Advent 2014: Creamy Carrot and Yam Soup with Coconut Milk

Untitled

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.

Cumin Roasted Delicata Squash

IMG_4579

Expectations are *%$#ers. 

Though I love the holidays, it's a constant discipline to accept what is instead of compare things to how they could be. And I even have a loving marriage, astoundingly fantastic children, and a roof over my head. November and December can wreak havoc on any of us who are grieving, remembering, tired, or longing. Yancey talks about how their call volume at the fire station goes way up during December. Lots of panic attacks and worse. 

For some, the panic is about feeling stuck and choiceless. For others (me and lots in my middle class set), it's about having too much choice. Maybe you planned the basics for Thanksgiving, but then your cooking magazine came in the mail and they are insisting that you break tradition. You've started making a new shopping list and having your own mini panic attack. 

Or you had planned to stay home the day after Thanksgiving, do a few chores, maybe play some games with your kids, snuggle with your cats, or take your dog for a walk. Or maybe you have to work. But now you see that your Facebook friend with the perfect life is planning the ultimate Christmas kickoff day in downtown Seattle and for some reason, you're now feeling bad about yourself.

Joanna Macy says all of us have "tics,"  almost neurological default places we go under stress or uncertainty. She says her tic is anxiety, and she's learned that she will always deal with it in some form. Her antidote is to acknowledge it. That's it. To welcome it. There's no way we can let it go until we've acknowledged it's there! 

The poetry is coming fast and furious lately. I'll leave you with the advice I give myself.

Plus a recipe that was DELICIOUS. And this:

I'll be blogging every day for Advent like I did last year. November 30-December 25. Little moments, recipes, photos, signposts reminding us of the incredible "Yes!" of this season. I hope you join me.

Headwaters

Some days, all that's left
is to take myself aside,
find a quiet place,
and say,

"Dear, you are in pain.
You like to control things,
and you know how silly that is.
Lie down, light a candle,
laugh at yourself,
quit trying to fix, arrange, plan, sort."

Then, like headwaters
in the middle of luscious nowhere,
the ancient power will appear--
cold, clear, unstoppable,
unexplainable. 

Cumin Roasted Delicata Squash and Carrots with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing
One of the things that makes the holidays SACRED for me (instead of commercial, rushed, or guilt-ridden) is my connection to church, to my faith community. When I enter that space with those people, something in me slows down and remembers where I came from.  We had a Thanksgiving potluck after church on Sunday. I didn't remember until I woke up, so I scrounged up and found some forgotten squash in my pantry bin. Yay for the pantry! I wanted to eat this whole platter. Delicata is so delicious and tender, and my favorite thing is they don't need to be peeled. 

2 good-sized or 3 small delicata squash, washed
2 bunches small rainbow carrots or 1 bunch big carrots, cut into sticks
olive oil
coarse salt
2 tsp. cumin
handful chopped parsley
handful pumpkin seeds 

For dressing:
coarse salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
3 Tb. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tb. pomegranate molasses 

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut each delicata in half, then scoop out the seeds and pulp. Slice squash into 1/2" rings. Toss squash with carrots, olive oil (quite a bit), salt, pepper, and cumin. Spread out on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Don't squish it all onto one or it will steam and not roast. Switch the sheets halfway through baking time to make sure they cook evenly. Roast for about 20 minutes until browned and soft (but not mushy).

For dressing, whisk, pepper, cumin, and vinegar until salt dissolves. Then add olive oil and pomegranate molasses, whisking until emulsified, adding more of anything to taste/consistency.

Arrange roasted vegetables on a platter (Much prettier than a bowl. My favorite trick.) and gently toss with dressings. Scatter parsley and pumpkin seeds over the top. Serve room temperature.

Tomato Carrot Soup

IMG_2048

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.