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November 16, 2013
A fire in the fireplace, a pine-scented candle and a second cup of a tea encouragingly named "Sleepytime." Granted, it is an odd time to be up, but I look at it this way: if I were a young girl instead of a menopausal woman, I'd probably just be getting home right about now anyway. So nothing is lost. And it is already Saturday, one on which I have no obligations until late afternoon. I can sleep later if need be.

Gazing at the fire puts me in mind of my distant forebears. Probably somebody in prehistoric families had to stay awake while the others slept -- to tend the fire, to be on the lookout for marauding animals or even for other homo sapiens, up to no good under cover of darkness. I suppose the adults took turns, and did so unceremoniously: a grunt and a shove probably sufficed to signal the beginning of one's watch.

Some of them must have resented it, exhausted from the draining task of staying alive in their harsh world. But surely a few were poets at heart, treasuring the solitude and the time to contemplate the beauty of their surroundings. For their world was beautiful, as hard as it was. The darkness was velvet. The moon, almost full, was a pearl in the sky. The children sighed in their sleep and the dog barked softly, lost in a dream. The orange licks of flame from the fire and the deeper orange embers from which they seemed to spring were both hypnotic and cheering: There is enough wood to last the night. We are safe. We will not die of the cold tonight. Tomorrow the sun will rise and we will send the children out again to gather twigs for the fire tomorrow night, and the next night, and the night after that.

Some of these ancient night watchers must have stumbled upon what I stumble upon when I reflect upon my own safety -- knowing what we know about the world and its travails, our own security and well-being points us toward immense gratitude. Gratitude to whom? We each must determine that for ourselves. But we all must admit that human planning takes us only so far when we confront the inexorable power of nature: in the end, my security is less a matter of my good planning than of my good fortune. It could very easily have been otherwise for me on this dark night, as it was here at this time last year, as it is now for the men, women and children struggling to survive in the Philippines. They dream of a cup of clean water, a roof over their heads, of clean clothes on their backs. How blessed the ordinary things of life must seem to them as they lie awake and worry -- they must long for them piercingly. They must resolve never to take them for granted if they ever return. They send their longing into the dark night, and it becomes a prayer.

The dead of night is a fruitful time for such prayer. For those of us currently favored in the lottery of life, it is a time for pleasant homely thoughts about the sustaining of homely life. I myself did a mental check of the pantry about an hour ago and determined that I have all I need to make a lovely ribollita, the delicious pottage of a Tuscan winter. We grew our own cavolo nero this summer: it is the Tuscan kale traditional in this dish, but I see now that the unexpected appearance of kale on the A-list of trendy New York vegetables means that cavolo nero is no longer impossible to find in markets here. Good. I find myself impatient to begin making it now, but it's four in the morning. I will make it as soon as I awaken. The tea seems to be having its desired effect.

I will also visit Episcopal Relief & Development and have them send some of my money to the Philippines. I don't have much, but I have more than the people there have: compared to them, I am fabulously wealthy. And of those to whom much has been given, much is required.


Visit to read about our work in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. You can donate there, or send a check to ER&D, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY, 10017.


Ribollita is delicious, cheap and easy to make.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup diced onion,

1 cup diced carrot, diced

1/2 cup diced celery, diced

3 cups diced russet potatoes, diced -- I often leave these out

1/2 cup white beans, soaked in water overnight

6 cups shredded cavolo nero -- if you can't find it, use any kale

1 lb can diced tomatoes

1 sprig fresh thyme

6 to 8 cups chicken stock -- many if not most Tuscan cooks just use water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 to 10 slices stale bread. I never have any stale bread. Use fresh if you don't.

1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Set a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, carrots and celery to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, white beans and cavolo nero to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the tomatoes, thyme, stock, salt and pepper to the pan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender and begin to burst.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place a slice of bread in a bowl and pour 1 cup of the soup over the bread. Place the bowl in the oven and heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and the Parmesan. Sprinkle the top with extra black pepper, if desired.
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