I have been so, so cold lately. So cold that I’ve been fixating on the cold and making myself colder. The cold in LA is strange, because you have to pretend it’s not really happening. Your friends and family in other parts of the country talk about the cold and you go, ‘hmm, yes, you are a gentleman and a saint for putting up with it,’ because if you said it was cold in LA as well you’d have a conversation like this:
Them: It’s so cold here!! Brrr!!!!
You: It’s cold here too!! Brrr!!!!
Them: (skeptically) Oh, really? Well, how cold is it?
You: Like 38 degrees at night!
Them: And during the day?
You: (muttering) I don’t know, maybe 55?
Them: Oh, wow, you’re really suffering aren’t you? Inflicting 55 degrees on a full-grown adult is probably covered in one of the articles of the Geneva Convention, huh? I can loan you my parka if you want! Should we get you a Sherpa to guide you through the Valley? Now I know why they say that Angelenos have over 100 different words for snow…
Needless to say, one or two of these guilt trips will leave you permanently mum on topics related to the weather. If you’re cold, you need to just bite your tongue and imagine all the people in the rest of the world who are a lot colder than you. You can’t even admit it to yourself. If you’re cold, you need to immediately whip off your cardigan and prance around the house in a tee shirt, drink iced tea and fan yourself with a copy of the New Yorker. But about a month ago, I gave up on this ruse and started admitting to myself that I am indeed cold, and I do indeed want to do something about it.
Admitting that you’re cold in LA means facing a hard truth: you’ve been denying that it’s cold for so long that you got rid of all your wool socks, cable-knit sweaters, scarves and hats, and slippers. So you need to buy all that stuff all over again (which is easy, because national corporations operate according to seasons rather than climate — hence, you will find mittens at Target in November, when it’s frequently warm enough to go to the beach). And you also need to start thinking about your diet differently.
Look, I come from the east coast. Winter comfort food is in my bones. When I feel a slight chill on the back of my neck, I want to bundle up in flannel and make chowder. Mmm, chowder.
Comfort food doesn’t have to involve a lot of flour or cream, as this recipe demonstrates. All you really need is a bunch of veggies, some herbs, and a few products that are normally unappetizing. I don’t usually buy canned clams or clam juice, but in this soup they become more than the sum of their BHA-laced parts. They become pure, delicious comfort.
Manhattan Clam Chowdah
Serves two (can be doubled, tripled, etc. if you have a lot of cold people hanging around)
-1/2 onion, diced
-2 cloves of garlic, minced
-3 tbs olive oil
-2 stalks of celery, diced
-1 large carrot, diced
-4 small potatoes (I used yukon gold)
-7 or 8 roma tomatoes, blanched and peeled
-1 cup of clam juice
-1 can of clams (keep the juice — strain it if you need to)
-2 cups broth (I used vegetable)
-1 bay leaf
-1/2 tsp dried oregano
-1-2 tbs fresh thyme
-salt and pepper
You’ll want to blanch the tomatoes first — while the water boils, you can start chopping, mincing, and dicing all the veggies. When the water is boiling, carefully slide the tomatoes into it (a slotted spoon helps), wait until they start to blister, and then take them out to cool.
Get thee to a large pot with a cover, and turn the flame up to medium heat. Add the oil, and when it’s hot add the garlic and onions. Sauté them until the onions are translucent, and then add the celery and carrots. Sauté for another 8 minutes or so, and meanwhile turn your attention to the tomatoes. To save time, I peeled them and then tossed them directly in the pot, squashing them with a spatula. If you want to get fancy, you can peel and chop them, and then add them to the other veggies.
Now add the clam juice and broth (enough to cover the veggies by a few inches), and turn the heat to low. Add the potatoes and a few shakes of salt. Sprinkle in the thyme, oregano, and pepper, and also add the bay leaf. Stir, and bring up to a simmer. Cover.
The simmering can go as long as you can stand it — I let it cook for about 25 minutes, until the potatoes were soft enough to eat (but not squishy). Then I added the clams and simmered for another 5 minutes. When it’s about done, you can add a bit more salt if you need to. I would also strongly encourage you to put on pajamas and slippers before eating this. Also, make sure to pull out that bay leaf — it’s a real doozy to chomp into.