek, not too sweet, all things that make me suck it down more quickly than I should. I've mentioned before what a lightweight I am, but honestly, I barely even deserve that title, when a single swallow of champagne hits me right between the eyes and two sips of wine are enough. And yet. The Greyhound goes down easy. He’s a quiet, gentle pup. I drank nearly a whole one earlier this week after Mia went to sleep and still made it from sofa to bed on my own. Then last night I emptied my glass! January's looking up. And not a moment too soon.

Eli's Greyhound

Don't let me stop you from squeezing and straining your own grapefruit juice for this drink. Just know that best-quality store-bought 100% juice is also very good here. Replace the vodka with soda for a virgin option.

1 ounce vodka (We're into Cîroc right now.)
2½ ounces grapefruit juice
Wedge of lime

Fill a glass almost to the top with ice cubes. I think a Collins glass is the traditional one for this drink, but we don't have any, so we use a rock glass. Add the vodka (or soda), then the grapefruit juice, squeeze in the lime, and stir well.

Makes one drink.


How it feels

It's January 7th. The new year is one week old. I'm probably supposed to be charging ahead, thinking new-new-new, and resolving the crap out of things. But you know, if 2013 were a human, it would still be in that sleepy, blobby stage, when the name of the game is take good care.

Here's a thing: At our table on New Year's Eve, someone asked about resolutions. I couldn't think of a single one. I want to do better and I want to be better, and I have some specific, personal ideas about what that means. Does it count as a resolution, though, if I felt this way every day of last year, too? Maybe yes. "Better" means lots of potential new.

This last year was very big and very fast, like one of those dogs, enormous and eager, that you sometimes see straining against its leash and wonder who's walking whom. It slobbers all over your chin and leaves paw prints on your sweater; it doesn't know its own strength. And though I could probably use a shower, and a nap, and maybe a hot fudge sundae, what I'd really like is to sit right here in it for just a little while longer.

2012 was hard in the way that the best things are hard. I'm grateful for that, and proud, and I want to remember how it feels. The breathless, jam-packed days. A proposal-in-the-making became a book deal; an idea became a business; a doughy, blinking babe became an honest to goodness person who walks, and talks, and wakes up singing, and will fight you for the last fish taco. (She does, I am happy to report, still smell like a warm pretzel. Thank goodness.) I've wondered sometimes if our pace is sustainable. Some days, I'm sure that it's not. But of all the shades of tired out there - sick tired, bored tired, sad tired - it's unspeakably lucky to get to fall into bed every night exhausted to the core by the people and things I love. I'm happy tired.

These are the party maps from the last month of the last year. Not pictured: the one from New Year's Eve. A bad head cold took me out of the game before I could finish it. Fortunately, there was a Molly in the house that night to take the reins and make sure no one starved. I repaid her by disappearing for 45 minutes to nurse a teething baby when I was supposed to be cooking and, upon my return, knocking a full glass of red wine to her feet as she rolled gnocchi for twelve. Then, because I am a very good friend, I burned a pear tart and moped about it.

I did get one thing right though, a spread of whipped feta with sweet and hot peppers that I think you're going to love. It was something of a December specialty - we made it and made it and ate it and ate it - and it's with us here in the new year, too. The fact is, whipping feta is a very smart thing to do. Feta is notoriously crumbly, but whipping it (or whirring it like crazy in a food processor, which this recipe counts as "whipping") makes it creamy and smooth. The sweet here is roasted red pepper (from a jar!) and the spicy is Aleppo pepper which adds a mild heat and, though this might just be me, a flavor like sun-dried tomatoes. I tasted this spread for the first time years ago at Oleana, a favorite Cambridge restaurant that I've mentioned here before. The chef, Ana Sortun, published the recipe in her first cookbook, Spice, which came out in 2006. Eli served it that year at my 26th birthday party, and we made it a handful of times after that, and then for some unfathomable and totally unjustifiable reason it fell off our radar for years. (Despite delighting over it time and again at the restaurant. We are sometimes not so bright.) Now that it's back, I'm not letting it out of my sight, and neither should you.

p.s. Halfway through writing this post I realized that today is the fourth anniversary of this blog. That's a nice chunk of years! Let's do some more. xo.

Whipped Feta with Sweet and Hot Peppers
Adapted from Spice by Ana Sortun

1 pound sheep's milk feta, drained and roughly crumbled 
2 medium red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped (I use jarred.)
2 teaspoons Aleppo chilies, plus a pinch for garnish
1 teaspoon Urfa chilies, plus a pinch for garnish
½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil

Put everything in a mixing bowl and stir until the sweet and hot peppers coat the cheese. Transfer to a food processor fitted with a metal blade and purée for about 2 minutes, until very smooth and creamy. The mixture will be loose, but will firm up when chilled. Pour into a bowl or, as I do, a few ramekins, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the extra Aleppo and Urfa chilies and the paprika before serving.