california life soup vegan vegetables vegetarian

Strange Summer

9 August 2010


[A tiny bit of sun and summer in Sonoma County, July 2010.]

It’s pretty boring to complain about the weather, I know, especially since it could be so much worse. But the weather lately — and by ‘lately’ I mean since the beginning of July — in San Francisco has been awful: cold, damp, grey nearly every day. Maybe a few hours of sun here and there if we’re lucky. But it’s been rare.

Summers like these are so different from the sweltering ones through which I plodded back in DC. Then, I mentally shook my fist at the humidity — much in the way I currently am shaking my fist at the fog — and logged my daily miles through a haze of heat and heavy sun. I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that one day I’d be living in San Francisco and Julys would pass in a blur of windy white days, that I’d run 16 miles on a Sunday afternoon along Ocean Beach and it would be so misty it would feel like rain. I would never have believed I’d long for just a few days of hot sun, hot air, hot everything.

But that time has come, disbelieving though I still might be. The only hot things I’m experiencing lately are soups, by the pot-ful. And by “soups” I mean delicious vegetable soups crammed with the bounty of the farmer’s markets just to remind myself that, darn it, it’s August and summer is slipping by at a quick clip, even though I feel marooned in June — or March. Not to be overdramatic, but I’m sitting here typing this wearing wool socks, a hoodie, and have wrapped a wool blanket around my shoulders. So it’s like that.

Still, last weekend I chased the sun a bit up to Sonoma County and that was grand: the fog burned off by noon almost every day and while it was pretty chilly at night during the day the sun shone strong and bright and I sat in the backyard for a little while reading Vanity Fairs and drinking ice water. I had a few back roads runs and became properly hot and dehydrated. I picked some blackberries and got dust on my feet. I ate ice cream. I longed for fall and Indian Summer. So it hasn’t been all bad.

Also, I’ve been baking a lot, and not only as an excuse to turn on the oven: a towering, citrus-laced cheesecake with blueberry compote; two dozen vegan chocolate cupcakes; carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting; a German chocolate cake (my first ever) stacked high with toasted pecans and coconut and silky ganache; a red velvet birthday cake; as well as various batches of oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies here and there, a small angel food cake, dog biscuits.

But on the whole this summer has seemed like a strange dream — we are drifting in the sea of fog that has, by all appearances, settled in for the long term, marooned on this peninsula bordered by bay and ocean, the temperature hovering at no more than 60 degrees most days. And so I am biding my time for October, and white-gold sun. I am making pesto with the basil from Saturday’s market haul to remind myself of the true season. I am thinking about what fruit to combine into a cobbler (nectarine-peach-blueberry, most likely). I am hoping the Giants make up those games this weekend against San Diego. And I will keep on eating soup, because strange summer or no, it feels like the right thing to do. The sun will come, if I have to will it here with all my strength. In the meantime …

Many Vegetabled Soup, for a cold summer
I made this a few weeks ago on a Friday I was working from home, and the sun, it was obvious, was not going to make an appearance. Woe. I needed something steaming hot and nourishing. So I dredged the vegetable drawer, threw a lot in a pot, and came up with this. Any substitutions will do — just make sure to keep the garlic and potatoes, for heft.

4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 or so shiitake (or button) mushrooms, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 small red or new potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets
2 cups spinach
1 cup English peas
1 cup white beans
2 cups vegetable broth
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a soup pot, saute the onion and garlic in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook a few minutes more. Add the carrot, potatoes, cauliflower, vegetable broth, and 3 more cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook until vegetables are fairly soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted.

Remove from heat and strain out a few spoonfuls of the vegetables and set aside. Puree the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor; don’t make it too smooth. Return to pot, add the reserved vegetables, peas and beans. Reheat until the peas are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and/or any other herbs you like.

  • Molly 10 August 2010 at 8:03 am

    We just got back from our honeymoon: 7 days in Point Reyes, 2 days in San Francisco. I must admit…I was happy to fly home to sweltering Minneapolis after the overnight in San Fran! That said, if you just cross the golden gate as much as possible these days, you might find some pretty great hiking weather! Marin is gorgeous! Love reading your blog…

  • Gali 10 August 2010 at 4:36 am

    Argh. I wish I could send you some of the sun and heat we have over here! First it was superbly hot and sunny in Helsinki and now it’s extremely hot and sunny in Marseille, if I didn’t know better I’d say the sun is following me.

    But hey, cold weather is also good and that soup sounds rather good too!

  • Denise @ Creative Kitchen 9 August 2010 at 4:26 pm

    So this weather you are describing isn’t normal for this time of year? I’ve only been in San Francisco for a layover on the way to Hawaii. I hear it is beautiful! I am in sunny South Florida…the heat and humidity are just kicking into high gear and won’t relent until late October!! I always get so jealous of all the fall blog posts and everything autumn coming through facebook. It will still be VERY hot here when everyone else is enjoying the change of season. ;)

  • Janae Monir 9 August 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Funny, I was just talking to a friend yesterday about the craziness that has become the weather lately (chilly, foggy mornings and mid-80s afternoons – in southern California!), though we don’t have it nearly as cold as you do. We’re usually in the 100s at this time of year, so who knows what’s coming for Fall. Best to just enjoy the summer produce while we can get it I suppose, as you are doing.

    Here’s to the (ever elusive) sun!