Florence, and welcome home chili

October 18, 2011 § 13 Comments

We’re ensconced back in Boston now, back amidst the crowded three-home Victorian buildings, the fall leaves grown burnished golden and sparse, and a distinct lack of cappuccinos everywhere you turn.  All it took was a 30 hour day, the heavily-accented services of AirFrance (who, by the way, offer Champagne as an aperitif, for free, in coach.  I think I need to fly with them more often, though Charles DeGaule is a catastrophe of an airport), and a wonderful and generous friend to pick us up at the airport.  Air travel still amazes me.

We slept hard and woke up early yesterday morning with piles of work and places to be already tapping us persistently on the shoulders.  But, it’s nice to be home.

However, I feel as if I would be remiss in my duty of being that random person who overshares about her life, and what she eats, if I didn’t at least tell you a little bit about our visit to Florence.  Florence, is a wondrous and inspiring place to visit because it has the best gelato in all of Italy.  Oh, and a little thing called the Renaissance started there.

Like many of the great old cities, Florence has an energetic, and slightly incongruous feeling, way of weaving together ancient history with hustley bustley, cell phone pervaded modern living.  People don’t necessarily live differently there because there are still buildings that are from the middle ages or statues and paintings that were the first to, oh say, rediscover perspective (I’m in awe every time I think about that.  Have been since European history with Mr. Jensen in the 11th grade).

And yet, having some of the very deepest foundations of the way we live now visible to you on every street corner must make some difference.

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Pear Soup with Pancetta and Blue Cheese

September 23, 2011 § 25 Comments

I wonder why pear picking doesn’t have the same strong cultural foothold that apple picking does in regions like New England.  Pear orchards must exist, otherwise where would our pears come from?  As a matter of fact, come to think of it, I’ve seen pear orchards before, and they’re lovely.  Just as nice for wandering up and down idyllic rows of leafy trees under a blue sky on a crisp day as are apple orchards.

I suppose I could look it up.  Hold on a sec… ok, I’m back!  It looks like, according to the internets, a possible reason that you never bundle up your family and trek out to the pear orchard for pick your own is because pears, for the most part, need to be picked unripe and allowed to ripen in a storage space because if allowed to ripen on the trees the devious birds and insects will get to them before people do.

Photo by James Ransom

This puts me in mind of some friends of mine who had a gorgeous and prolific pear tree in their yard, with branches that dangled conveniently right over their porch.  Every year they would watch the pears grow and ripen and then just in the millisecond before they were ripe for the picking crows would swoop in and steal them all!  Not even netting, or eventually bb guns, could keep the thieving birds away.  Eventually, they stopped even trying to pick their own pears and just considered the tree decorative. Pears are tricky, it seems.  But there are places where you can pick your own pears, you just need to search for them.  Mystery solved(-ish)!

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Roasted bell pepper soup

September 8, 2011 § 23 Comments

I feel a bit as though bell peppers are raining down on my head.  Tumble, plump, bumble, plop, boing… And then scattering across the floor.  Thankfully they aren’t actually, though I imagine it wouldn’t be entirely unpleasant.  But, it would make a lot of peppers to clean up – and they’d require extra scrubbing after being on the floor and all.

Anyhow, we do have bell peppers in abundance.  More than can be reasonably used, even through a well strategized line up of stir fries with peppers, pasta with peppers, salad with peppers, and sauteed melanges of who knows what but it definitely includes peppers…with peppers.

I thought about pickling them and packing them by the peck (into pints, of course), and it may yet come to that.  But, in the meantime, the clever, immediate, and entirely delectable solution was soup.  Roasted pepper soup.

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Soothing avocado soup

July 23, 2011 § 9 Comments

I’m afraid I don’t really know what to say right now. I’m in shock.  Still in shock and disbelief over the unspeakable tragedy yesterday in Norway.

My parents and brother are there right now visiting the rest of our family.  I got a call to say they were alright even before I saw the news.  I was relieved, but also had the wind knocked out of me by the horror.  I spent the rest of the day checking the Norwegian news for updates.  And intermittently bursting into tears.

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Pea soup with coconut and ginger

May 19, 2011 § 12 Comments

Alright, so since we’re talking about favorite children’s books (or at least, I am, and I really do think you should be too), let’s talk about peas shall we?  If there is any better vegetable for a snippet of action in a children’s book to center around, I’m sure I can’t tell you what it is.  Peas have it all.  They have a funny name.  They look funny, all green and rotund.  They come in pods…It’s the ultimate trifecta of catchy vegetable characteristics!  Of course, mostly peas are the subject of disgust in children’s books, especially if they’re in soup form.  Though, I distinctly recall that the girls in the Little House books loved peas porridge (hot or cold!).

But, when I think of fresh spring peas, I think of a scene from one of my all time favorite books, The Ordinary Princess.  In this scene, having run away because she hated how boringly proper she had to be as a princess, Princess Amy is hiding and has gotten work as an assistant kitchen maid in the kitchen of the royal palace of the neighboring kingdom.  Amy and her friend Belinda (who really is a kitchen maid – rather than a princess pretending to be a kitchen maid, you see) are sitting shelling peas for a royal banquet and discussing what it might be like to be a princess.  Wonderful situational irony.  All the while Belinda keeps absent-mindedly popping peas into her mouth as they shell them and talking in a thick dialect.  When she gets excited, she drops her Hs.

Anyway, it was this jolly image that I had in my mind as I prepared the peas for this soup, listening to the pop, pop, plop, plop of them tumbling into a bowl.  I had peas leftover from making my spring vegetable jumble, and I had quite simply fixated on making a soup of them.  I wanted to keep it light and fresh and was at first planning to let the flavor of  the little peas carry the dish. But, then I remembered that I had some leftover coconut milk from the sauce for the lamb.  Waste not, want not!  Why shouldn’t this work just as well as cream for stirring into the soup for body and depth and, well, creaminess?

The coconut milk then compelled me (perhaps compelled is a bit strong, but it did drop a rather strong hint) to grate in just a little gnarly knob of ginger to tie the pea and coconut flavors together.

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Stone soup (cabbage and sausage soup)

February 25, 2011 § 12 Comments

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”   -Margaret Mead

I am in awe of the collective action and community organizing that we have been seeing across the Middle East and North Africa this winter.  On Martin Luther King Jr. Day I felt glued to the radio, listening as the news cycled through reports on the increasingly successful protests in Tunisia, the vote to secede in Southern Sudan, and excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the words ringing out as powerfully that day as when it was first delivered.  I couldn’t stop tears from welling into my eyes as I thought of all the remarkable, brave men and women who have stood up and are standing up for justice, for freedom, for what they knew was right.

Not long afterwards, I was actually sitting in a meeting working on developing a curriculum about community organizing to address systemic issues that prevent people from living healthfully.  We were discussing historic examples of collective action, successful and unsuccessful, when one of my colleagues’ phone went off.  He looked down at it then looked up, a grin spreading across his face.  “Mubarak just announced he would step down from the presidency of Egypt,” he said.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who had shivers all over their body as we erupted into applause.  Awe inspiring.  And now it is heartbreaking to see the horrific violence being used against the people in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain as they stand up and cry out for rights that so many of us take for granted. « Read the rest of this entry »

Fiery roasted tomato soup

January 26, 2011 § 10 Comments

I’ve been suffering from minor food trauma the past couple of days, and it is a sorry, sorry state to be in. It’s funny because it was induced by a few dishes that I actually followed recipes to make, tasty looking recipes even, but it just didn’t work out. It all began when I decided to make caramelized radicchio, which sounds good, right? It’s not. Caramelizing did nothing for the bitter bite of radicchio except make it seem awkwardly out of place, and the texture was limp and, well, kind of squiggly. I tried to smile and choke it down, but it was as if somebody had set a plate of worms in front of me. I haven’t felt that way about a serving of vegetables since I was about 9. And like at age 9, I spent more time prodding it with my fork and eying it apprehensively than eating it. Epic fail.

This was followed by trying a recipe for spiced, roasted butternut squash slices. Cardamom and butternut squash?! How could that not be delicious? Seriously. I’m still not sure how it could not be delicious, but it wasn’t. It was overspiced and strangely cloying. It tasted more like an apple pie gone wrong than butternut squash. And the recipe suggested leaving the skin on, which may technically be fine and all, but having tried it, I’m going to go ahead and suggest you don’t. I had a couple more disasters and by last night I was feeling a bit gun shy and couldn’t quite bring myself to cook, so we went out. And I tried my first ever turkey burger. I should have known better. Turkey and I have a turbulent relationship anyway. Thinly sliced and paired with some really good bacon and we’re okay, but turkey in ground form, it turns out, icks me out to a completely irrational extent. According to Joel it was actually quite good for a turkey burger, but it still made my stomach do an unhappy flop. That was another meal of predominantly poking at the contents of my plate.

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Minestrone (sort of)

October 5, 2010 § 10 Comments

Oh boy is it ever soup weather out there!  We had the most glorious weekend up in New Hampshire.  The air was laced with a chill that was not yet bitter, but cold enough to make you happy for any down or wool clothing you had brought.  And the leaves were so electric and brilliant they’re indescribable (those maple trees, such show-offs! ;0).  That kind of weather makes me want to go for long hikes and eat apples.

But, now we have melancholy grey skies and rain (I biked in to the office today, and by the time I arrived it looked like I had forgotten to take my clothes off before I showered!).  And that means it’s time to wrap a comfort blanket like a skirt around your legs to help you stay warm because you still don’t want to turn the heat on, put on a pot of tea (because you’re trying to cut back on coffee, and yes this makes you a little bit cranky because for some of us tea just does not cut it…but I digress), and to make soup. « Read the rest of this entry »

Corn Soup with Avocado Cilantro and Lime

August 27, 2010 § 6 Comments

I’m trying to think of similes for sweet corn, and oddly, I keep coming up with sort of scary violent images – the ticking time bomb, the radioactively decaying, the unstable isotope of the food world.  Which is funny because, in my experience at least, sweet corn is a pretty peaceable non-intimidating substance, except maybe for its annoying habit of leaving bits of skin wedged so firmly between your teeth you pull a muscle in your tongue trying to dislodge it (floss is for sissies).  But, the thing with corn is, the moment you pick it, the sugars in its kernel begin converting to starches instead.  Like a lollipop gradually shape-shifting into a raw potato.  And very few people want to suck on a raw potato.  So, eating sweet corn pits you in a race against time.  Can you buy it and eat it close enough to the time it was picked to ensure that perfect, transcendent experience of munching summer, right off the cob?  (As Garrison Keilor has said, “sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”)

When you buy farmer’s market corn during peak season, it would be a shame to doctor it more than lightly boiling or grilling it and adding a bit of butter and salt (and in case you’re looking, the very best sample of this in the whole world is the corn on the cob at the Minnesota State Fair, though I hear the title is being challenged by elotes, the street corn in Mexico.  However, this has a squirt of lime, red chile sauce, and some crumbled cheese on it, which is obviously sacrilege, or at least kind of cheating,  because even a cardboard tube would taste good with those things on it, and we’re trying to highlight the corn here, right?)

Of course if, say, you pick up your load of newly picked sweet corn and then promptly up and leave for 10 days, off to somewhere on the entirely opposite side of the country, when you come back you may find your corn more than a little in need of a pick me up.  At least, ours was.  I feel like corn has sort of three ages and stages of cooking potential (not counting garbage/compost pile).  First is the corn on the cob stage.  That one’s easy. A couple days past this, when the corn kernels are still pretty sweet but losing a little of their plump juiciness it enters the stage of “cut off the cob and add to something like a salad or pasta, incorporate into the batter of fritters, flapjacks, or corn bread, or (my personal favorite) sautee with other summer vegetables (like summer squash, tomatoes, beans) and herbs”.  Stage three, when the kernels have gone a bit mealy, is soup.

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Soupe au pistou

July 9, 2010 § 4 Comments

I would say that this is a story of soup, but then you would probably turn away, shaking your head and thinking, “no way am I going to eat soup in the middle of summer, unless it’s a cool as a cucumber soup.” (Which, by the way, I hope to make sometime here very soon as I have a bumper crop of dill in my fridge.)  So, instead I will say that this is the story of a man named Anthony from Texas.  Technically “from Texas” is not really part of his name, but it may as well have been because he exuded everything I think of when I imagine the good side of Texas, the openness and charm.  Also the big-ness.  He’s a former high school (and college, I think) American football player, and had one of those positions where, as far as I can tell, you pretty much specialize in being the human version of a reinforced concrete wall.

Anthony from Texas and I worked together for a few years, and much of our conversation was about having survived growing up in what you might characterize as ‘extreme climates.’  There was a lot of good natured sparring: “Cold?!  This isn’t cold!  Minus 40 degrees and having to put Vaseline on your face to keep the skin from freezing immediately is cold!”  or “How can you be overheating?  It’s not even hot out!  Try running drills in 110 degrees while wearing layers of protective gear.  That’s hot!”

When it’s (in my opinion) really hot out, I make a concerted effort to whine about at least every hour or so, on the hour.  And, virtually every time I did so, Anthony from Texas would chime in, “what you have to do to beat the heat is take a hot shower, and then have some hot soup!  It’ll kick start your body’s cooling mechanism, and the day won’t feel as hot in comparison.”  I shudder at the thought.  But, amazingly, the practice works.  (If you survive through to the other side of it, which I sometimes think is questionable.)

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