Category Archives: Soup on Sundays

Vacation at Home Posole


It is Spring break and I have been pining for a vacation. The travel magazines stared out at me from their racks at the gym, like puppies in a pet store. I could have visited with one for the afternoon, but at the end of the day Morocco would have had to be placed neatly back in her pen, and I would have left with my imagination salivating. All last week, my Hungarian professor had been calling me to come in and assigning me typing projects

“I just need you to draw just a few more structures for me…is that okay?” She would say.

No, actually, I am too busy, I thought. You should have asked me to do this last week and not last minute.

“Sure, no problem” I say, smiling sweetly, yet beneath my eyes I am overcooked. I aspire to fool the world into believing that I can handle everything.

“I will be out next week” she says “ve are going on vacation to Mexico..what’s the matter, are you okay, you are not veeling vell?” She says as my eyes start to water. “I am fine, just a little tired, thanks for asking.”

In reality, my craving for a vacation is really just a sign that I need to give myself permission to take a break. I don’t travel well, I never have. I am a notorious vacation ruiner in my family. I once pouted through an entire two week trip to Puerto Rico.

I reflect on this at my desk at home, as I sift through the chemical structures she has asked me to draw. “She makes me so mad” I say to Christina, looking for empathy. “No she doesn’t, you are mad at yourself for not knowing how to say no”. Then mutual laughter. I think of the plaque above my parents sliding glass door that says ‘just say no’. A friend of theirs made it for them because they are unrelentingly over-committed.

The day after finishing my work for the professor, I stopped into her office. “are you all packed for your vacation?” I asked her. “you know somesing” she said, “ve are not gowving!”

“why not?” I asked. “I am too tired. Ve are going to rest and have a vacation at home.” Yes, I thought, this is what I will do too.

When I woke up this morning, I reminded myself that I am on vacation. I also said it about 50 times yesterday throughout the day. “I am on vacation” I said to Christina, during a silent moment in the car. “I know honey, that’s great.” she said. I said it again when we got to the coffee shop, then when we got back into the car again. “I know, I know” she said “that’s great”.

I decided to make a soup that I could really relax with, something that has many levels. Something that releases smells all day long. This pozole recipe begins with roasting a chicken, which is a perfect thing to do on a 60 degree spring day, when you can heat up the kitchen and open the windows without freezing.

Chicken stock:

You can buy this, but I suggest making your own since you will need the cooked chicken to go in the soup.

In a 400 degree oven, roast

1, 4 lb chicken. (brush the outside with butter first, and stuff the inside with 5 garlic cloves, a small bunch of fresh oregano and a small bunch of fresh thyme). When the chicken is done, remove the skin and the meat and set aside. Put the carcass in a large soup pot (about 12 inch diameter) and cover with water. Add 1 Tbsp salt, 2 chopped yellow onions, 5 peeled and chopped carrots, 4 stocks celery. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours.

Hominy

In a separate pot, boil 2 cups white hominy and 1 cup red (if you can find it, if not you can use canned hominy). If you are lucky enough to have a source of hand made hominy, then it won’t take long to cook it. Just bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 45 min. If you have a dried store-bought variety, you will need to begin boiling the hominy when you put the chicken in and let it slowly boil all day long (about 4 hours). Alternatively, you could soak it overnight and then cook it as you would hand made hominy.

Take the stems and seeds out of 5 large dried New Mexico chilis, and 3 ancho chilis. Simmer them in some water, then blend in a small blender. Drain out the liquid and set aside.

In a large soup pot, add

1 tsp grapeseed oil

1 large white onion, diced.

3 cloves garlic mashed

2 tsp salt

heat for 4 min, then add the chili water.

Add the chicken meat (all of it)

½ small green cabbage (shredded)

the stock (the desired amount)

the hominy, drained

garnish with limes, radishes, and cilantro

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The co-op shopper vegetable soup


“Just to clarify, how much of the flour do you use for the ravioli?” said the smokey voiced newspaper editor on the other end of the line. I paced nervously around the living room, a hot phone glued to one ear causing a stream of sweat to form at the base of my ponytail-lifted temple. “Um, well you won’t end up using the whole pile, it really depends on the weather..just enough until the dough is sticky” I said, feeling stupid. “People will follow your directions EXACTLY” she said “you need to give precise directions, and we don’t have the space to explain all that” I began wishing I were more careful in recording my recipes, more organized.

“I loved that soup you made last week” our friend Gerry said “and I wanted to make it, but the recipe looks difficult to follow”

I am reminded of the saying: when one person tells you that you have a tail it is probably not worth worrying too much about, but when two people tell you you have a tail you better check to see if it’s true. The good news is, once the tail is identified, something can be done about it. One could accentuate one’s tail, cutting slits in the backs of their pants so that the tail could break into the light of day and be waved around free in the wind. In the case of my recipe vagueness, embracing the quality is extremely tempting (who wants to bother with bookkeeping in the kitchen?). It is not very useful, however, and does not fall in line with what I am trying to do.

“What ARE you trying to do Emily?” I ask myself.

If I had a mission statement, it would sound something like this: “To try to inspire people to cook at home, and to inspire the home chef with ideas about how to palatably use fresh produce in everyday cooking.” While sharing my love of food, some stories, and some vague recipe ideas is nice, and entertaining for me, it is not incredibly useful if my recipes can’t be replicated. Thus, I have lined up the measuring cups like soldiers ready for battle. I have a pen and some paper on my kitchen counter. I have called in for the backup set of measuring spoons. I am ready to face my tail head-on, and to begin a new phase of blogging. The mission: to share love, stories, AND recipes that are easy to follow.

On a side note, today is my father’s birthday. I got a lump in my throat while talking to him on the phone this morning, as he told me about what everyone ordered at his birthday dinner last night. I wished I could have been there, but he lives halfway across the continent. The people in my family have very different tastes and dietary restrictions, and finding something that can be enjoyed by everyone can be extremely difficult.

Macrobiotic, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten, casein, soy free, Midwestern-New England vegetable soup. This recipe has a lot of ingredients, however I made sure to record careful measurements of everything I put in, so hopefully it will be easy to follow!

The stock

In a stock pot, add:

2 small yellow onions, chopped

½ Tbsp salt

1 cup water

4 cloves garlic, mashed

bring to a simmer. Prepare the remaining vegetables while the first group of vegetables simmer (about 10 min). Roughly chop and add:

1 cup white mushrooms

½ package of celery

6 carrots

½ Tbsp salt (again)

8 cups water

4 Thai basil leaves

1 Tbsp four peppercorn blend

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (uncovered) for 1 hour. After the hour is up, turn off the heat, strain the stock, return it to the burner and begin the soup.

In a medium sized soup pot, add:

1 Tbsp olive oil

½ tsp salt

½ small yellow onion, diced

½ large russet potato, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced (the smell that reminds me of college)

¼ rutabaga, peeled and diced

2 cups stock

simmer, covered, while you prepare the remaining vegetables (about 10 min)

Add:

5 white mushrooms, diced

1 zucchini, diced

¼ cup cauliflower, broken into small pieces

2 more cups stock

simmer covered for about 10 min. Then add:

12 ounces crushed tomatoes (I used a can of organic, seasoned with basil)

1 tsp dill

¼ tsp white pepper

½ tsp french basil

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

the remaining stock

Simmer for 15-20 min, covered

garnish with 2 chopped green onions and 1 bunch chopped Thai basil

~enjoy

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Moon Over Watercress Soup











I could feel the light on my eyelids as I savored the last few drops of a dream. It wasn’t a particularly happy dream, but it was a deep sleep and saturated with emotion. In the dream I was sobbing, swallowing sorrowful tears as though I were gulping down rain. My whole body shook with raw emotion. The most beautiful part of the whole thing- it was not real. The source of my sorrow was nothing more that a short scene clipped from my imagination. I woke up feeling cracked open and refreshed, as though I had been sprouted. In my search for dream analysis, I came across these words:

“if you dream you are crying, your mind is helping to achieve emotional balance while you sleep. You are getting out frustrations that would slow you down in your waking life.” (from smartgirl dream dictionary).

It felt true. After the dream, a trance bled into the rest of my day and I began to notice things obscure. The moon, whose late afternoon appearance I have only half paid attention to over the last few days, was now swollen to a loud, round circle. It pierced the blue day sky like a silver studded earring, causing freedom to reverberate through the sky. It was the sort of freedom that George Michael sings about, uncorked and pummeling like a tsunami surging out of a bottle. I leaned forward in my car to get a better look. The glare of the streetlight beamed lollipop red, holding the traffic and giving us all a moment to take it in. I needed to share this with you. I need to remember that this world exists.

Now it is time for some soup.

“Watercress is a good vegetable, we eat this in China, but not very much in the United States” The professor said, with a large toothy smile. He then proceeded to tell us about the studies which we would be reviewing that link watercress to a reduction in both incidence and scope of tobacco carcinogen associated lung cancer. It has been over 6 years since I have had a cigarette, however I am attracted to powerful things and watercress, in my mind, now falls into that category. I decided to feature watercress in this version of Thukpa. Smokers enjoy.

Vegetable Stock

1 white and 1 yellow onion, chopped (you can leave the skins on, but make sure to take off any grocery tags!)

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 package organic mushrooms (I have noticed that the non-organic mushrooms at the store have no flavor at all)

1 bunch celery, chopped

5 large carrots, chopped

Liberal amounts of salt added in intervals each time you put a new vegetable in (about 1 Tbsp total)

1 tsp peppercorns

1 tsp galangal (Thai spice)

6, 4-inch pieces lemongrass

Add the vegetables and spices to a soup pot and cover with cold water (about 8 cups). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 90 min. You may want to periodically sprinkle with salt (if you prefer a more intense flavor)

Thukpa

Boil a pot of water with a little salt and add ½ package of rice fettuccine. Turn the heat off immediately and let sit for 6-8 min. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. Return the empty pot to the burner and add

2 Tbsp butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 medium yellow squash, diced

4 large carrots, peeled and diced

2 inches of ginger root, peeled and minced

1-2 cups snow peas, chopped

½ lb (or more) shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 Tbsp salt

2-3 tsp cumin

1 tsp galangal

2 tsp turmeric

cayenne pepper (as much spice as you like)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp coriander

Cook until the squash is tender and then add the noodles and stock. Add chopped watercress and 3 green onions. Adjust seasonings as desired.

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Rising Tide Blended Soup

I stare into the white wall across from our bed, and beneath the mermaid painting I imagine an expansive shoreline. The ocean rolls in, riding powerful crests and picks up the sand, the way a horseback warrior might charge through a quiet household and steal his forbidden love. The birds flap hard against the horizon generating eddies of air, which swirl in their wake like gasoline on water. A single lighthouse perches against the gray skyline like a cadet in a crows nest. From shore he is pointing toward the promise of discoveries, from sea he brings home new insights embroidered in distant memories. A single ocean ebbs and flows beneath his watchful eye. I imagine digging my toes into the cold sand, and close my eyes to hear the seagulls squeal…

mrmeow..mrmeow..mrmeow the cats are pawing at the door. Their full body stretches against the wall are traced by claws scraping down wood. It seems like magically they grow four feet taller when behind closed doors. I resign to getting out of bed and letting them in. The moment I turn the door handle, Eugene jumps and twists into the air, and prances toward the kitchen. He looks back over his shoulder like a child hoping to be chased.

I follow him, but am distracted by a sudden lightness. The sun has decided to take Minnesota back into his good graces, and we are getting extended visits from him these days. It is hard to be sad or serious in the presence of such a captivating, and energetic house guest. He dances his toes lightly against our hard wood floor, making shadow puppets out of house plants. He fashions toy birds that bounce off of our computer screens and cellphones, and flutter about on the walls, sending the cats into a wild and playful chase. He takes our coats and hats, and warms our hands and feet. He teases us with stories of barefoot walks, and outdoor swimming. He promises an abundance of gifts from his garden.

With spring floating on the horizon, I begin to consider whether I have fully allowed myself to appreciate winter (as opposed to just surviving it). Since it is not yet too late, I gather together some of my favorite winter vegetables so that Christina and I can indulge in one last cold comfort soup.

Heat the oven to 375.

1 acorn squash

2 parsnips

1 sweet potato

1 head of garlic

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ cup beef stock (or onion, or veg stock)

½ small or ¼ large green cabbage

2 Tbsp butter

¼ yellow or red onion

salt to taste

3 cups stock (beef or veg)

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tbsp muchi curri powder

½ tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp chili powder

1 pinch of brown sugar (optional if the veggies are not in season)

salt to taste

Prepare the vegetables (cut the acorn squash in half and remove the seeds, peel and cut parsnip into large pieces, cut sweet potato in large pieces, cut the top of the garlic head for roasting). Place them in a roasting pan and cover with olive oil and salt. Cover with tinfoil and roast for 20 min. Add stock and roast for an additional 40 min. Remove the squash and the sweet potatoes and (if the parsnips are not yet done) roast the parsnips and garlic for an additional 20 min.

On the stove, heat butter and salt and add diced onion and garlic. Add diced green cabbage. Cover and simmer until tender, slowly adding the stock as it cooks (about 20 min).

Place all roasted vegetables in a soup pan (removing skin of squash and garlic). Add cabbage. Blend well with hand blender. Add seasonings. Garnish with cubed carrots (if you like).

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Valentines Day Miso Soup

“I am getting a double chin” I whined, one crisp winter morning while gazing into the bedroom mirror. Christina was sitting up on the bed, her neck and shoulders scrunched against the wall.
“You’ve always had a double chin” she said, in the tone a person takes when they have grown all too accustomed to calming a loved one’s neurotic hyperactive sense of vanity.
“really?” I said. “always?”
“Yes” she replied, “it’s like baby fat”
“Baby fat??” I said, horrified by the words.
“yeah, it’s cute” she replied.
When Christina says things like this, she completely interrupts my self loathing. She crashes my pity party. It’s like she is hovering over my shoulder, waiting for me to reach my hand over to touch a hot stove and then WHAP, she slaps my hand away. I wake up from my trance, both more in tune with reality and less afraid of it.

It is exactly the opposite of what I was inviting her to say. Instead of denying my foibles she says “let me get a better look at that” and then “oh yeah, that’s a bad one.. and I love you even more” How can a person hate anything about themselves in the presence of such love?

When I was younger, I didn’t believe in romantic love. When a boy would tell me he loved me, I would respond with some ridiculous task, some quest to make him prove his feelings. Fortunately for me, the proving of love is just the sort of adventure that young men seem to enjoy. It rouses their competitive instinct, else I doubt that any of them would have put up with me.
“I love you” He would say.
“You don’t really love me” I would respond “you love the idea of loving someone”

My first boyfriend brought chocolates or jewelry to my locker every morning. The second started a fight in my honor in the playground. Of course playground love isn’t real love. It is not even a real drama, more like a rehearsal of lines with the professionalism of a Christmas pageant. Throughout my early twenties, I wore my relationships like an over sized costume, too immature to grasp that their was something more meaningful in love than the satiation of my ego. I didn’t stop doubting the sincerity of love until I met Christina. Her incredible ability to laugh at herself, to turn a mountain back into a molehill, makes me willing to share myself out loud. Perhaps it is my own sincerity that has relieved me of my skepticism, but with Christina I have no doubt of love. Happy Valentines day everyone!

Extra Rich Miso Soup
With mushrooms, tofu, and edemame

Dashi
(do not be afraid of the fish flakes in this recipe, you will scarcely notice the fishiness in the flavor of the soup..although the smell of fish will permeate your kitchen…still the fish adds a richness that would be hard to get without adding them)
8 cups water
2, 4 inch sheets Kombu
¼ cup anchovy bonito (fish flakes)

Soak the kombu in cold water for 45 min-1 hour. Then bring slowly to a boil, removing the kombu before the boiling starts (when the little bubbles form). Add the fish flakes and boil for 5 min. Turn off the heat, leaving the pot on the burner and cover for 15 min. Strain through a Paper towel (Viva brand works well for this), or fine mesh cloth.
Soup
½ large yellow onion sliced thin
1/3 package firm tofu cubed small
mushrooms (I used 6 oyster and 3 shitake), diced
edemame (optional)
3 Tbsp mild white miso (or 2 Tbsp dark miso)
1 Tbsp butter or oil
Wakame (dried and shredded)

Make dashi above, and keep warm on the stove. Add the wakame (optional if you like seaweed in your soup). Remove a steaming cup of the liquid and stir the miso paste in. Then pour the melted paste into the rest of the broth.
In a separate pan, heat a little oil or butter. Add onions and mushrooms and cook until they soften. Add tofu. Cook until heated through and add to the soup. Garnish with shelled edemame (optional)

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The next big thing: Ash-e reshteh


“Emeelee I vas vunderings if I could talk vith you for a moment” said the short, Hungarian professor. Her black rimmed glasses dangled from one corner of her mouth. She pursed her wrinkled lips around them and furled her brow as though she were thinking hard, so as to communicate something telepathically to me. I felt sort of dim witted for not being able to hear her thoughts.
“Uh sure” I said. She whisked around and began to walk swiftly down the hallway. I was expected to follow, which I would have known had I been following along with her thoughts.
She walked quickly and freely for a woman her age, and I had to skip my step to keep up. I was lugging along my laptop and various books, and had not yet taken off my coat. She stopped before the door of her office and began to search her pockets for keys. For a moment, she was just a little old lady, and not the strict, accomplished chemistry professor, with a reputation for being intimidating. Her red hair was thin and flat in the back, and her scalp showed through in swirled patterns which had undoubtedly been created by her pillow. Her shoes were flat and sensible, and around her neck she wore a string of pearls. She turned the key and then turned her head to look at me over her glasses.
“Come in” she commanded. “Sit down”. Obediently I sat.
“I vas vundering if you could halp me vith my slides.” Silence.
“yes, of course” I said. Then she leaned in close and took her glasses off.
“I cannot type, you see, it is my great handicap. I have never learned. All ov my notes have been typed by the secretary and converted to overhead. I need somevone to turn them to powverpoint.”
“Sure” I said.
She pulled her pursed lips back into a smile and said,
“GOOD, I vill be taking you to lunch then, have you been to Caspian?” and she swiveled her chair, put on her glasses, and with her nose two inches from the monitor began meticulously scanning the screen for the email icon. “Yes, I was there yesterday, actually. I had the ash reshdeh”
“Ah yes” She said, “that is very good”. Still facing her computer,she looked first over, then under her glasses. She then squinted and furled her brow, as though trying to communicate telepathically now with the machine.

Her bookshelves were lined with scientific journals, which were dusty with age. The bound journal, which was once the booming metropolis of scientific information, is now a ghost town. Bright young minds no longer walk the printed lines of written word. The academic world has built a new glowing city, in front of which my professor now sat and peered into like it were a snow globe.

On the way home from school, I thought about my professor. In her career, she has isolated three of the different isomers of vitamin E, has published numerous articles in the field of antioxidants and lipid chemistry, has taught at major universities for over 30 years. Now the world that she has thrived in has moved out of the physical realm, and I wondered if she felt lonely.

Over the next few days, I began noticing how much of my life is lived online. Nobody really calls me anymore (except for my professor). I communicate with friends over facebook or text message. Emails are reserved for the more formal relationships. If I need to call a plumber, or order a movie, or buy new clothes, I just look online.
“Maybe she just doesn’t want to be a part of the new world” Catherine said, as I told Christina and her mom about my professor.
Maybe she doesn’t feel she needs to, as she has students to navigate it for her”. I thought about how before I left her office, she asked me to look on my computer and research a few things. I imagined how we would sit at the Caspian, over two steaming bowls of rich and flavorful ash, and exchange stories from our adventures in our two different homelands. The physical and the virtual meeting over a common interest in chemistry and food.

Vegetarian Ash-e reshteh (this recipe is loosely based on one from Najmieh Batmanglii, I modified it so that it would be vegetarian by substituting a mushroom broth for a beef broth. The Persian cookbooks of Najmieh Batmanglii are wonderful.)

rinse and soak overnight:
1/3 cup kidney beans
1/4 cup great northern beans
1/3 cup garbanzo beans

In a soup pot, fry:
4 small onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
a punch of salt
1 tsp turmeric
Add 12 cups of water and the soaked beans. Simmer uncovered for 45 min-1 hour, skimming the yellow foam off of the top (but try not to lose the onions!) In the meantime, add
3 packages fresh, organic mushrooms, and
1 chopped red onion
to a wide dutch oven and cover with water. add some
salt
and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered. When the beans are cooked in the soup pot, add the strained mushroom liquid to it (about 5 cups), and
1 1/2 cups of dried lentils.
Cook uncovered for 50 min. Slice and cut into small matchsticks:
1 large red beet
and add to the pot. Add 1 cup of
chopped fresh dill
chives
parsley
and a pinch of fenugreek
after about 15 min. add
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 lb fresh whole wheat linguini
8 cups fresh chopped spinach
cook 15 more min and add
1 tsp sherry vinegar (optional)
garnish with
minced sauteed garlic, onions, turmeric, fresh mint, and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

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Chicken Tortilla Offering Soup

I stood in front of a panel of professors, self-chosen, but intimidating none the less. Before me lay a spread of home baked bread, bean dip, chocolates, fizzy water in dark green bottles, coffee, and tea, all of which I had earlier placed on the table like an offering. I began to worry, will they think I spent too much time baking and not enough time preparing my thesis defense? While carrying in the food, I had been ensnared by a memory……

I was seven years old, and small for my age. My legs had years to grow before they would grace the wrapper-littered bus floor. My mother sent me to school in headbands, which pressed hard against the side of my head and made my temples ache. I leaned my head, which was thinly padded by a soft, wispy layer of young hair, against the window. The glass felt cool. It was a perfect moment for gulping in the blissful moments of time before the embarrassment of elementary school classroom learning began.
Suddenly the students all around me began to shuffle. A horrible, brutish voice permeated my meditation. “All right kiddies, listen up! This is my bus and you do what I say!!” I looked up into the face of a ninth grade bully. She had chestnut brown hair that was pulled into a ponytail which stuck out in the back like a straw broom. She had a prominent jaw, which was held together by neon rubber bands, and metal encrusted teeth. Every day, she picked on a different underclassman. She hardly took notice of me, but still I shuddered and averted my eyes as she walked by.
From my lunch bag, I noticed the round golden end of a Twinkie poking out. The inside wrapper was greasy with a moist dew, the kind that promised an eternity of freshness. Twinkies were useful at home for whenever I wanted to safely trespass into my older brother Jim’s room. He had us convinced that there was a monster in his closet that wouldn’t hurt you as long as you appeased him with Twinkies. Because there is no more fun place for a child to play than the forbidden room of one’s older brother, we younger siblings would dutifully serve Jim’s closet with a steady supply of processed sugar throughout the day.
I took the Twinkie out of my bag, and slipped out of my bus seat, and pulled up my tights (which were constantly bunching in all the wrong places). I followed the bully down the aisle, and tugged on the back of her shirt. When she turned around, I gave her my most pathetic puppy dog eyes and held up the Twinkie. She hesitated for a minute and then said, “thanks kid, your really sweet”. From that day on, the bully was my ally.

As I walked into the corner classroom, carrying my bean dip, I marveled at the miraculous power of food. Food is a peace offering, a gift of love. Even when it is intended as a tool of manipulation, the message received from the food itself is “here, I hope that you live well for another day”.

Chicken tortilla soup
The chicken
roast a 4 lb chicken (rinse the bird, remove the neck, pat dry, rub with butter, salt, rosemary, thyme, and stuff with onions. Bake at 425 for about 75 min.
The stock
Remove the skin from the chicken, remove the chicken from the bones. Place the bones (carcass) in a pot and cover with cold water. Add 3 small yellow onions, 1/2 bunch celery and 6 carrots (peeled and chopped). Add 2 bay leaves, some cumin, and some chili powder and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 hours.
The soup
In a soup pot, saute 2 yellow onions, and the remaining celery. Add some diced green chilies (fresh or canned..if you use fresh coat your hands with olive oil before cutting..mine are burning right now!) and some salt. Add about 2 cups of chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), and the chicken which was removed from the carcass (cut up). Add 2 cups of corn or hominy. Add the chicken stock. Heat through, seasoning with chili pepper, paprika, a little brown sugar, salt, pepper, cumin. Before serving garnish with tortilla strips, avocado, monterey jack cheese, cilantro and green onions.
~Enjoy!
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Bird Watcher Soup

I shuffled my feet against the brown, hotel-style carpeting on the sixth floor of our apartment building, dragging along a gym bag which was hooked over my shoulder and swinging around wildly like a Jack Russel terrier. Pool soaked, un-groomed hair dripped slowly against the back of my winter jacket, causing the puffy dull black nylon to brighten into a patent leather shine. Not bothering to blow dry my hair is one of the many reasons that I continue to be mistaken for a teenager, even though I am now 30. I vowed to start dressing more presentably recently. I even bought several pairs of dress pants and high heeled boots, but most days I still pull on my jeans and snow boots, and melt into the University student crowd as though I were camouflaged. I expected to come home and find Christina sitting at her desk as usual, working in front of her various computer monitors, with a blinking headset hanging from her right ear. When sitting at her desk Christina looks like a person who is maintaining ground support for a space shuttle. On this particular day, however, she was lounging on our living room couch, the three cats snuggled around her breathing and twitching to the rhythm of their kitty dreams. She was paging through a giant coffee table book entitled “BIRDS”.

“What are you doing?” I asked, as though it weren’t obvious. What I really meant to say was, ‘why are you doing something that I wasn’t expecting you to be doing’

“I felt compelled by the idea of birds today, so I went to the bookstore and bought a book about them” she answered.
We paged through the book together, and although I was only half interested at first, I soon felt enchanted by the beautiful pictures of feathered multicolored wingspans and plumage.

Over the following weeks, we began researching breeds, looking at interesting cages, and fantasizing about having a bird as a pet. We decided on a Senegal parrot, a bird similar to the kind my grandparents had when I was growing up. I really wanted to be able to get the bird for Christina for her birthday, which is coming up, so I suggested we swing by a pet store today on our way back from her art installation.

I called around, but found that most pet stores stopped stocking parrots due to what the store managers described as a “down economy for parrots”. I was so resigned to the idea of the great parrot recession, that when calling a business listed as ‘Avalon Parrots’ I found myself asking the store manager if they actually carried parrots.

“um..yes..” she said “that IS what we carry” and I experienced a wave of awkward embarrassment.

“we are a parrot rescue organization, you can adopt a parrot from us, but we ask that you come and visit them and get to know them before we allow you to take them home.” She said that they currently had 2 Senegal’s, so we told her that we would be right over.

When we walked into the store, we were greeted by a beautiful red and blue parrot, who was bizarrely half plucked. The plucking looked almost intentional, stylish even, as though he were emulating a poodle. He had a pink pimply neck, but his head was poofy with brilliant ruby red feathers, and he wore a coat of blue wings. He looked, to me, like a unique sort of a bird, a lovable rebel, and I assumed his ensemble to be intentional..that is, until the store manager described him as a “self plucker”. I wondered if birds suffered with self esteem issues which lead to self deprecation. I pictured the bird fighting with his owners, and then locking himself in his cage and plucking, the way a human teenage self mutilator would.

“You never listen to me” the bird would say, and then he would take out his emotional pain on himself, picking out each feather in a misdirected act of revenge. Perhaps, he was tired of being admired for his looks, and to prove that there was something more behind those beautiful feathers, he decided to shave a la Sinead O’Connor. Or maybe he felt like a freak on the inside, and in a desperate act to make his insides and his outsides match, he decided to pull out his feathers. The latter being an act akin to a teenager dying ones hair purple with a jar of manic panic.

“Maybe we should get..” I began whispering to Christina, my eyes locked on the exotic rebel. Just then the half plucked bird squawked so loudly that I knew we would never be able to stand him in our apartment.

“The Senegal’s are over here” The woman said, leading us through a labyrinth of birds to a little black iron cage with two Senegal’s in it.

“Sammy is a floor walker” she said, and one of the little birds, as though he were being cued, hopped down from his cage and waddled confidently toward us.

“Cooper is shy, she sticks mostly to her cage”. I leaned in a bit, to get a closer look at her. She had a helmet of green feathers, with a few yellow ones marked in like strokes on an impressionist painting. She shuffled along the side of her cage and bowed her head in front of me. I stood awkwardly.

“I think she wants you to scratch her neck” the manager said. “oh, um right” I said, and I reached in to scratch her. We stayed in the store for hours, getting to know the birds. Sammy ignored us, for the most part. He rocked his rope swing in a circular motion like a rambunctious child improperly using a swing set, as though to say “pick me and I will run you into exhaustion”. An Amazon named Monty climbed onto my shoulder and repeated telephone conversations into my ear. He laughed at all of my jokes, which really made me feel like we had a connection. Cooper looked longingly at us while Monty was perched on my shoulder, as though to say

“if only I were more brave, it would be me on your shoulder. Take me home, and give me a chance. I belong with you.” When we got in the car to leave, Christina said she felt this connection to Cooper too, as though he were our estranged pet separated from us in another life. When we got home, I began to assemble a soup, slowly, patiently, carefully. I worked as though I were still carefully approaching that shy little bird.

The stock (Vegetarian)

In a soup pot, add 2 sliced yellow onions, 2 cloves smashed garlic, 2 cups water and some salt. Add 4 cups chopped mushrooms, 1/2 bunch diced celery, salt, and 4 cups cold water. Heat until simmering and add 4 peeled sliced carrots, 2 peeled sliced parsnips, some dried mushrooms (shitake if you like it sweet), 1 bay leaf, some pink peppercorns and water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour, uncovered. Sprinkle in some salt and thyme and basil along the way, as though leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the birds.

The beans

soak and cook separately 1 cup Great Northern Beans, 1 Cup black beans, 1 cup kidney beans. When they are done cooking, heat some olive oil and saute onion and garlic, then add the bean mix. Season with salt, mirin, thyme, soy sauce.

The Soup

In a soup pot, heat some olive oil or ghee. Add a little salt. Add 3 peeled diced Scarlett turnips, 3 peeled, diced, rutabaga, 2 peeled, diced parsnips, 1 peeled diced onion and 1/2 bunch diced celery. Cook, stirring.When the vegetables are almost soft add the beans. Then drain in the stock. Mix a little dark miso with some of the hot stock until it forms a paste and add to the soup. If the flavor is too light and the stock is too liquids, cook it down uncovered for 20 min. Optional~drop in 1 Ume plum (a very salty Japanese pickled plum).

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Sedaris’s Side-splitting Pea Soup

It’s hard to laugh and run at the same time. I mean real laughter, not of the contrived polite type. Much like sneezing real laughter is a complete loss of control, and so I try to avoid it, especially at times where my laughter might be construed as inappropriate or out of place. I realize that I sound like someone who is really uptight. I’m not. At least I think I am not. I enjoy laughing while doing it, and have warm feelings toward anyone who can bring me to tearfully convulsing bouts of it. I suppose it’s just that I have a hard time letting go. Were I to ever go skydiving I would probably be the last one left on the plane, hanging onto the exit door, nauseous with fear. And I would probably be the first one back in line to re-board the plane to do it again. Once it came time to jump I would again balk, digging my fingers into the doorway and peering into the blue and white, windy abyss.

Yesterday I went running with a new running partner, David Sedaris (or rather, the voice of David Sedaris). I had downloaded a copy of “When you are engulfed in flames”, and decided to listen to it on my run to help get me through what I knew would be an exceptionally long time out. Having recently recovered from a stress fracture, I’m not as speedy as I once was and I realized that a 12 mile run was now likely to take close to 2 hours. I tucked my ear buds into the new balaclava that Christina got me, the kind that covers your whole head and neck leaving only your eyes exposed. The mirror reflected an all black figure with white running shoes, and over sized gloves. I looked like a cross between a ninja and a Mr. Potato head.

‘At least I can protect my identity with this mask on’ I thought, and I headed toward the elevator. Outside, the weather was deceivingly warm. Despite the snow and ice littering the ground, people were walking about without big heavy winter coats on. I ran for about a mile listening to Sedaris’ squeaky voice before I had to pull my balaclava up and run with it hanging awkwardly on my head like a hat.

“You look like a Dr. Suess character when you do that” I recalled Christina saying. Then she begged me to wear the thing as my permanent winter hat, laughing as she suggested it. Christina has no problem with free and easy laughter. My mother is the same way, she has a wonderful laugh and has never been afraid to express it. I envy them.

I rounded the street corner and headed to the river road, which was covered with a thin layer of crusty snow, and caused me to shorten my stride so that I looked like a person running on hot coals. That is when it started. I don’t remember the details of the book now, but something the screechy voice said in my ear was so ridiculously funny that I began to giggle uncontrollably. My knees gave out and my stomach dropped, which caused me to slide around on the icy path like a dancing corpse, or a ghost in a puppet show. The book poured into me like a shot of vodka, causing me to sway, smiling and giggling along the path. The expressions of the passing runners were somewhere between fear and amusement. It’s hard to laugh and run at the same time.

Side splitting pea soup

1 large yellow onion

1 small bunch celery (a few stalks can be missing), diced small

1.7 lb smoked ham hock (meat attached)

1 small sweet potato

2 bay leaves

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp olive oil or ghee

1 lb split peas (green)

½ lb split peas (yellow)

5 medium carrots, peeled and diced small

basil

Water

Additional ham (if desired)

Heat oil (or ghee) in a soup pot and add onion, sweet potato, and celery (and a pinch of salt). Saute for a min and add ham hock, bay leaves, yellow split peas and ½ the green split peas. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add carrots, remaining split peas, and salt and simmer uncovered for another hour. Remove ham hocks. Use a hand blender to blend until smooth. Tear ham off hocks and cut into pieces. Add to the soup. Enjoy.

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Sweet and Salty Miso Beet Soup

We spent the morning sitting on the long, black, leather couch at Starbucks, bathed in a box of sunbeam, which gave all skin not bandaged with winter attire a golden glow. Amy, my coffee companion, was speaking fast and excitedly about her recent trip to Japan. Her stories were so vivid that I felt as though I were watching pictures in a slideshow.

“The toilets are heated in Japan”, she said “and they come with a built in bidet”

“the people wear surgical masks on the train” she recounted “to prevent them from catching a cold”

I listened, and tried to taste her experience. This is not characteristic of me, I usually view coffee dates as an opportunity to exhibit myself to all audiences whose attention I can grasp by talking too loudly (I am in this way, a typical leo). It is only since I started writing that I find myself working on becoming a better listener. As her story began to slow, I felt overcome by a serene exhaustion. It was the feeling I get when finishing a good book. I felt as though I had just gone to Japan myself, however the trip was completely flawless, without the usual frustrations and irritabilities I usually experience during travel.

“What are you doing this afternoon? “ She asked.

“I have a few hours free, why?” I replied.

“I want to take you to the Asian market and show you some of my favorite Japanese foods” she said.

That sounded fantastic. We loaded ourselves into her black Audi, chatting excitedly about Japanese cooking the whole way. As she told me about the shredded carrot and burdock dish she sometimes makes, she drove right past our exit making me realize that Amy is as passionate about Japanese culture as I am about food.

I remembered hearing about the store, United Noodle, from a Japanese friend in graduate school. It is a little treasure that can be found hidden behind some large warehouses in Northeast Minneapolis. The market is large, specializing in many different types of Asian cuisine. Due to its off-the-beaten path location, and the wealth of obscure exotic ingredients they stock, walking into United Noodle made me feel like I was being initiated into an exclusive club. Amy led me directly to the Japanese section, and started excitedly pulling items off the shelf and giving them to me. “The Japanese” she explains, as she places a dark green package of sesame-toasted seaweed into my basket “eat with their eyes, not with their stomachs.” She turned to reach for a jar of miso and I discretely slipped the package of dried fish she had given me back to the shelf.

This past weekend we had a surprise visit from a 4 year old little girl. Grace showed up in a little pink jacket ready to lead us to dinosaur museums, and to remind us how fun it can be to make pancakes, and to show us that Chip and Dale really are very funny chipmunks. This morning I stood at in the kitchen peeling beets while Grace tearfully pulled on her little pink outfit, and Christina convinced her that she would get to see her daddy and mommy soon so their was no need to fuss. Weekends with four year olds are a balancing act between the sweet and the salty.

“Oh Emily, I love you” she says when I give her a chocolate.

“I don’t love you and your not my friend” she pouts when I refuse her a second one.

This soup is sweet and salty (but mostly sweet), in honor of Grace.

Sweet and Salty Miso Beet Soup

2 pieces Kombu (optional, but will enhance flavor)

3 Large beets, peeled and sliced into short matchsticks

2 yellow onions, quartered and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger

1 Tbsp salt

5 dried shitakes, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water (save the water and discard the shitakes, unless you like their chewy texture)

2 parsnips, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 Tbsp miso (dark)

3 cups water, beef or vegetable stock

Soy sauce to taste

In a large soup pot add 5 cups of water and Kombu. Simmer while you prepare the beets and onions. Add beets, onions, garlic, ginger and salt to the pot. Simmer while you prepare carrots and parsnips. Add carrots and parsnips and simmer uncovered until tender (about 25 min). Add shitake liquid. If the soup is too thick, add 3 cups water, beef or vegetable stock. Scoop up a cup of the soup and mix in miso, then pour this liquid into the soup. Once you have added the miso do not allow the soup to boil, if you plan on reheating the soup only bring it to a simmer. Add soy sauce to taste.

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