Snow Day and Soup Play

The world is awash in white. Snow is a breath-taking event here, as it fleetingness and rarity mean that shoveling the sidewalk doesn’t get old. And a snow day from school? I live for these days!

Up here, it’s the kind of day to lounge around in your polar fleece, cradle your coffee, finish your book, complete the puzzle and eat the last bowls of yesterday’s auh-maz-ing soup.

Smitten Kitchen's Carrot Miso

I promised a soup round-up, and so here we are. But first, do you know about The Soup Party? I wish I could remember its origins…a book, I think? But way back when I still lived over by SDSU and had to cook to entice people to make the drive, I read about a woman, new to her home, who wanted to meet her neighbors. She hosted a super casual soup party, where she set out three big pots of soup, passed out photocopied invites and opened up her home on a week-day winter’s night. Guests were instructed to not RSVP, not worry if they couldn’t make it and not fret if they couldn’t stay long. She suggested if guests wanted to, they could bring a bottle of wine or baguette to share. Voila! A yearly ritual begun. And so I followed suit. In 2007, I hosted my first and only soup party. But oh my–

I made three double batches of soup and requested that people bring their own spoons and bowls; wine or baguette if they chose. As the clock counted down, I feared being ladled in soup for many months to come; I mean, I had three double-batches, and I was asking people to come to my out-of-the-way condo on a Tuesday. Stupid, stupid.

But people showed,  wine and spoons and appetites in tow. Bread was broken and bowls filled and refilled and recipes shared while the various continents of my friends mingled like one big Pangeaic plate. (Nikolai was even there, pre-dating days. His presence was not lost on me!)

In the end, I had to scrape down the sides of the East African nut stew to even have enough for the next day’s lunch. I think thirty-something people showed in a period of four to five hours: families, friends, lovers, neighbors. It was so casual and so community-centered I have wanted to host another one ever since.

If you plan on hosting your own Soup Party (which I cannot recommend heartily enough) a few suggestions:

  • Make one soup a day leading up to the party (Stews like to sit and marinate and get all jiggy with it in the pot, so those are good ones to make first.)
  • Utilize your crock pot. You know you don’t use it enough!
  • Purchase an extra ladle from Goodwill, or better yet, borrow your neighbor’s!
  • Make little folded cards to place next to each soup. On it, indicate soup name, recipe soup and major ingredients (many people like to know if something’s vegetarian or vegan)
  • Have soup toppings (drizzling oils, croutons, cheese, chives, etc.) in small bowls next to each soup
  • Make double batches; I noticed that my guests wanted to try each of the soups, and they brought people with them.
  • (Shhh! Two hosting secrets: since most people will bring their own bowls and spoons, clean-up is minimal! You have to attend to NOTHING! Prepare to be out of the kitchen and enjoying the company of your companions.)

Finally settling in means I have the energy to host another soup party! It’s on the books for February. Will you be in town? I suggest you pack a spoon. Here are the soups I plan on making. They have been the gastronomic highlight of 2011, and the Carrot Miso is the first new soup of 2012–a definite keeper.

  • Anna Thomas’s Green Soup with Ginger–I make this soup at least once a month and double the ginger. Next time you’re not feeling so hot, force someone to make this for you. (But make sure they don’t eat it on the way over…) In her book, Love Soup (one of my all-time fav cookbooks) Anna does this soup a gazillion ways; it’s delicious in every rendition.
  • This Carrot and Miso soup had me at hello. Seriously. I dove in for a taste test and said, out loud, to myself, “OH mygawd–OHMYGAWD!!” The entire batch was consumed in less than 48 hours. Make this bad boy with the freshest carrots you can find, probably the ones with greens still intact.
  • This New Year Noodle Soup set off a cooking and writing stint between my teaching partner and I. Don’t try to make this guy on a weeknight; instead, plan to zen out while chopping and sauteeing and preparing this hearty meal.

Happy cooking! And don’t forget your spoon! (I’m partial to this one from Pike Place Market’s spoonmaker.)

Taking (and Making) Stock

Just 365 days ago I was swaddled up in my little one-bedroom, waiting out the snow and the promise of another job offer.

Now, I’m in my mustard-colored living room, the heat humming and wondering just how this will taste and if I have the time to both make and eat it in the next two days. (Answer: no, I do not. But I do promise a soup post coming up.)

Last year, living in Washington still felt like a dream. This year, I’m living the dream. (Proof: floated down the Skagit River with captain TK and fam in Operation Eagle, where we counted 113 bald eagles in a ten-mile stretch.)

For posterity’s sake, let me take stock of the year. And then, I promise, an analogy, and favorite soup recipes of the year to follow later in the week. Remember how I was going to claim my Washington-ness in 2011?

I wanted to marry the man of my dreams–check! The easiest and most rewarding Mission Accomplished to date.

Kick sirsasna’s booty by eeking out three sets of twenty-five push-ups. Well, let me say this: I am stronger than I ever have been. I’m addicted to this class; I can almost bench as much as the guys in the video and I can do three sets of twelve push-ups with my eyes closed. I can clean-and-press like it’s my job. Today I practiced headstand on my lawn and reveled in how light it felt. Like it’s supposed to, I hear my old yoga teacher saying.

I wanted to perfect the perfect pull of espresso. I found greener pastures, namely, a french press and a coffee class, where we all walked in subdued and walked out wired. The Pantry is one of my favorite new finds.

I planned on getting my writing ass in gear. Here’s the line-up so far: I have two non-fiction query letters in the hopper, I just submitted a guest post today and have successfully fended off anything that impedes my writing time. I am keeping my summer wide open, just as I did in the summer of 2007, so that writing can be my full-time job. Plus, I’ve edited and revised the first sixty pages of Wild Mustard. Slowly…

Wanted to walk on the Olympic Peninsula–check!

Also in the exercise realm, I vowed to run 5-9 miles.  Just last week, my teaching/running buddy and I clocked 7 miles–and we were still standing at the end! I’ve signed up for a ten-mile race at the end of February (eek!).

Between buying a house, moving and throwing a wedding, I’m actually pretty proud of myself that I got all this stuff accomplished. I wonder–what could I get done in a non-frantic year? One where I”m not leaving or returning to the country, or moving states, or hosting a huge party? I’m going to have to go scratch out a 2012 list–oh wait! Already did–the boy and I hunkered down and made The Book of Years, a small journal with our best memories of 2011 and our goals for 2012.

And, just like making good soup, it’s all about the stock. Take the time to make it from scratch–start as you mean to go on, Anne West would say–and you’ll make a bowl or a life that’s delicious.

To many beautiful days and dreams in 2012!

And, while you wait (patiently) for those soups, do take and make stock. It’s so easy and it will keep in the freezer until you accomplish your first New Year goal.

Basic Veggie Broth

  • 5 carrots
  • 5-6 large leeks (green part)
  • 2 onions (yellow or white)
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 3 parsnips
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. fresh or dried thyme
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • a pinch of peppercorns
  • 5 peeled cloves of garlic
  • chard or kale stems from one bunch
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 3 1/2 quarts of water

Combine all the ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, or until all the veggies are soft. Strain and discard the veg. Wait anxiously for the best of 2011 soups. (**Keep the salt light. The stock will reduce further and you will inevietably add salt in your soup recipe.)

**I screw up this reciepe all the time, but the stock always comes out delicious and totally usable. Don’t be afraid to clean out the veggie drawer and toss it in–greens and roots are good!


Between the Pages: I Recant–Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Do you know about my long-standing nemisis with this man?

It’s an old, Snape-like grudge, and it goes like this:

Wayyyy back in 2001 or some such inconsequential Muggle date, I hit the backcountry for three weeks with one–ONE–novel in tow. The plan was to read and swap as my backpacking buddies finished their picks. Caught up in the madness that was–is…has it ever gone away?–I scooped up HP and the Chamber of Secrets. Book Two.

Picture this: glorious treks over King’s Canyon peaks, meadows of wildflowers in a California spring, MREs brought to life with just a splash of boiling water. Me, tucked in my down sleeping bag, headlamp blazing, ready to be entertained. Nights of reading lay ahead.

If only someone had told me that number two was the worst of them all. That it would be mindless drivel without the context and set-up of book one. If only someone had shaken me and shouted, “Linsey! Go! Find The Sorcerer’s Stone! You must start there! Checking your emergency kit can wait–GO!”

I think I wept in my tent for lack of inspiring reading material. There were some pages torn, some curse words slung. No one would trade books with me after I  bitched so fervently about “that boy and his stupid magic.” Sophomoric. Uninspired. Insipid. A waste of pack space.

A decade later, a gaggle of students are beyond convinced that I have missed the window into their generation. (I suppose it would be like one of my teachers not falling prey to Beverly Hills, 90210. Or My So-Called Life.) My classroom becomes a Potter Room, with allusions flying like Quidditch brooms lost on me like the Golden Snitch lost on the blind. Vocab skits are Potter-based, Christmas ornaments are Potter-themed. The entire seven-book-series is bestowed upon me. I have no choice. I am almost in tears. Every cell in my body threatens a rash. I could not bring myself to do it. And yet…they made me promise.

I recant. There. I said it. After years of bitching about the mislaid mystique of Harry Potter and of holding a grudge against JK Rowling for leaving me in the forest without a decent book to read, I have come to my senses. I could not put the book down. I even considered violating a very serious pact I have with myself: to go to school during break to pick up the next book. The dreaded Book Two. (Cue horror music.)

Here’s the thing, though: JK Rowling weaves a very compelling story–at least in Book One. Harry is sympathetic; Snape, Voldemort, and the Dursleys are all repulsive, and the magical realism makes me suspend my disbelief. In fact, I was downright shocked at the twist at the end of the book. And Rowling leaves just enough threads unwoven at the end  that I am eager to keep reading. I mean, Voldemort is going to grow from his baby-snake head-perching status, right? And the unicorns…they come back, right? RIGHT?

Needless to say, I am preparing myself for a long affair with books two through seven, even if  I have flashbacks to that long, unentertaining backpacking trip. Cause really, if Harry can lure Fluffy to sleep and fend off Quirrell while being half-conscious, don’t I owe it to him to read on?

Plus, I got a round of applause for announcing today that I was officially on Team Gryffindor. And the Sorting Hat told me, after all these years, that it is where I belong.