Whether your New Year’s resolution is to eat more whole foods, cook more, meal plan, lower your grocery budget—or if you’ve made no resolutions or none that have to do with food—this simple, affordable, comforting Greek lemon rice soup, also known as avgolmeno, is a winner.
Over the holidays, Tim and I spent a week at my parents’ house in Naperville, Illinois, that affluent suburban town that saw me don braces, learn to drive, move away to college (and come back), enter the working world, spend hours on the phone long-distance dating and, five years ago in February (!), pack up a car to relocate to Tim and Tennessee. Free from routine responsibilities like dishes and making dinner and doing daily laundry, I finally took on the task I’ve been talking about trying for I don’t know how long: I opened the door to the attic off my old bedroom’s closet, flipped on the light and pulled out the giant, rectangular storage bin that had been holding my memories from the mid 1990s until the year I met Tim. I went through my old journals.
Sitting Indian-style in the hallway while Rocco napped and Tim worked online, I dusted off the clear plastic bin and pulled out book after book of handwritten thoughts and notes and confessions. Prayer requests and activity logs. Excitement about sleepovers and frustration about the future. Sermon notes. Bible study comments. Packs of high school class pictures (oy!). I remembered people I’d forgotten I’d known. I remembered feelings I’d forgotten I had. And when I reached the last binder, I threw all but a handful of the items into a hefty trash bag, tied it up and marched the whole thing out to the recycling bin.
“I’ve never heard of someone not wanting to keep their old journals!” Tim had said to me the last time we visited my parents, in late September, when I’d first mentioned that pesky old journal box and how I wanted it gone. “Isn’t that the point of keeping journals? To go back and read them later?”
Journaling, that ancient tradition practiced by people as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and George Lucas, is a habit I started young, at least as young as eleven, according to my now-recycled records. I first did it, I don’t know, out of boredom, and as I was learning to think—because, after all, “writing is thinking on paper,” as William Zinsser says. Later, it was to process problems or to remember vacations, to write lists of gratitude or keep all my devotional thoughts in one place. Even after I started this blog, what was known then and in some ways still is known now as an online journal, I still kept jotting down lists and thoughts here and there as an adult. It’s only in the past five years or so that I completely stopped formal journaling, moving instead towards Tweeting and blogging and tracking things to remember in the Notes app on my phone. And while now, I have a bullet journal (aka a planner slash journal slash list-keeper), I still don’t like to write out all my thoughts, for one simple reason: my thoughts are so often wrong.
You know what’s so-funny-it’s-painful about reading junior-high journals? Remembering junior-high me. Reading, in black and white and loopy cursive, that I was jealous or scared or trying hard to fit in. Everybody who’s honest remembers things about the past they regret, but it’s easier to pretend we were never like that when there isn’t a written record showing the facts. Shake it off and move forward, right? Let’s begin again.
The beauty of a new year, like a new journal or a new job or a new outfit you go buy at the mall, is how it represents a fresh start. Blank pages. Possibilities. No mistakes (at least not yet). That’s part of why I love decluttering and getting rid of things and emptying spaces out: I love beginnings—all their potential and their hope. Really, no matter how cynical a person may be, who doesn’t? I mean, let’s be honest, it’s hard not to feel a little optimism when you look at a new house or a new baby or, here in January, a new year. Maybe this year will be better, smarter, smoother, sweeter. Maybe this year I’ll get it right. Maybe this will be the best one.
So this year, like every year before us, some of us make resolutions, using the newness of 2016 to rekindle a desire to eat well, lose weight, keep a budget, read more. That’s cool. Like clockwork, every January, more people come here looking for Whole 30 recipes or raw food recipes or info on smoothies or juice. Why not? I get inspired to bake a cake after having a good one at a friend’s house; what’s so different about getting inspired to eat differently when the year clocks forward by one? A new year doesn’t empower us to be different, but it does remind us time is passing, year by year of it, and we’re not promised another New Year after the one that’s just come. This last part, about how quickly time is passing, is the one that I keep thinking about. How are we spending our days? What’s worthwhile? What isn’t?
So in the spirit of reevaluating and reconsidering: in with the new meals for the new year! One way I want to love my little family better this year is by thinking through our meals each week, at the beginning of the week, instead of each night on the fly. Intentionality is hard! This week, we’ll be having a lot of soup.
Here’s one, Greek lemon rice soup, I’ve especially liked.
Greek Lemon Rice Soup
Adapted from Pepperidge Farm Cookbook Cook Book
Greek lemon rice soup, traditionally known as avgolemeno, is a soup with countless varieties posted online, some with orzo instead of rice, some with roasted chicken added, some with a different number of egg yolks. But in every case the basic idea is this: grain cooked in hot broth, with a cream/egg mixture slowly added, with lemon rinds and/or juice creating that wonderful citrus taste. The whole thing comes together quickly, is made up of pantry ingredients and makes a comforting winter meal. I like it with a little extra lemon squeezed on top.
8 cups broth/stock (traditionally chicken; I used homemade vegetable broth* instead)
1/2 cup basmati (or other) rice
8 thin slices organic lemon peel
4 egg yolks
1 cup organic heavy cream (or half and half works, too)
3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus some to garnish if desired
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, bring broth to a rolling boil. Add rice and keep cooking until it’s soft, about 20 minutes. Add lemon peel. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and cream.
Once rice is cooked, lower heat to low/medium-low and slowly stir in the egg/cream mixture. Add lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.
*Homemade vegetable broth is one of those things I get around to when I have a weekend at home. Whenever we cook, I save vegetable scraps in bags in the freezer (ends, peels, stalks, etc.). Then once in a while I put them all in a big pot, cover it with water and bring it to a boil. Strain the vegetables and throw them away, and you have a homemade, nutrient-rich vegetable stock. Then I might add grass-fed gelatin and salt and pepper to finish it off, put it in mason jars and freeze it until I need some broth.