Mediterranean Eggs: A Holiday Miracle

December 4, 2017

 

 

Welcome to December, Readers!

Did you survive the Thanksgiving aftermath? Are all of the leftovers consumed and done with? How’s that holiday shopping coming along?

More important…who is coming over to wrap all of the presents for me, because I absolutely dread that chore. I’m down with putting up the tree, baking holiday sweets, hanging garlands from various mantles in the house, but wrapping gifts? Not my favorite. Not even close.

When Mama was alive, she took pity on me and helped me wrap most of the holiday stash. I was so spoiled. She would arrive at my doorstep, we’d send the Minxes off to the movies or some other winter activity, we’d pour some wine, crank the Christmas music and then get crackin’.

I didn’t mind wrapping so much then, because my mother’s company made everything more festive and fun. She adored everything about Christmas and was an absolute expert and wrapping beautiful gifts. She could even handle those ribbons with the wire in them that always gave me fits. We’d end up in hysterics because my packages always looked like an addled, 3-toed sloth wrapped them and hers were a work of art.

Oh, I miss her.

It’s only my second Christmas without her and I just…miss her.

If it’s possible, the holidays seem even more lonesome this year than the year before. How can that be? Is it true or is it just a trick of the mind? Now that I think on it, last holiday season was tinged heavily with rotten, too. It’s not all bad, and it’s not all sad, it just is.

It’s different in ways I cannot expect and grief is a sneaky little shithead. I got all weepy in the grocery store last week when I spied one of those big mesh bags of un-cracked nuts in the produce section. We always had a nutcracker and a bowl of those nuts on the holiday table growing up, even though I never really could be bothered to consume them. Who cries over nuts they never really ate? Some maudlin lady in her late 40’s and too much time on her hands, that’s who.

Actually, I don’t have that much time on my hands lately, because there have been some significant changes around here.

As many of you know, we lost a family member last week.

Our rescue cat, Aria, was definitely an old Grand Dame (about 16 years old, we believe) and her health had been declining enough in recent months that we knew it was coming, but you’re never really ready for those things, are you?

It was awful having to break the news to the girls, and there were boatloads of tears. Miss D. took it particularly hard, because she loved Miss Kitty best. The feeling was mutual. If you have ever lived with cats, you know that you don’t really ever own a cat. A cat allows you to exist with it, and if you are very, very lucky there’s one certain human that is allowed a certain kinship with it, and in our household, that person was D.

It will be a while until Miss D. gets that sparkle back in her eyes. Losing a pet is hard, period.

I’m trying to give her space and breathing room and time to sit with the heavy. The Mother Hen part of me wants to alleviate her sadness as soon as possible, but the realist in me feels like it’s important that she let herself feel what she needs to, at her own speed.

Even Mozzy’s having to adjust to not having Aria around, although I think he’s okay with getting his bed back.

 

A few days after saying goodbye to Aria, a new distraction arrived. A teeny, needy, fluffy purr-machine of a distraction.

 

                                                       ~Meet our new foster kitten, Gus.

 

GusGus (as we are already calling him) will be with us for the holidays, as he’s barely a pound soaking wet and needs some extra medical attention before he can find his forever home. We’re happy to give him a soft and safe place to land for a while, and watching the rough-and-tumble antics of a kitten is good for the wounded soul.

And no, we’re not keeping him! Quit thinking that! Y’all will turn me into a crazy cat lady, and I am only semi-crazy. I’m going to keep convincing myself of this. On repeat.

 

As far as the rest of life (the non-animal related side) goes, we’ll be trucking along with all of the common holiday hubbub. There will be baking projects, and party attendance and school exams and lazy school-holiday mornings.

There might also be some lazy school-holiday dinners, at least for me and the girls, because my husband’s December work schedule is almost as whackout-nuts as his November work schedule. That’s sort of what happens to people who work in a hospital setting this time of year. Particularly in our neck of the woods. During the winter holidays, people come to the Rocky Mountains in droves. They swoop in and hit the ski slopes with abandon and crash on said slopes and someone’s got to look at the scans of those broken bones, eh?

S’okay. We’re used to it. We’ll breathe in January.

Until then, we’ll get quick and simple meals on the table and this one is good at ANY hour of the day, which I love. Wake up late? No problem, make this. Need lunch but don’t want to make a trip to the overcrowded market? Rummage through the refrigerator and pantry and make this. Sick of fatty, rich holiday food? Make this. Got a work-battered husband lurching in at 11 at night? Make him this.

This dish is a take on Shakshuka (shock-shoo-kuh), which is super fun to say so do it three times fast. It’s also called “Eggs in Purgatory,” because it involves gently simmering eggs and vegetables in a slightly spicy, bright red tomato sauce. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious. I like to make it feel a little extra special by throwing in some Mediterranean goodies like tangy feta cheese, juicy artichoke hearts and hearty black olives. The best part is piling the whole affair onto buttery, rustic slabs of ciabatta bread or dunking warm, pillowy pita through the sauce. Do not even think of low-carbing it on this dish, folks!! The slathering and the dunking of gluten is a necessity.

Is it peasant food? Kind of, but only in the best possible way. It’s sure prettier than most peasant dishes, by a mile.

 

                                                                                     ~Quite a stunner, am I right?

 

I like to plop a big skillet of it into the middle of the table and let people tear bread and slop around communally. It’s more festive that way. But feel free to do as you wish. You can serve it on separate plates if you like things more civilized. You can cut this recipe in half or double it, depending on how many people you’ve got loafing around. If you’re not into spice, skip the harissa and use smoked paprika instead–it will still be delicious. No feta in the house? Scatter Parmesan or mozzarella on it. No artichokes? Throw in leftover broccoli or some mushrooms. This dish is forgiving as all get out, it’s healthy and it’s quick.

Kind of a holiday gift to you.

 

Mediterranean Eggs: Shakshuka-Style

serves 2 generously, 4 modestly

 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup finely minced sweet onion

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons harissa (or you can substitute 1 tablespoon smoked paprika for less heat)

2-3 minced garlic cloves

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with juices or tomato puree (like Pom)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

dash of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers

1/4 cup sliced artichoke hearts

1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives or black olives

1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese

4 large eggs

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Warm pita bread or toasted ciabatta bread, for serving

 

Heat the oil in a medium skillet or flying pan on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and harissa; cook for one minute. Add the garlic and stir for about a minute. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if using); reduce heat to low and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the red peppers, artichoke hearts, olives and feta.

Using the back of a spoonn make 4 indentations in the tomato sauce. Crack an egg into each indentation. Cover the pan and cook for about 7 minutes more, until  the whites are just set. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with bread for dunking.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy Schmitt December 4, 2017 at 6:55 am

What an honest and beautiful expression of what loss really feels like especially at holiday times. I think that “first Christmas” can be filled with expectations of hurting so you brace yourself and try to work through it like survival …the next one brings back reminders that you hadn’t thought of (the bag of nuts) and the missed times you don’t get to spend that you treasured then and even treasure more now that they aren’t there.

In regards to losing a pet, there is nothing worse. It hurts and hurts and then hurts some more. They are a constant presence and then they are just gone and that is hard to come to terms with at any age. I’m glad you have Gus Gus to keep you all smiling…how could you not with that winking eye and big ball of fluff (and no, I am not trying to convince you that maybe this guy is perfect ;) ).

Thanks, as always for sharing.

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Lisa December 4, 2017 at 6:59 am

We love Shakshuka and yours looks mighty fine. Never tried tossing in olives or artichokes, but I definitely will.
Hope you find happiness and peace in the memories of your mamma and your Aria as well. It’s never easy to be without loved ones – the human or the furry kind. May your holidays be special!

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Annie December 4, 2017 at 10:49 am

This is going to my bday meal request from Mr. B! Looks perfect.

I was thinking of you this morning and missing you. Wish we could hang and wrap together. I hate wrapping too. Sending love your way!

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Kel December 11, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Congratulations on the newest member of your family! Gus will love being a companion for MozzMan. (Yes, I read what you wrote. I just don’t believe you for a nanosecond. :) )

I tried shakshuka once and Bear didn’t like it. I may need to revisit.

I do wish you all the love and peace your heart can hold. Losing a pet is so devastating, and I know you’ll never truly recover from the loss of your mom. It’s the legacy that those we love leave that means everything, but man, the pain it gives with it sucks.

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