Here on the Mendocino coast, at least on our little three acres, we are ready to bid a fond farewell to the year 2008. The garden sleeps, though little tips of green fava shoots have begun to poke their brave noses out of the damp and chilly soil. They hold the promise of a new start and a new year, for despite the cold and gloomy skies, spring will return, and with it, the promise of renewal. The naked apple trees stand guard in the front yard, their dark branches reaching up for the tiniest ray of sunlight amongst the shadows of winter. The water droplets glisten in the redwood trees like tiny lights, and the hills have finally donned their grass green cloaks.
This year has marked several milestones in our lives; the loss of Jesse, our aged German shepherd mix dog in November, the puppy Gianni’s second birthday in August, and the completion of my second year of self-employment with Assaggiare Mendocino and Stella Cadente Olive Oil. Of course, we cannot ignore external factors such as the maddeningly unpredictable weather, with a month of hard frost in April and no rain for most of November and December, the roller-coaster of fuel prices and the economy, and, of course, the Presidential election. I, for one, will be glad to leave behind the insistent voices of the media, the entire process having turned into some sort of macabre reality show. Our local elections were heated and prolonged, with run-offs and traded insults leading to feuds between neighbors and stolen campaign signs.
We look forward to resuming the quieter pace of living that beckoned to us almost ten years ago, when we first decided to leave the city. Much has changed in the intervening years, and yet we have no real regrets. The winter days are short, which provides perfect opportunity for long talks and slow cooked meals enjoyed in front of a warm fire in the woodstove. Hearty dishes that warm the soul as well as the stomach seem somehow out of place in warmer times. Our vegetable box from Noyo Hill Farms contains fennel, chard, beets, celery and cauliflower. I dig out the dried beans and chickpeas and the assertive spices of the Middle East to prepare highly seasoned vegetable soups and tagines.
This weekend, we will fire up the wood-burning pizza oven and gather with friends and neighbors to break bread together and toast the coming year. I prepare tubs of pizza dough, and everyone brings their favorite topping. Each guest takes an opportunity to design and cook a pizza to be shared with the assembled crowd. We began this tradition in our first year in this house, and now it has become a ritual of transition for all of us. In a basket near the fire are pens and small slips of paper; available to anyone who has a memory, a regret, a resentment, or anything else that they wish to let go for the coming year. The papers are reduced to wisps of smoke in the oven’s heat, disappearing up the chimney and into the darkening sky. We moisten our pizzas with the new olive oil, and raise our glasses in a toast with locally produced wines, juices and brews. For the moment, at least in our corner of the world, it is a happy and optimistic time. What is old is new again, the past is behind us, and the future calls us to the table to share in the gifts that we all have been given. The seasons change, the sun will return, and there is always something to be grateful for if we take the time to notice. There is an abundance of food and drink, a warm fire to gather around, friends, family, children and dogs, and the promise of another year, still unspoiled, to enjoy.