[In the redwoods, January 2013.]
Today was a cooking day. By that I mean I made an enormous pan of butternut squash macaroni and cheese for friends who have just had a baby (plus more to come: white bean + chard soup, quinoa salad, chocolate chip cookies), a few recipe tests, one of which is particularly promising, and put together a few bits for our dinner tonight (baked salmon, sauteed garlic + spinach + chickpeas, roasted brussels sprouts, sweet potato wedges) including a very garlicky cheeseless almond-parsley pesto for the sprouts. I contemplated my sudden, inexplicable obsession with sweet potatoes and decided to go with the craving even though I incorporated them into our meal just last night. (I also went for an 8-mile run at noon in the sun and did some erranding but those are perhaps not as fun to chronicle.)
Now I am sipping a late cup of tea and eagerly anticipating pulling out the tray of flourless oatmeal cookies (with fresh ginger, chopped apricots, maple syrup, and walnuts!) from the oven for a taste test (I am crossing fingers the promise of the batter holds true as it was delicious). My overall feeling tonight is one of calm; in this year that holds so much upcoming change it is a feeling I am grateful for and will cling to as much as possible even as my little heart quakes at the thought of leaving this ocean-scented city. Not that there is not also a part of me greatly looking forward to living in another city by the ocean; not that it is not necessarily, as my friend wrote me today, ‘romantic’ by its very name; not that I haven’t, since I was a girl, had a hankering to live abroad and really learn French – now that both of these things are figuring into my 2013 I get a thrill every time I think about it. It’s just that home is home and I am loathe to leave it.
Still – there are months to go yet. There are redwoods still to lean my back against, bay leaves to sniff in Armstrong Woods, hidden beaches to discover along familiar trails. I have a terrible tendency to get a bit morose about things before they have actually occurred – ‘this is my LAST Indian Summer in California; this is my LAST holiday season in the Bay Area; what will I do without Hardcore Espresso?; and etc.’ (caveat: for awhile, not forever) – and so because it’s only the fourth day of the new year I will add to my small resolves: do not take your troubles in advance. Be here now. This moment is enough.
For example, this glorious sun I can appreciate now that I am not doing the 8:30-5 day in and day out; my ‘new reality’, as I emailed my friend Jessica, is one I am still getting used to but certainly helps with the pre-moving angst. I always did all of these things before – the baking, the running, the cooking, the etc. – of course, but to have a bit more free time to do them in is pretty sweet. And after the holiday rush and a few end-of-year deadlines that had me photo editing late into the night on a few occasions it is nice to slip gently into this quiet early January. I have a sheaf of recipes to test, sure, but that’s fun.
And, too, there is soup. The one I share today I made in the waning days before Christmas when the inevitable and dreaded holiday cold reared its ugly head and we were coughing and sniffling enough to want soup and early bedtimes and little else. We had invited our friend Josie over for dinner (roast chicken, roasted cauliflower, a kale-chard gratin, flourless cheesecake) and that afternoon as I prepared the greens for the gratin I remembered a twitter exchange I had sort of eavesdropped on in which someone mentioned how using the stems of kale in place of broccoli made a killer cream of ‘broccoli’ soup.
I can get a bit manic about not wasting things so as I chopped I saved the ends of the kale and chard and the thicker parts of the cauliflower as well, why not? I dug deep in the vegetable drawer and found some broccoli I was saving for the next night so cut off its stalks and sliced them thin. I sauteed onion and a lot of garlic and when that cooked down I dumped all the bits I’d saved into the pot, poured in the water in which I’d boiled the greens to soften for the gratin, and let the whole thing boil and simmer down for awhile. Pureed with salt and pepper and a slip of cream – well, it was the perfect pick-me-up for two slightly sickish folk on the cusp of a busy holiday, nourishing and healthful in the best way.
Actually, I guess I’m not really sharing a proper recipe today because I don’t have the amounts of what I used (how many cups of broth? How many kale stems?) but instead am sharing the spirit of the recipe. I’ll write out some more general instructions but I hope the idea is inspiring enough to try it out. Vegans can leave out the cream and substitute a non-dairy milk of choice or just leave as-is, perhaps adding a chopped potato for heft and creaminess. For me, I liked this soup on the thinner, brothier side because I had a sore throat but typically like a thicker soup. Your call.
Two nights later I was extremely happy I had just enough leftover in the fridge to serve Emily when they stayed over, everyone too tired and not hungry enough to go out to eat (though the boys seemed to really enjoy the baked pasta with broccoli sauce from the previous night …). It got her seal of approval – and included not a speck of gluten to worry about – which is really all the gratification I could ask for. Also the satisfaction of having less for the compost.
So today was a cooking day, and I am glad. Tomorrow I will make more soup, more cookies, more cups of tea. I will go to a yoga workshop with my favorite teacher and stretch out all the muscles worn by the two hikes we went on earlier this week (mud and cows and redwoods and the Pacific were the takeaways). I will meet a sweet baby girl and ply her parents with treats. I will read an old book. I will probably attempt a flourless angel food cake (wish me luck) and think about strawberry buttercream. I may open a jar of coveted blackberry jam. I may even roast more sweet potatoes. I am going to make every day count.
Update: the cookies are divine, just need a bit more ginger to really make ’em zing.
Odds and Ends Soup
Experiment! Play! Add leftover shredded chicken if you have it! Or sautee some mushrooms and dump in at the end! This is a very forgiving soup.
1 onion, peeled and diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Stems from two bunches kale, chard, or a combination, washed well and roughly chopped
Base (the white thicker part) from 1 cauliflower, roughly chopped
2-3 broccoli stems, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
optional: herbs of choice, assorted greens salvaged/saved from bunches of kale/chard, sliced leeks or shallots, 1 peeled potato, chopped, diced carrots, sliced celery
4-5 cups broth, water, or leftover water from cooking vegetables
salt and pepper
1/4 cup cream or milk
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook about 4-5 minutes, until softened. Add greens stems, cauliflower base, and broccoli stems. Add the broth or water and bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and simmer until vegetables are very soft. In a food processor or with an immersion blender, blend the soup until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add cream and stir well to combine.