It can be hard to avoid thinking of Chicago winters as one big waiting game. The sidewalks have become a network of icy Slip ‘N Slides, but it’s not just the bone-chilling cold that’s incubated my restlessness. Nor is it the slog of commuting through the pre-dawn blackness without the promise of an imminent getaway—although, of course, neither of those things are helping matters.
Rather, it’s the tension between having big, important, meaningful goals and the deeply tedious, tiring, and sometimes stressful daily work that goes into making them happen. And nowhere has this tension felt more visceral to me recently than on the athletic and career fronts.
My first endurance run in five years—a half marathon—is coming up in April, and I’m thrilled to be making my way back into the racing game. It’ll be Dan’s first race ever, so I’ll be doubly excited to complete the course together. But a spring race means trudging through winter training runs, into slushy gray snowmelt and over patches of black ice, with numb extremities and frosty wind-bitten cheeks. On the rare days when the mercury has risen and the sidewalks cleared, our tempo runs through the neighborhood have felt like flying. But we’re still months away from making those unencumbered workouts the norm, so during each week’s snowy long run, I maintain the mantra that all this work is going to pay off. Sometimes, I even believe myself.
And on the job front? Well, I landed a new gig that I’m really excited about! But as everyone knows, the path to job-search victory is paved with nail-biting uncertainty—from the first nerve-wracking interview to the last stomach churn as you wait patiently by the phone to learn whether you’ve been accepted or rejected. Plus, as I’ve snagged that late-twenties Holy Grail—stability in most areas of my life!—it’s cleared the way for bigger considerations than I’d previously been ready for, such as that of the capital-C Career. After five years in the workforce, I’ve developed the kind of confidence in my abilities that my wide-eyed, freshly-minted college grad self could only dream of. That means moving onto more interesting questions than the ones I had back then, ones that are bigger than any one job. How can I use my particular talents to best serve others? What pursuit do I want to wrestle with mastering over the course of my lifetime? Is it possible for me to focus on following just one path, and even if it is, do I want to?
But despite grappling with tough workouts and tough questions this winter, I haven’t succumbed to the inclination to simply count down the days till spring. After the Super Bowl Sunday blizzard, Dan and I trekked through snowdrifts to see Tosca at the Lyric Opera. We’ve also ventured out to try paratha tacos and Hungarian plum brandy cocktails; at home, we braised a pork shoulder with Caribbean jerk spices and tackled an Oscar movie marathon. (I’m rooting for Whiplash this weekend!) We attended our first beer dinner at Half Acre on another snowy evening, leaving no trace of the banh mi or coconut-lime caramel corn on our plates. We tried a new Greek restaurant with a group of friends, and devoured amazing homemade gumbo at a dinner party. This past weekend, we made a meal of bread, prosciutto and cheese, two outstanding sour beers, and a gorgeous salad of radicchio, pomegranate, and blood orange from Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I’m looking forward to getting to know that cookbook a lot better.
I’m proud of the way I’ve run headlong into 2015, taking on big projects while still prioritizing fun along the way. But winter, like a thick blanket of snow, has a way of weighing on you a bit more heavily than the other seasons, and so citrus has been my midwinter blessing—close your eyes, and those blood oranges, Meyer lemons, and key limes will bring back the now-unfamiliar feeling of warm weather in an almost tangible way. For the next few months, we’ll all have to be content with that.
Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400, pushed one stop
Citrus curd adapted from Melissa Clark, and crust from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
– 1 cup heavy whipping cream
– 10 large basil leaves
– 1 tsp. confectioner’s sugar
– pinch of citrus zest, reserved from citrus curd recipe
– freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
– 7 ounces graham crackers (200 grams)
– 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
– 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, from about 2 large lemons
– 1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice, from about 1 large orange
– 2 tsp. citrus zest, grated
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
– 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
– pinch of salt
– 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
– 1/4 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
– 3 oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise (I used a mix of Cara Cara and blood oranges)
1) Combine whipping cream with basil leaves in a small saucepan. Bring just to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat. Let steep for 15 minutes.
2) Remove basil leaves from cream; discard. Refrigerate cream at least 4 hours, or overnight.
3) Add confectioner’s sugar, citrus zest, and black pepper. Using a hand mixer on a medium-high setting, whip cream until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
4) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5) Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until crumbs resemble sand; this should yield approximately 1 1/2 cups of crumbs. Add the melted butter, and pulse until combined.
6) Press graham cracker mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, using the bottom and sides of a measuring cup to ensure mixture is dispersed evenly.
7) Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Set aside.
8) In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine citrus juices, sugar, eggs and yolks, cornstarch and salt. Bring mixture to a boil to activate cornstarch, but do not let boil for more than one minute. Remove from heat.
9) Add butter, then olive oil and zest to the citrus mixture, stirring until butter is completely melted. Strain curd through a sieve and into the graham cracker crust.
10) Bake tart until curd is just set, about 15 minutes.
11) Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to cool completely before topping.
10) Arrange orange slices on top of tart. Slice and serve with basil whipped cream.