Advent 2014: Creamy Carrot and Yam Soup with Coconut Milk

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Emily is here for the weekend. Three kick-ass days of walks, snacks, gifts, and now we are sitting side-by-side at my kitchen table with our twin laptops. She's being good and working on her final paper for the quarter, and I'm being bad and blogging instead of working. Bliss.

My Dandelion Organics box (bless it!) includes carrots almost every week this time of year. While we munch on them pretty constantly, I'm having a surplus issue. The answer is soup. 

As you are aware (Like, "Shut-up-already-Sarah!" aware), I enjoy facing down a disorganized, overstuffed fridge and tackling it. So a few bunches of forgotten carrots makes me happy. 

I was telling Emily this morning that one of the principles of my life has been, "Take what is given." There are too many choices. Too many choices in the cereal aisle, too many choices of church denominations. Too many choices of water bottles at Target and self-help books at the bookstore. I have been blessed so many times by deciding to go the neighborhood school instead of considering all my options. Or by making a little backyard bouquet of branches instead of driving to the store for a gift. Or by rescuing the carrots instead of entertaining every recipe for soup that might be out there. Purposely limiting my choices has kept me sane.

And since it's Advent and I'm still into Mary, I think of her again: May it be to me as you have said. Not submission, but surrender. Not fighting against her life, but finding the mystery (or the carrots) that are already there. 

Creamy Carrot and Yam Soup with Coconut Milk

2 Tb. vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tb. favorite Thai curry paste (red or yellow)
3 Tb. fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tb. soy sauce
1.5 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large yam, peeled and chopped
1 15 oz. can coconut milk
juice of one lime
salt

In a large, heavy stockpot, heat vegetable oil. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and saute until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add curry paste and soy sauce and saute a couple minutes more, adding a splash of water if necessary.

Add carrots, yam, and water to cover. Simmer for abour 40 minutes until everything is very soft. Using a blender or food processor, puree in batches until very smooth. Return to the pot, add coconut milk, bring to a simmer, and add salt and lime juice to taste. 

Serve with toasted coconut or chopped cilantro if you want.

Curried Parsnip Soup with Coconut Milk

Roasted Parsnips

If you have root vegetables piling up (I might be in the minority here), you can do this:

Preheat your oven to 425.

Peel and roughly chop enough of them to fill up two regular-sized baking sheets (spaced as I did above so you get some roasty bits and don't end up steaming everyhing.) Here, I did about 10 large parsnips (you could do carrots or a mix of carrots and parsnips), 3 big yams (or 5ish smaller ones), and one large onion. Cut a squash in half (acorn, butternut, sugar pumpkin) and take out the seeds. (You could also do all squash or all yams.)  Rub everything with olive oil and salt. Turn the squash upside down and roast everything together until super soft, about 45 minutes depending on your oven.

In a couple batches, put roasted veggies in your blender and food processor with enough water to make everything run smoothly. Pour puree into a big soup pot Add 1 Tb. curry powder, salt (don't skimp), juice from a large lime, one can of coconut milk, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, and more water to your liking. (I don't like my pureed soups too thick.) Bring to a simmer and taste, adding more of anything and maybe adding some cayenne if you're a spice lover.

Serve just like it is or with yogurt, chopped cilantro, shredded coconut, or thinly sliced green onions on top.

Tomato Carrot Soup

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If you're around me for more than 2 minutes, you'll probably hear me talk about Monday Night Dinner. When we moved up to Bellingham 2 years ago, I could foresee a problem. Though we strategically bought a house 4 minutes from my parents, I wondered how often we'd see one another. Coordinating, though I'm good at it, is the bane of my existence. Propose a set of dates and times, fiddle around with who can do what, set a date, remind everyone when the dates gets close, reschedule because someone gets sick, and do the whole thing all over again. Agh! Hell!

So I proposed dinner once a week. Weekends? Forget it. Everyone's too busy. Thursday is the new Friday, so Thursdays are out. Everything else seems to be scheduled on a Tuesday or Wednesday so Mondays were the obvious choice. And to say "Every Second and Fourth" or other such nonsense seemed too much to keep track of. And it's not a potluck. No retirees around here. Everyone's coming straight from work.

So were were doing that with my parents for a few months when my father-in-law (who lives TWO minutes away) caught wind of it and started coming. Then my sister-in-law and her family said, "What about us?" Then my father-in-law's partner and her girls said, "What about us?" So we are now 12. I reserve the right to cancel whenever I'm getting home too late or otherwise overwhelmed, so we average about 3 Mondays/month.

As you might imagine, the key here is to keep it simple. Stupidly simple. A dozen people on a weeknight with an 8:30 bedtime for the kids means the following:

  • Buffet style. Always.
  • I know it should mean paper plates, but it doesn't. I've asked everyone else to do dishes. Cooks privilege, right?
  • Nothing too spicy. 
  • Customizable--endless "build-your-own" menu items like rice bowls, burritos, spring rolls. We have rice and beans a lot.
  • Shopping and prep on the weekend. Not too much prep, though, which would break the Stupidly Simple rule.
  • Huge batches. Huge. Usually with a seasonal salad (last night it was kale, slivered raw fennel, dried figs, and apple) and some kind of starch in case the kids don't like the main dish. Rice saves the day always.
  • No appetizers and no dessert unless someone else decides to show up with them.

And yes, soup. So much soup! This is why it was invented. Beef barley, minestrone, Thai chicken, tortilla. And Tomato Carrot. I always have canned tomatoes around and about 6 bags of half-finished carrots floating around in my produce drawers. It doesn't matter how dried out they get--they'll still make great soup! Serve this with grilled cheese sandwiches and some bitter greens and everyone will be happy.

And what do I get out of Monday Night Dinners? Besides a teensy bit of exhaustion? A lot. Loretta and her cousin Hazel disappear into the basement and play all night. Wyatt plays indoor hoops with Yancey's dad and hangs around the adults making (very funny) jokes. I don't have to leave my house. I can see almost all my family in one place once a week, which is a miracle. I get lots of thanks and appreciation, and I know the walls of this house soak up the noise, laughter, and cooking steam. Life is way too short not to see the people you love.

Tomato Carrot Soup
This soup can be made vegan--use water instead of chicken stock and leave out the cream. Or non-dairy--use the chicken stock but leave out the cream. I think the cream gives it a lovely richness, but if you cook the veggies long enough and have a powerful blender, you'll get almost the same creaminess without it. 

Big glug of olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 or 4 large carrots (or the equivalent baby carrots), peeled and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
2 28 oz. cans canned whole tomatoes with juice
Enough chicken stock or water to cover everything by about 2"
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4-1 c. heavy cream (optional) 

Heat olive oil in a large heavy stockpot. Add onions until getting soft, 7 or 8 minutes, then add garlic, carrots, and bay leaf and sauté for about 5 minutes more. Add tomatoes and chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially cover, and cook until everything is soft, about 30 minutes. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cream if desired and warm. Serve with a swirl of cream on top.

Tomato Barley Soup

Tomato barley soup

Three generations. Riding bikes in the sun. 

After our bike ride with Grammy, Poppy, and the kids yesterday, I told Yancey, "This is a very short window. The oldest are healthy, the youngest can ride a 2-wheeler, and the 10 year-old still wants to be with us." A little blip on the screen, really. And all the more precious for it.

After our ride, we came back to the house and grandparents played cards with kids while I made dinner. We have people over a couple times a week, and I usually plan ahead more than I did last night. Nothing prepped, chopped, or even dreamed up. (I did have a pitcher of Sanity Sangria in the fridge, which buys a lot of time. That came into being as it always does--two half-finished, very mediocre bottles of red wine. A little triple sec and some fruit juice and a miraculous transformation ensues.)

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Enter Refrigerator Soup, though I've named it something else here. A vegetable soup like this: 

  1. Is a wonderful way to pack in oodles of veggies.
  2. Makes great leftovers (not that I have ever devoted any time to thinking about that).
  3. Is endlessly variable.
  4. Makes a pretty picture.
  5. Kind of demands biscuits. I made a divine variation, which I'll post later this week.

Loretta only ate half her bowl, but that's alright. Look at this face. It's hard to be tough about anything.

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Tomato Barley Soup
The great thing about a soup like this is that it's almost impossible to mess it up. Don't go light on the salt, taste as you go, and have fun cleaning out your fridge!

 1/4 c. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped or thinly sliced
2 large carrots, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
2 cans chicken stock (or water)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 head of small cabbage, finely shredded
Few big handfuls of chopped fresh kale 
1/2 cup quick-cooking barley (or 1 cup cooked grain, like rice)
big handful fresh basil, coarsely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
lots of coarse salt
pepper 

Heat up the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add carrots, red pepper, and garlic, and sauté until soft, about 10 more minutes. 

Add chicken stock and tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Stick an immersion blender in and puree about 1/4 of the soup to give it more body.

Add cabbage, kale, and barley and cook for 10 minutes. Add basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and add more of anything to taste (including more water if you want your soup thinner).

Serve unadorned or with lemon zest, parmesan, or more basil on top.

Kimchi Soup (and my essential Asian pantry)

Kimchi Jigae

For some reason--the vitamin D, lighter evenings, more kimchi--things are looking up around here. In spite of the unrelenting, almost menacing rain, I'm finding it a little easier to face the day and even dare to dream about summer. Wyatt and Yancey both said to me today, "Don't get your hopes up! It might rain all summer." And then Wyatt quoted me back to me: "Peace ends where expectations begin." Damn that kid. I can't keep up with him. (And yes, Amity, I am totally stealing that awesome gem from you and your uncle. It's already helped me out of a lot of scrapes this week.)

These are the kinds of days when my whole body just wants to be warm. (I know I sound like I'm 80.) If I'm not drinking a hot beverage, I'm scheming about how to get a few minutes in the steam room at the YMCA, stay in bed longer, or make soup. Especially this soup. 

This is a classic Korean soup, and there are more complicated and caloric ways to make it. It's often made with pork belly (yum!), but the point for me is usually to have something quick and healthy. I can make it for myself in 10 minutes for a working lunch at home. It takes that long to make a sandwich, for gracious sake.

Of course, this would be impossible without my pantry. When Armageddon comes, feel free to hole up with us. We might have brown rice and kimchi for months on end, but we won't run out of food. If we're really desperate, we could probably live on Asian condiments for a week or two. 

Here's my dream (Westernized) Asian pantry. Sheepishly, I should admit that this dream is a reality most the time. Even though we've moved out of our Asian-Market-on-Every-Corner Seattle neighborhood, I have my ways: 

  • Sesame oil and sesame seeds (white and black)
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • Toasted seaweed sheets
  • Sriracha (hot sauce)
  • Sambal (hot sauce)
  • Furikake, a few different kinds (Japanese seasoning shakers, usually containing seaweed, sesame seeds, and dashi)
  • Miso paste
  • Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang)
  • Peanut or vegetable oil
  • Fresh ginger and garlic
  • Napa kimchi
  • White and brown rice
  • Rice noodles
  • Coconut milk
  • Red curry paste 
  • Limes
  • Peanuts

Most of these things keep indefinitely at room temp or in the fridge once opened. If you live in the Seattle area, H Mart in Lynnwood will make you lose your mind. They have an entire aisle of Korean hot paper paste, about 10 million kinds of fresh noodles (soba, udon, etc.), and their cooler of braising greens will make you cross-eyed. If you live in an area that doesn't have Asian markets, Cash and Carry is great for pantry items--a big bottle of sweet chili sauce, for instance, at a fraction of the price the "Asian" aisle at the grocery store will charge.

Wherever you are, I hope Spring is advancing. Tell that rascal not to skip over Bellingham.

Kimchi Jigae
Serves 2. Heat 1 Tb. peanut or vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan. Briefly saute 1 minced garlic clove. Add 2 c. coarsely chopped napa kimchi with its juice, 2 Tb. Korean hot pepper paste, 2 Tb. miso paste,  and 2 Tb. rice vinegar. Stir constantly and saute for another minute. Add 12 oz. softest tofu you can find and enough water to barely cover everything. Simmer for 10 minutes until warmed through. If you want to get fancy, you can add lots of fresh veggies--spinach, kale, or chard at the end, or finely sliced zucchini, cabbage, or julienned carrots at the beginning. Garnish with sliced green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup
Nothing new over here in the Leftoverist household. How can it be? That nothing changes in my life, but I am so full of things to say? And soup again? That's really nothing new. If I were to document all the soups produced in this kitchen, you'd really grasp the full meaning of "leftovers." And you might not keep reading.

But stay tuned for this one. My mother-in-law has been making this for a long time, and it easily wins the prize for easy, fast, nutritious, and mass appeal. Chalk another one up for beans.

P.S. I follow a lot of food blogs. One thing I notice (and participate in) is lots of sweets and side dishes. Or main dishes with too many steps (or too many expensive ingredients in "30-minute meals"). When I find something like this soup, I hang onto it. With everything I know about food, I'm still desperate to answer that perennial question--What to have for dinner tonight?!

P.S.S. I'm thrilled to announce that I am now regularly featured on The Christian Science Monitor's food and culture page, Stir it Up! I'm honored to be part of this venerable news source and spreading the Way of Leftovers even further.

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup
Another plug for Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. Delicious! Cheap! Regular frozen corn will do just fine, though. And if you've cooked up some beans yourself, you can, of course, use those instead of canned ones.


2 Tb. olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. chili powder (ancho is my favorite)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tb. sugar
coarse salt
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can kidney beans
1 14 oz. can pinto beans
2 cups frozen corn
water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
sour cream, diced avocado, crushed tortilla chips, and more cilantro for garnish

In a large stockpot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and sugar with a couple tablespoons of water to form a paste. Add paste to onions along with tomatoes, beans, and corn. Add enough water to cover by 1", bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 20 minutes, until flavors meld. Taste and add more salt if you want.  Add chopped cilantro at the end and serve with garnishes.

Analog Sundays

Pantry Minnestrone

So far, so good. A few weeks ago, I resolved to not open the computer on Sundays. It's amazing to wake up in the morning knowing I won't be beholden to anyone's urgent email or sucked into reading Facebook updates. Emily has been talking a lot about Sabbath lately, so I suppose it's rubbing off. One of her current favorite quotes from Sabbath by Wayne Muller:

"I have sat on dozens of boards and commissions with many fine, compassionate, and generous people who are so tired, overwhelmed, and overworked that they have neither the time nor the capacity to listen to the deeper voices that speak to the essence of the problems before them.  Presented with the intricate and delicate issues of poverty, public health, community well-being, and crime, our impulse, born of weariness, is to rush headlong toward doing anything that will make the problem go away.  Maybe then we can finally go home and get some rest.  But without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in the problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief.  Born of desperation, it often contains enough fundamental inaccuracy to guarantee an equally perplexing problem will emerge as soon as it is put into place.  In the soil of the quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable."

I love how he contrasts our default problem-solving methods with "quiet wisdom." I haven't been trying to solve world poverty on Sundays, but I sure have felt some of that quiet strength.

Space Needle

And I've been making soup. A quick fridge-cleaning produces a pot to share at church, and the kitchen volunteers are always happy to receive it. Last week, I used leftover chickpea curry. I dumped it in a pot with leftover rice, added water, another can of tomatoes, and fresh spinach. The only problem, of course, is being asked for the recipe--"Make too much chickpea curry, and leave it forgotten in the fridge for a few days. Pull it out, find some cooked rice in the back, and see what you can do it with it."

This week, the bits in the pantry and produce drawer were much more accommodating if, for instance, the cook were a food blogger and wanted to scrounge up something to keep her faithful readers on the line.

P.S. Seattle friends, when was the last time you were at Volunteer Park? The leaves are turning, all the lovers and families were out yesterday afternoon, and I even got Yancey to take a picture of ME, for once. Oh--and those rascally children of mine.
Volunteer Park

Pantry Minestrone
These were the things I happened to have around, but you could certainly use lots of other things--white beans instead of kidney and garbanzo, shredded cabbage or spinach instead of kale, carrots and celery.

Couple big glugs of olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow or red pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, finely chopped
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
couple handfuls chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and lemon thyme)
1 bay leaf
pinch red pepper flakes
1 or 2 parmesan rinds
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 14-oz. can kidney beans, drained
3/4 c. small elbow macaroni
1/4 c. fine bulgar
1 bunch fresh kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
water
juice of one small lemon

Saute olive oil in a big stockpot. Add onion, garlic, diced pepper, and zucchini. Saute for five minutes, then add salt, pepper fresh herbs, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes. Saute for a couple minutes, then add parmesan rind, tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, and enough water to cover by a couple inches. Bring to a simmer, then add macaroni and bulgar. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until pasta is tender. Take out a couple cupfuls (or stick an immersion blender in there) and puree. Add puree back to soup, add chopped kale and lemon juice, and stir. Add more water along the way at any point, and taste at the end, adding more salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh herbs, or lemon juice to taste. Serve with chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

 

Lentil, Barley, and Coconut Soup

lentil barley soup

Of course I can't write about soup in June without giving the giant disclaimer that it's felt like March around here. I've talked to lots of people this week who report feeling low. I think we've been teased--a few great days in May, getting our hopes up for summer, then sucker-punched with this constant, COLD drizzle. It's good, however, for distracted gardeners who don't think to water their vegetable starts until they are barely hanging on. (I've heard about those kinds of gardeners. Can't imagine.)

I had to make a quick soup yesterday for a potluck tonight. Never a wasted moment in a mother's life. These are the sorts of soups for which I would never think of running to the store. It's got to come from the pantry. A jar of lentils, can of coconut cream, onions and garlic, the ubiquitous canned tomatoes. Presto. There were definitely more exciting things at the potluck--a raw corn salad with avocado (delicious, Steve!), an ambrosial apple cake Dara made, Geoff and Sheila's perfectly roasted chicken. So I'd never say this soup stole the show, but it fit the "vegetarian main dish in a flash" mandate and was pretty damn good. The Leftoverist still has it in her (in case you were wondering).

P.S. Any recommendations for good summer reads? A page-turner that's not too sad, but not total chick-lit? Fiction or non-fiction, maybe a female protagonist. Descriptions of food in the text are a plus. Deal-breaker: cannot include anything about kids being abused. I'm not in denial about that happening, but don't want to spend my whole summer sobbing into kleenex.

P.S.S. I have plenty of kitchen failures I don't write about here. It's a personal preference, I guess. I've noticed I don't particularly like reading about other bloggers' failures. For Pete's sake, I want recipes that work! But here's a few failures for you--Mark Bittman's whole wheat quick bread from Food Matters. Passable flavor, but an absolute murder weapon. Woe is she who gets hit over the head with that thing. And I tried making Italian pasta in my wok--way too much stuff in there, all steaming up to a pretty boring mess.

Lentil, Barley, and Coconut Soup
You can leave out the barley here and just use more lentils if you want, and you can leave out the coconut milk and sub more water (though you probably won't get as many compliments).

2 c. lentils, rinsed
1/2 c. barley
olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece fresh ginger, finely chopped or minced
2 tsp. good quality garam masala
salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
juice of one lime
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can coconut cream or 1 can coconut milk + 4 Tb. brown sugar
tomatoes and cilantro for garnish

In a large stockpot, saute onion in olive oil until softening, about five minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and garam masala and saute for about 5 minutes more, adding a splash of water if onions are sticking.

Add lentils, barley, and enough water to cover by about 3". Bring to a boil, then turn down to a lively simmer until lentils and barley are tender, 35-40 minutes, adding more water if needed. Add coconut cream, tomatoes, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. If you'd like your soup to be thinner, add a bit more water. It will thicken as it sits, too.

To serve, garnish with chopped tomato and cilantro.

Mushroom Bulgar Soup with Leeks and Fennel

mushroom bulgar soup

This delicious soup was influenced by what was lying around (of course), this great primer on bulgar, and my recent reading of Mark Bittman's Food Matters. Permit me a small soapbox for each one.

1) What lies around. In the last week, I purchased several bits of produce for which I had no specific use. At the end of the week, I had a large fennel bulb and pound of mushrooms from Pike Place Market, and two tight, beautiful leeks from the Columbia City Farmer's Market. They were taking up space in my fridge, which is a problem around here. The only other fridge I've seen that even remotely resembles mine is my Mom's. Stuffed to the gills, everywhere tupperware I own in use all the time. So I'm always motivated to clear more space in there, and cooking things down is the surest way. But my soapbox-worthy point here is this: Buying small amounts of produce  you have no plan for helps make you a more creative cook. There might be a recipe for a soup like this out in the universe--I haven't Googled it. But the fun for me is in seeing what's possible. And I can't do that if everything in my fridge is allotted for a specific meal. I realize everyone can't cook like this--it might be beyond stressful for you to improvise. But 1) I made this on a Sunday afternoon when I had some time and 2) The more you cook, the better you'll get at making things up.

2) Bulgar. I have loved and used bulgar for a long time, but it fell off my radar for awhile. It's back in favor, big time. For fine bulgar, all it needs is moistening, and it's ready for salads. To make a delicious side dish as a substitute for rice, saute 1 c. coarse bulgar in a bit of olive oil in a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 c. water, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover for 10-15 minutes, until the grain has absorbed all the water and is soft. Wrap a towel around the saucepan lid, put it back on the pot, and let the bulgar steam for 10 minutes. Take the lid off, fluff with a fork, and add some coarse salt and whatever else you want. So much quicker than brown rice (and more delicious, I think).

3) Food Matters. I'm really quite hopeless at giving systematic reviews of things like restaurants or books. What I can do is tell you about my experience of them. Mark Bittman's book didn't open up any new territory to me, per se, but it was a great shot-in-the-arm. It reminded me how much better I feel when I fill up on vegetables. And here's something to think about: our bodies hardly know the difference between white flour and sugar! So more whole grains in this house, even less meat, less eggs and dairy. MB would never villainize those things, but he follows a "flexitarian" diet, which is plants and whole grains for breakfast and lunch, then pretty much whatever he wants for dinner. That's similar to the way I eat, but the last few months have seen me slipping quite a bit. And I've felt worse because of it. Didn't I warn you that I'd be dragging you along with all my resolutions?

Alright. Down from the soapbox. This soup is quick, filling, and good for these bodies of ours that could use some kindness. Sub onions for the leeks or leave out the fennel. Add some finely chopped greens, like kale, chard, or spinach. Or experiment with whatever it is in your fridge that's calling out to you. Do it!

P.S. I often get questions like, "Do your kids eat this kind of stuff?!" I've talked about that here. They both ate all their soup last night. They didn't love it, but they suffered through. Good enough for me.

Mushroom Bulgar Soup with Leeks and Fennel

2 big leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (I used my mandoline)
5 big gloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
Lots of extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan rind, if you have one
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
2 Tb. fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
water
1/2 c. medium or coarse bulgar

In a large stockpot, heat 3 Tb. olive oil. Add leeks,fennel, and garlic, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add parmesan rind, sliced mushrooms and saute for 10-15 minutes longer, adding salt, pepper, thyme, and more olive oil if needed. Don't be afraid of the oil here--it's the only fat in the soup.

Add water to cover vegetables by about 1 1/2". Add bulgar, bring to a boil, then simmer until bulgar is tender, about 10 minutes. Take 3 ladles of soup and puree them in a blender or food processor, then add back to the pot. Adjust seasoning to taste, and serve with grated parmesan on top if you like.

Soup will get thicker as it sits. If you're eating it the next day, you might want to thin it with a bit of water.

Ancho Parsnip Soup

ancho parsnip soup

The story of this soup is not romantic. I wasn't wandering through the farmer's market with my hand-woven basket. I wasn't talking with vendors about their wares or adjusting my straw hat against the spring sun.

I was cleaning the fridge. But you probably already knew that.

This silly pound of parsnips had been knocking around the produce drawer for at least two months. Annoyingly, they would not go bad, which would have given me an excuse to compost them. They were firm as ever, and never seemed to fit into my meal plan. And darn those 4 sweet potatoes next to them. Sick of looking at them.

I didn't engage in many noble pursuits this week. I watched too much TV. The clean laundry is still piled up in the basement. I didn't participate in the Immigrants' Rights March downtown or offer to watch anybody's children. But here's what I did--I rescued these parsnips and sweet potatoes. I made something delicious out of them. Surely that counts for something.

Ancho Parsnip Soup
You can sub yams for the sweet potatoes or use a combo. Some carrots thrown in here would be delicious, too. I happen to have some wonderfully smoky ancho chile powder around here. If all you have is regular chile powder, it will work, but might not taste quite as magical. You average supermarket chile powder is a mixture of chile,cumin, and other stuff.

6 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 2" sticks
4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 garlic cloves
olive oil
coarse salt
2 Tb. ancho chile powder
1/2 c. cream
juice from one large lime
1/4 c. orange juice

Heat oven to 450.

On a large baking sheet, toss parsnips, garlic, and sweet potatoes with lots of olive oil, salt and ancho chile powder. Roast until edges are caramelized and everything is soft, 35-40 minutes. Stir once, halfway through. Take out and let cool down a bit.

In two batches, puree vegetables in a food processor, adding about 1/2 water each time to loosen. Puree until mixture is very smooth, about 2 minutes.

In a large pot, mix puree with cream, lime juice, orange juice, and more water according to your preference. I don't like my pureed soups to be too thick, but it's easier to add more water than to make it thicker, so do it slowly. Add  more salt to taste and more chile powder if you want. Serve with a swirl of cream or sour cream on top.

Soba with Yams and Cabbage

soba

I made macaroni and cheese the other night (you're welcome, kids), and Yancey actually pushed it away and ate only salad.  He said, "Babe, don't be mad at me."  What's a wife and mother to do?  Be mad, of course!  He's on the healthy firefighter kick, and when I unveiled soba with cabbage last night (you're welcome, Yancey), the kids whined and ate one ounce each.  Except they didn't say, "Babe, don't be mad."  Kids aren't known for being other-centric.

If you're hoping I have some brilliant solution to this conundrum, you'd better surf on over to another blog. Lots of you comment, wondering things like, "Do your kids eat all the brussel sprouts you make?" (No!) or "How did that collard green pizza go over with your kids?"  (Horribly! ) They hate collard green pizza and brussel sprouts in fish sauce.  So I don't have a solution, but I do have a few bits to say on the subject (surprise).

Expectations. I don't expect my kids to like cauliflower more than they like chicken nuggets.  Of course they like chicken nuggets more.  I don't make them feel bad about that, I don't take it personally, and I let them have chicken nuggets when I'm feeling extra nostalgic about them being teenagers one day.

Taking the long view. Yancey grew up on a diet of ground beef in all forms (tacos, meatloaf, shepherds pie, hamburgers) and an occasional iceberg lettuce salad.  Now he's one of the most adventurous eaters I know.  This gives me hope.

Going for exposure, not consumption. Whatever Yancey and I eat, I put some on Wyatt and Loretta's plates.  They have to try it--if only just the tiniest little bite--and then they call fill up on rice or whatever other tasteless white thing happens to be around.

Serving something they'll go ape for at least once a week. Making pizza, potstickers and rice, or BLT's once a week buys me a lot of goodwill with my kids.  And I draw from that bank account a lot more than they'd like.  When Wyatt whines about soba and cabbage, I say, "Wyatt, I don't feel one bit sorry for you.  We had pizza last night."

And if you decide only to please yourself, make these delicious, healthy noodles.   And maybe eat them alone.

P.S. Another picture of Loretta I've been meaning to show off.  She turns three this week, and I keep thinking about this time in 2007--pregnant; just finished with grad school and exhausted; waiting to start the next chapter of my life.  She is simultaneously the biggest rascal and sweetest treasure in my life (even though she does complain about cabbage for dinner).

3 years of Loretta-ness

Soba with Yams and Cabbage
Serves 4.  Make this Asian broth or this one.  Keep it hot.  In another large saucepan, boil some water.  Peel 2 medium yams or one large one, and cut them into 1/2" cubes.  Boil them until just tender, 4 or 5 minutes.  Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same water, boil 8 oz. soba (buckwheat) noodles until tender, 7 or 8 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold water. Get out 4 large soup bowls.  Arrange 1/2 c. thinly sliced cabbage, a handful of the cooked yams, a handful of snow peas, some thinly sliced mushrooms, and a mound of noodles in each.  Pour hot broth over, and garnish with strips of toasted seaweed, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes.

Faux Pho

faux pho

I once looked up how to make the real pho--Vietnamese noodle soup.  Forget it.  The agony in getting the broth to be clear, the boiling of soup bones.  Our Vietnamese neighbors have us over for pho every few months.  Huang gets bored on a weekend afternoon (I never see him quit working), cooks up a huge vat of pho, buys a case of Heineken, and knocks on our door. Whatever we are doing, we drop it. I don't care if the Commander In-Chief himself was visiting.  We'd leave him and the beautiful first lady for Huang's pho.  When I asked Huang how to make it, his son translated for us--"Oh, it's easy.  You just get such-and-such spice packet from such-and-such Asian grocery, and you boil it with such-and-such bones for 4 hours." Like I said, forget it.

Unless you happen to borrow Lynne Rossetto Kasper's How to Eat Supper from your mother's infinite cooking library and find her pho recipe.  Then, by all means, attempt it.  Because it's easy, delicious beyond description, and your children will slurp it up.

Disclaimer:  when I say "easy," that doesn't mean lots of chopping and washing isn't involved.  Vietnamese and Thai food, with their crazy variety of fresh vegetables and herbs, require lots of prep.  So this soup isn't technical, but it took me about 45 minutes to make. In my book, that's not fast.  And I don't think it's worth making without the "table salad"--fresh Asian herbs, crunchy bean sprouts.  It meets my dream meal criteria of hot and cold together; soft and crunchy.

We still have our favorite pho haunt in the neighborhood, and this will never take the place of that.  But it's an incredibly worthy faux pho.  I'd love to hear how it turns out for you.

Faux Pho
Serves two, but doubles easily.  And more preamble here.  I used fresh mint, Asian basil, and cilantro for the herbs, all found for cheap at one of the ubiquitous Asian markets in my neighborhood.  If you don't have gems like that where you live, lots of cilantro would do.  Use whatever medium-width rice noodles you like.  Just make sure to prepare them according to the package instructions. Some require just soaking in hot water, and others need boiling.  Even if you have bad luck and they end up all stuck together, they should separate just fine under the influence of boiling broth.  And follow Lynne's instructions to broil your veggies on a piece of foil--it worked beautifully.  It will look like a lot of onions, but once they simmer in the broth, they soften and begin to disappear.  You need a huge squeeze of lime once you're at the table--the soup won't taste like it's supposed to without it.  And one more thing--her recipe calls for very thin slices of beef round or chicken breast, dropped raw into the boiling broth and cooked at the table.  We used medium-soft tofu instead.

For broth:
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-3" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 whole cloves
1 whole star anise, bashed a bit to bruise it
fresh ground black pepper
Four 14 oz. cans chicken broth
2 Tb. brown sugar
2 ts. Asian fish sauce

For soup:
6 to 8 oz. linguine-style rice noodles
6 to 8 oz. medium-soft tofu, cut into small cubes or thin slices

For table salad:
10 springs fresh cilantro
6 to 8 sprigs fresh Thai basil
6 to 8 sprigs fresh mint
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Generous handful bean sprouts
1 large lime, cut into wedges

Sauces
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha sauce

Position an oven rack 4-6" from broiler and preheat.  Double a very large piece of foil.  Scatter the onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, anise, and a generous grind of black pepper on the foil.  Broil for five minutes.  You want the onion to have some toasted edges, and the spices should be fragrant.  Scrape everything into a big pot.

Add the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and bring to a gentle bubble.  Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles according to package directions.  When they're cooked, rinse them with cold water, and divide between two large bowls.

Arrange table salad ingredients on a large platter and set in the middle of the table along with sauces.

To serve, top the noodles with tofu.  Ladle the bubbling broth into the bowls.  Top with whatever you like once you're seated--don't forget a whole bunch of fresh lime juice.

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs in Spicy Broth

turkey zucchini meatballs in broth

Gourmet magazine is really gone.  I kept hoping (along with a million other readers) that someone would rescue it from the brink, swoop into their corporate NYC headquarters with a bunch of cash and magnanimity, and keep us all afloat.  No such luck.  The publishing world has substituted Bon Appetit for the remainder of my subscription.  As much as I'll always miss Gourmet (a big part of my life for 30 years), I still have recipes and photos in my mailbox, and I'm not grieving enough to send the replacement issues back (for Pete's sake).

Especially after making this soup.  I realized I haven't been trying new recipes lately.  I've been improvising with fridge contents; pulling out old standbys; and getting a little bored.  When I cook something for the first time, I actually follow the recipe--sort of. One can witness The Leftoverist with her measuring spoons, double-checking the spattered magazine.  I suppose it's like  my favorite jazz metaphor--you can't improvise until you know the score.  Once the soup is made roughly according to the directions, I'll add other things to taste or file away the recipe for improvisation later.  I have a kind of muscle memory when it comes to cooking--my body will remember what my brain can't.

This soup is warming, healthy (especially since I subbed turkey for beef), and satisfying in every way.  The crunchy tortilla strips and fresh cilantro on top compliment the soft, garlicky meatballs, and you'll need nothing else for dinner--no bread, salad, or other such nonsense.  That's a New Year's phenomenon I can toast to.

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs in Spicy Broth
Serves six hungry people.  Have I mentioned before how much I love rice in soup?  Yum.  The original recipe called for ground beef and beef broth--I thought chicken stock and ground turkey sounded better.  And I spiced it up quite a bit--a lot more garlic, some salsa from the fridge.  I had some delicious chile powder from New Mexico (thank you, Ellen!), but you can use whatever blended stuff you have around.  The fried tortilla strips sort of make the soup (in my un-humble opinion), but you can use purchased tortilla chips. You'll need your biggest soup pot for this.

For meatballs:
1 large jalapéno, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
3/4 c. coarsely grated zucchini
1/3 c. finely chopped onion
1/3 c. panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tb. ground cumin
1 1/2 ts. dried oregano, crumbled (preferably Mexican)
1 ts. coarse kosher salt

Soup
2 Tb. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 Tb. chile powder
3 ts. ground cumin
2 qts. chicken stock
1 ts. dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 1/2 c. coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 c. long grain white rice
1/2 c. purchased fresh salsa (I like TJ's Salsa Especial)
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
juice of one lime

Toppings
4 Tb. vegetable oil
6 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4" strips
chopped fresh cilantro

For meatballs: Gently mix all ingredients.  Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1" meatballs.  Arrange on a cookie sheet and put in the fridge.

For soup: Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic, and saute until tender, about 3 minutes.  Add chile powder and cumin; stir one minute.  Add broth and oregano; bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to very low and cook 10 minutes.

Stir zucchini, rice and salsa into broth.  Increase heat to medium and drop in meatballs, one at a time.  Return soup to simmer and cook gently until meatballs are cooked through, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat to avoid boiling, about 20 minutes.  Add cilantro, lime juice, and salt to taste.  Add more lime juice if desired.  If the soup needs a litte thinning (in your expert opinion), add a splash of water.

For toppings: Heat vegetable oil in heavy skillet over medium heat for 1 minutes.  Add half of tortilla strips.  Cook until crisp, gently separating with tongs, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer strips to paper towels to drain.  Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, adding more oil if needed.

To serve: Ladle soup and meatballs into bowls.  Top with tortilla strips and cilantro.

Meyer Lemon Lentils

meyer lemon lentils

I have been in heaven with a whole bowl of Meyer lemons on my counter, sent from Barb's tree in northern California. Honestly, better than winning the lottery if you're me.

One of the most delicious refreshers in the world:  Squeeze half a Meyer lemon into a tall glass.  Fill with ice, top with seltzer water. You would not believe how much juice one gets from these things.  Am I rubbing it in too much?  Lay off?  I will, after I talk about this soup.

Two nights ago, I had exactly 45 minutes between coming home and leaving again.  45 minutes to plan and make lunch for my friend Cheri, and no time to go to the grocery store.  I have this acquaintance...I think she calls herself The Leftoverist or something silly like that.  I think that's a weird name, but apparently she can go through someone's cupboards at a moment like this and emerge with a plan.  I facebooked her (I heard she's always on there), opened my cupboard, and gave her an inventory.  When she heard about the big bag of lentils, she said they cook really fast and would be safe for vegan friends like Cheri.  After getting wind of the Meyer lemon bounty around here, I thought she might get off her computer and drive on over, but I guess she has some boundaries.

It's a good thing I made some quick soup. Tentative dinner plans with Emily got confirmed later in the evening, so I had this soup for lunch at Cheri's house, then for dinner when Emily came over.  There isn't even one tangy little lentil left.  I think that would make the Leftoverist happy.

Meyer Lemon Lentils
If someone didn't send you a case of Meyer lemons, things aren't as dire as they might seem.  Costco carries them!  And they're completely affordable--a clamshell of 6 or 8 for around $5.  If Costco is already part of your life (a blessing AND a curse, really), I suggest buying some for a winter treat.  Or, you can use half lemon and half orange juice here--just make sure it's fresh.  My rosemary plants are the definition of hardy, still thriving after our cold snap.  My thyme, however is gone for the year.  The fresh lemon thyme in this soup came from a rare shopping trip to Whole Foods, where I discovered really luscious fresh herbs in cello for around $2.25--not bad, considering thyme has gone into everything this week and I still have some left.  I served a scoop of rice in the middle of this soup for the kids--that's another Leftoverist trick, I think.

3 Tb. olive olive
1 small onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
2 c. lentils, washed
2 bay leaves
2 Tb. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 Tb. fresh lemon thyme, finely chopped
juice of one Meyer lemon + 1 Tb. finely grated rind (OR juice of 1/2 lemon + juice of 1/2 orange)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add onions and garlic and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add lentils, bay leaves, and enough water to cover by about 2".  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low boil, skimming foam occasionally and adding more water as necessary.  You don't want the soup to be too thick--I like enough water so the lentils float around in there versus stick together in a glob.

When lentils are almost tender (about 25 minutes unless they're really old), add fresh herbs, Meyer lemon juice and zest, and tomatoes.  Simmer until flavors meld and lentils are tender, about 10 more minutes.  Adjust seasonings as necessary, adding more salt, pepper, herbs, or lemon juice/zest to taste.

Tomato Rice Soup with Kale

tomato rice soup with kale

It's canned tomatoes season.  I use them like crazy all year round, but it's in these dark winter months that I especially appreciate their thrift, flavor, and omnipresence.  I always have at least two kinds in my pantry--diced and whole.  Whole ones tend to be sweeter--those bitter seeds haven't been pulverized and floating around in there.  And I buy whatever's on sale at Trader Joe's or Safeway. Occasionally, if I'm feeling celebratory, I'll buy a can of San Marzano plum tomatoes, but they're at least twice as much.  The beautiful can is half the pleasure.

These are the sorts of simple meals that sustain us in the winter--quick soups that we can eat 3 nights in a row. The kids don't thrill to vegetable soups, but I think the amount of pizza we eat makes up for it--don't you?  Plenty of bread for dunking usually helps quell the rebellion, too.

canned tomatoes

My soups always contain some sort of thickener--if I don't use rice, potatoes, pasta, beans, or a bit of flour, I'll take a few cups out and pulse them in the food processor.  When I eat soup out (rarely), I find that they're either distressingly thin or too thick. When you're in your own kitchen, you can fiddle with them until they're just the way you want.

My friend Kathy says one reason she likes cooking is the feeling of getting something done.  You start at 5:00, and you've produced something by 6:00.  There aren't many things in life like that--i.e. "By 6:00 I'm going to have become a better parent," or "Tomorrow morning I'm going to gain confidence."  But soup--that's another matter.  You can have a crappy day where nothing gets done, people let you down, and the heater in your car breaks.  Then you can come  home and make soup. It might almost even out.

Tomato Rice Soup with Kale
You know me and my love for bitter greens.  If you don't share that love, you can use spinach, but don't add it until the very last minute so it retains its flavor and color.  You could leave the carrot and celery out of this soup, too, and it will still be delicious.  And I threw a parmesan rind in here because I had one (what's left when the actual cheese is gone), but you could certainly leave it out.

3 Tb. olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into very thin coins
2 bay leaves
1 Tb. fresh thyme or 1 ts. dried thyme
1 large bunch kale, washed, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes with juice, pureed in the food processor with a few chunks left in
1/2 c. long grain rice (such as Basmati)
4 c. water
parmesan rind
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
celery leaves, olive oil, and grated parmesan for serving

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil.  Add onion,garlic, celery, and onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add bay leaves, salt, pepper, and thyme.   Add kale, stirring vigorously, and saute until kale turns bright green and is beginning to wilt.

Add pureed tomatoes, water, rice, and parmesan rind.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, until rice is tender, adding more water to your liking.  Add more salt and pepper to taste and some crushed red pepper flakes, if you like.

Serve with finely chopped celery leaves, finely grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Butternut, Black Bean, and Turkey Chili

butternut chili

I like the day after--the day after Christmas when everything is quiet;  the day after a catering gig or a stressful piece of work with a client.  And yes, the day after Thanksgiving.  With a blog about leftovers, this would seem to be my signature day, except the leftovers are always at someone else's house.  I did come home with a ziploc full of turkey, though.  Is there anything better than that?

This is my mother-in-law Phyllis' recipe.   Phyllis and I are remarkably compatible in the kitchen--just one of the many things I enjoy and appreciate about her.  In-laws are funny things.  They become a giant part of your life after marriage, but you don't choose them.  I totally lucked out with Phyllis--she loves me, she adores my kids, she supports our family in every way imaginable.  And she anticipates my every move in the kitchen, handing me a knife just before I reach for it or pouring me a glass of wine while I salt the soup.

I suspect I'm not alone in the "I'm-never-eating-again" pronouncements that ensue after Thanksgiving.  This soup will get you back on track.  Full of fiber, low-fat, warming enough to help you forget you're horribly overwhelmed by holiday to-do's and you have to go back to work on Monday.

Yancey's at the fire station, we're home from Dick and Phyllis' house, and this morning, the day stretched like an eternity in front of me. Piles of laundry, unpacked suitcases, no prospect of other adults for 24 hours.  So after breakfast, we took the train downtown to the Central Library and Pike Place.  I've been promising Wyatt a field trip to the Central Library forever.  He wasn't disappointed.  I had to "shush!" Loretta countless times, but I loved seeing their absolute wonderment at the neon yellow escalators, the book spiral, the honeycomb light.  They must wonder, "Why are all these adults just sitting here?" Indeed.

central library

Butternut, Black Bean, and Turkey Chili
Serves six.  Phyllis found the original recipe for this on a Weight Watchers recipe website, but I changed it a bunch.  You could add corn or a can of pinto beans, you can leave the turkey out or sub chicken for turkey.

2 Tb. olive oil
2 small or one large sweet onions, finely diced
1 orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt
2 ts. chili powder (or more to taste)
1/2 ts. cinnamon
1 ts. cumin
1 ts. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
freshly ground pepper
6 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (from one large or two small squash)
1 qt. water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cans rinsed and drained black beans
1 lb. cooked and browned turkey sausage OR shredded cooked turkey
cilantro and sour cream for garnish

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add bell pepper, garlic, salt, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, oregano, and pepper and cook for another five minutes, adding a splash of water if it's sticking.

Add squash and water (or stock), bring to a boil, then simmer until squash is barely tender, about 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes, black beans, and turkey sausage (or turkey) and simmer for another 15-20 minutes, skimming off foam occasionally, until soup is thickening and flavors are melded.  Remove 2 cups of the soup and mash with a potato masher or put through the blender or food processor.  Add puree back to soup and stir thoroughly.

Serve garnished with sour cream and cilantro and hot sauce on the side, if you like.

French Onion Soup (and The Traveling Onion)

french onion soup

I could go on about French Onion Soup.  How my mom makes her own beef broth and puts every other French Onion Soup to shame, how Yancey can eat gallons of it,  how disappointing restaurant versions often are.

Before that, though, poetry.  It's been awhile since I've inflicted poetry on you.  Too long, actually.  I discovered Naomi Shihab Nye's onion poem a few years ago in graduate school.  Someone brought it to my Facilitation and Group Dynamics class as an illustration of what a good facilitator does--"For the sake of others, disappear."  But I've just given away the punchline.  Let's let it speak for itself:

The Traveling Onion
"It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship-why I haven't been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe."--Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on the texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
disappear.

--Naomi Shihab Nye

This poem was written for me--the cook in me, the facilitator in me, the newly minted photographer and observer that notices "the way knife enters onion."  Everything begins with an onion.  They're so central to everything, but in a back-of-the-house kind of way.  My mom says that, if she doesn't have onions in the house, there's nothing she can cook.

And disappearing for the sake of others--they do that!  They melt into the sauce, stew, or risotto so herbs or meat can shine. I've got a lot to learn about disappearing for the sake of others.  Certainly there are times that don't call for disappearing (and I'm a self-proclaimed ham), but there are lots and lots of times when disappearing is the kindest, wisest thing to do.  The more I can flavor something without overtaking it, the better my relationships, my work, my presence in the world.

I love French Onion Soup because it gives the lowly onion its due.  For once, it's not being asked to disappear, to collaborate. It's front and center, hamming it up.  Melted Gruyére and broth-soaked bread don't hurt, either.  And I love to see Yancey eat it, head bent, slurping and content.

French Onion Soup
Serves six, with maybe a little bit of leftovers.  Adapted from the Gourmet cookbook.  I don't think French Onion Soup is worth eating without the cheese and toast on top, but neither do I like the soup to be totally obliterated by the cheese and bread.  If you are into making your own beef broth, you certainly can.  I'd rather spend my time reading food blogs.

12 fresh parsley stems
1 ts. dried thyme
12 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
4 Tb. unsalted butter
2 Tb. olive oil
3 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
salt
freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar
4 Tb. flour
10 c. beef stock
2/3 c. dry vermouth
4 Tb. Cognac or other brandy
4 ts. Wrocestershire sauce, or to taste

For topping:
olive oil
6 slices artisan bread
2 c. grated Gruyére
handful fresh thyme, finely chopped

Tie parsley stems, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a small square of cheescloth with a string to make a boquet garni.

Melt butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over moderately love heat.  Add onions, salt, and pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 20 minutes.  Add sugar increase heat to moderate, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown, 15-18 minutes.

Add flour to cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.  Stir in stock, vermouth, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil, stirring,  Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer, skimming off froth occasionally, for 30 minutes.  Discard bouquet garni.  Stir in cognac and worcestershire sauce.

To Gratinée and Serve:
Fry both sides of bread slices in olive oil over medium high heat until golden, about 2 minutes per side.

Ladle soup into ovenproof bowls and top each with a  slice of fried bread and handful of grated Gruyére.  Broil 4-6" from heat until cheese is golden, about one minute.  Scatter fresh thyme over the top.

If you're using an ovenproof stockpot and feeding a crowd, you can also gratinée the whole darn thing and serve from the pot.

Chickpea and Potato Mulligatawny Soup

mulligatawny

I slept fitfully last night, and woke this morning with a lot on my mind--overdue work tasks, mounds of laundry, all the recent violence in our country and city. Every time I turn around, there's news of another shooting or violent crime.  This doesn't make me scared, necessarily--like I always say, stepping out the door each morning is an act of faith--but it makes me sad.  The Fort Hood tragedy touches me on so many levels, especially since I've always been interested in Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Secondary Traumatic Stress that caregivers (like Major Hasan) experience.  These wars are leaving deep, destructive ruts in the lives of American families--servicemen and women coming home traumatized, suicide rates skyrocketing, and most Americans not knowing how to recognize or acknowledge this.  I don't have an answer, but I'm just sad.  I love my little kitchen and the meals around our table, but I've been so aware lately of our larger context.  Now, more than ever, we need to be taking care of each other.

Today, that meant making dinner for my friends Tiffany and Chris who just had a baby girl.  I always marvel at these juxtapositions--sweet, new life against so much loss.  I love taking dinner to new moms.  With both my babies, I remember feeling so completely grateful for those folks that showed up on my door with dinner in a bag.  Every time, it was hard for me to accept, but I helplessly needed them.  My friend Sarah says that mutual dependence is the only way to intimacy.  Having children teaches me that every day--I need Mary, I need my hardworking spouse, I need my mothers' group and friends, and they need me.  There's no way around it.

Since I seem to do dinner deliveries on a semi-regular basis, I have some rules for myself.  They have to be easy, things I would normally make, and dessert is optional.  This morning I got out of bed at 6:45 and had to have soup made by 8:00.  I knew potatoes and onions would be involved since I just bought a whole box from the organic farm my friend Dana works on.  Beyond that, I wasn't sure.  Scrounging Time.

bainbridge potatoes

Onions, garlic, ginger with curry powder.  Then potatoes and apples, chickpeas, coconut milk.  According to Wikipedia, mulligatawny means "pepper water" and is a "curry-flavored soup of Anglo-Indian origin."  My mom made a version growing up, and past versions of mine have included lentils, carrots, yams.  Today's was dictated by a coming-home-from-vacation pantry, and it was delicious.  I had it for lunch while the kids were eating Top Ramen, and topped mine with apple, chiles, and a dollop of yogurt.

Turning in tonight after a long day, I'm glad babies are still being born into this crazy world.  If all else fails, maybe this photo of Loretta will bring world peace.  (My predominant gift is being able to link anything to food and photos of my children.)

peacemaker

Chickpea and Potato Mulligatawny Soup
If you're a meat person, you can put shredded chicken in here, but I don't think it needs it.  And if you have some lentils around, you can cook and use them instead of chickpeas.  As I intone about about every soup, salt it until it tastes right!  There's nothing (or hardly anything) less satisfying than a not-salty-enough soup.

3 Tb. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2" knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 Tb. curry powder, mild or spicy
salt
4 medium potatoes with skin, washed and diced
1 crisp apple, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 c. basmati rice
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 15 oz. can occonut milk
juice of one lime
1/4 c. brown sugar
Optional garnishes:  cilantro, fresh chiles, toasted coconut, diced apple, plain yogurt, green onions

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add curry powder, salt, potatoes, apples, rice and garbanzo beans to onion mixture, stir until coated, then add enough water to cover everything by an inch.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes, until rice and potatoes are tender.

Add coconut milk, lime juice, and brown sugar, and cook on low heat for 10 more minutes--don't bring it to a rapid boil since coconut milk can curdle.  Add more salt to taste and top with any combination of condiments.

Roasted Squash and Apple Soup

roasted squash and apple soup

We're getting ready for Halloween around here.  We don't go ape about it.  I'm sure the kids wish I did, but it's just so much WORK.  I figure if we keep the expectations low, everyone's happier.  We carve two pumpkins and go trick-or-treating in Columbia City.  We trick-or-treat in the daylight, which I find much more satisfying.  There are some cute-ass babies out there whose parents put a lot more work into the Adorable Factor than I do.  We didn't celebrate Halloween when I was little.  It's a long story, but suffice it to say I'm seriously determined that my kids will at least come home with loot, get all cracked out on sugar, and have fun tripping on ridiculous costumes.

Halloween means squash, and squash means soup.  No doubt countless  versions of squash soup are flooding the blogosphere.  But when you've got some languishing squash in the basement plus a few gems from friends' gardens, is there anything easier and tastier?

I'll do anything to get around the absolute tedium of peeling squash.  Recipes cavalierly say, "5 cups peeled and cubed squash." That's an hour of prep and a possible trip to the emergency room.  I discovered a trick recently, though, which is to put your squash halves in the microwave for a minute, which softens them and makes it much less lethal to separate the skin from the flesh.  (This sounds appropriately gory for a Halloween post.)

butternut at gordon's

But I just roast everything together on one of my workhorse baking sheets--unpeeled squash cut-side down, some peeled apple, carrot chunks, onion, and garlic cloves, all tossed with a bit of curry powder and sugar.  (At least that's how I did it this time. I've never made the same soup twice before starting this blog.)  The house smelled amazing when I got back from retrieving Wyatt and Oscar at the bus stop.  If Chai Spice Apple Bundt Cake is autumn incarnate, it's got some seasonal competition from this soup.  I've made versions of it so many times--for our housewarming seven years ago when I was pregnant with Wyatt, for loads of volunteers where I used to work, for a first course when we've had dinner guests.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you're making pureed soups:

  • Don't be afraid of salt.  (I think I'm always giving this tip about everything.  Bear with me.)
  • It's MUCH easier to thin a soup than to thicken it.  For that reason, I always start with less liquid and add as I like.
  • I don't like my spoon to stand straight up in my soup, and neither do I like it brothy.  Somewhere in-between.
  • This soup, because of the great roasted flavor and depth, didn't need cream.  I put some in anyway, though, because it gives it a perfect touch of richness.  Coconut milk would have been another good choice.
  • If you're reheating it the next day, it will likely need more liquid.
  • I rarely use chicken stock as the base for pureed soups.  Water does just fine--it's cheaper and satisfied the vegetarians.  Vegetarian water.  That sounds like the next marketing ploy:  "Water:  Gluten free!  Fat free! Guilt free! Meat-free!"

For those of you that sometimes wonder aloud whether my children eat things like this soup, no.  They didn't. They complained, pushed their spoons around.  I didn't feel bad and I didn't offer them anything else.  But here's one little important detail--we did have these biscuits, and that made up for a lot.  Wyatt should be Carbohydrate King for Halloween. How would I do that?

Roasted Squash and Apple Soup
I think butternut really is the Prince of Squashes for soup, but I had various ones--delicata, blue hubbard.  As long as you use SOME butternut here, you'll be okay.  And you can sub coconut milk for cream (just don't boil it vigorously after adding the coconut milk--it will curdle) or leave out the cream/coconut milk altogether.  And you can make it spicier.  I was trying to entice the kids.  Obviously it didn't work.  They're holding out for the candy.

olive oil
1 small Blue Hubbard squash
2 small Butternut squashes
2 small Delicata squashes
1 large apple, cut into wedges
1 small onion, very coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into carrot sticks (about 6 sticks per carrot)
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
3 tsp. curry powder
1 Tb. sugar
salt
5 c. water
1/2 c. orange juice
1/3 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut each squash in half, remove seeds, and rub with olive oil.  Place cut side down on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, toss apple, onion, carrots, and garlic cloves with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, 2 ts. of the curry powder, sugar, and salt.  Arrange apple mixture around the squash and roast the whole thing for about 50 minutes, until everything is very soft and charred in places.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Spoon cooked squash out of the skin.

In two batches, put cooked veggies and 2 1/2 c. water into blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into large stockpot and add orange juice, cream, remaining tsp. of curry powder, and more salt to taste.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 15 minutes until flavors are blended.  Serve with a swirl of cream on top, if you like, or a bit of chopped cilantro or parlsey.

Three Onion Potato Soup

Sunday Soup Making

On our way to the pumpkin patch, we stopped at the Mt. Vernon farmers market.  Someday, my kids will get me a "I Brake for Farmers Markets!" bumper sticker.   It was still foggy, the market was just waking up, and a string trio played  bluegrass renditions of old hymns. Really puts you in the mood for buying celery and leeks, which is just what we did.

And this was some SERIOUS celery, the likes of which I have never seen before.  Almost 2' long, bright green--when I got it home, I filled a whole salad spinner with the leaves.  I treated them like I would a fresh herb or lettuce--washed and spun dry, then laid out on a length of paper towels which I rolled up and slipped into a Ziploc.  I used them in a salad tonight and am planning a celery and celery leaf stir-fry with curry and coconut milk.  I know--this is a sickness I have.

Sunday afternoon soup while the house was napping:  a knob of butter in the Dutch oven, then onions, garlic, leeks, bits of celery, some parmesan rind. Add celery leaves, fresh lemon thyme (God bless that little nubbin of a plant on my deck), salt, a squeeze of lemon. Hunks of fingerling potatoes, a bargain at $1/pound because they were unwashed.  With a bit (okay--a little more than a bit) of cream at the end, we'll have a ready dinner for the next three nights.

three onion potato soup

P.S. Wyatt and Loretta inhaled these golden fall raspberries.  They were so happy that they posed for me without protest. When I come across this photo ten years from now, I know I'll miss these years.  I might even miss this particular fall morning, on the Skagit River with a stroller full of celery.

wyatt and loretta at the marketgolden fall raspberries

P.S.S.  Dearest Emily gave me an immersion blender!  I guess she was sick of all my thinly-veiled hints.  We went out for lunch last week, and she lugged a wrapped immersion blender and a bunch of other treats in her bag, and I didn't notice the whole 10 blocks we walked.  I was too busy talking her ear off.  So I knew some sort of pureed soup was in order this week.

Three Onion Potato Soup
The three "onions" here are all in the alium family--yellow onions, garlic, and leeks.  It fulfills my need to creatively name recipes. Celery is a big player here, too.  If you don't have celery leaves (store-bought bunches are usually pretty bald), you can sub a teaspoon of celery seeds.  And you probably don't have some parmesan rinds in your fridge--that's alright.  You can leave them out or throw a handful of grated parmesan in.  I loved the fingerlings in here--their waxy texture helps them keep their shape.  You can use any kind of potato, though.

4 Tb. butter
2 Tb. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely diced and washed well
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt
freshly ground pepper
Parmesan rind (if you have them lying around like me)
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 Tb. fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/4 c. finely chopped celery leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 lb. fingerling potatoes, quartered if they're biggish, halved if they're small, left whole if they're tiny
3/4 c. cream

Heat butter and olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot.  Add onion, leeks, garlic, and salt, and pepper, and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add Parmesan rind, celery, thyme, and celery leaves and saute for about 10 minutes more.  Add lemon juice, potatoes, and cover the whole thing with enough water so there's about 1/2" inch of water above the ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove about 1/4 of the soup and puree in a blender or food processor and return to the pot.  (Or use your new immersion blender!) Add cream, bring to a simmer again, and simmer until thickened a bit more, about 10 more minutes.

Serve garnished with grated parmesan and finely chopped celery leaves, if you like.