Archives for category: soups

Birthday greeting

Birthday card.

My fifty-sixth birthday finds me at home, taking a rare day off the day job (busking in the Berkeley BART station and the Berkeley Farmers’ Market), spreading sheets of newspaper around parts of the backyard, weighting it down with rocks and bricks and whatever I can find. My friend Celi at thekitchensgarden recommended this method of composting after we determined that I could neither keep chickens nor build and turn a compost bin. Underneath the newspaper are used coffee filters and eggshells. The other vegetable and fruit scraps get buried in big pits. My birthday present requests have included bales of straw, seeds, plants and child-sized garden tools — I garden on my knees or sitting on the ground: I am slightly obsessed with the garden and the possibility of growing some of our own food.

I ate oatmeal for breakfast, graced with dried cherries and maple syrup: our kind friend Mary Katherine treated us with a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s as a housewarming present and we bought ourselves a hoard of delicious cheeses, salmon steaks, grass-fed beef steaks and lamb tips as well as the breakfast goods. We are not eating our meat and fish bounty yet because I am still on a soup or stew kick: this week we ate curried yellow split pea soup with spiced yogurt, taken from the Green’s cookbook, along with loaves of Mark Miller’s Cumin Orange Bread and some Asian cucumber salad provided by my friend Elaine. We also went out to Angeline’s in Berkeley for Johnny’s birthday, where we ate voodoo shrimp (me), crawfish etouffee (him) and banana bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream (we split it). Also, on Valentine’s Day we ate a very spiffy dinner at Zatar, featuring lamb and crab salad and a fish tagine, cardamom ice cream and red wine-poached pears. I know, I know: we are a celebrating couple of people in February — it’s a good month to be us. But when I am not dining finely, out or at home, I am grubbing in the dirt,  or putting containers out in the yard to catch water. I have planted my first Sun Gold tomato plant, plus three red cabbages, three chard plants, one kale and one parsley. The parsley did not survive, soaked by the copious rain of the last few days, but the other things are doing fine: my mint plant is glorious and green, thanks to the local abundance of sun, followed by the welcome rain in my drought-stricken state. It was supposed to pour all day, they said. We did have showers in the morning, but I haven’t seen any real rain today yet.

detail from watercolor garden painting.

Detail from “Garden 101″ painting.

My covetousness knows no bounds: I want to put in a Meyer lemon tree and a Bearss lime, a Gravenstein apple, maybe a green fig and a persimmon. Apricots and walnuts are supposed to grow well here, too: the neighbor’s have an old walnut — maybe one will grow itself! Fortunately, my thrift is intact: I cart home bags of leaves from parking lots and gutters to enrich our soil and I bought a mixed bean soup mix to plant in the backyard: legumes are good for the soil, breaking up hard dirt with their roots and fixing nitrogen to nuture future plants. If we get some shelling beans, so much the better. I plan to broadcast black-eyed peas as well, which are delicious fresh from the pod, particularly when prepared an Indian way.

It’s getting onto lunch time: I will probably have some more homemade bread and some cheese, a pear and a pot of tea. Johnny is taking me out for dinner, to Ajanta, my favorite Indian spot, where we will taste the new tasting menu. A garden, a blog, a painting, a nice meal with my true love. What else could I want? (Don’t get me started…)

painting depicts backyard garden.

Garden 101. Sharyn Dimmick 12″ x 12″ Gouache and watercolor pencil

Dear Readers,

The cozy bedroom.

The cozy bedroom.

I did it! On January 5th I moved from my mother’s house in Kensington, California to Johnny’s rental house in San Leandro. I have been here the better part of a month. I have moved the bedroom furniture about fourteen times (hope I’m done now), mostly seeking places for shoes and a filing cabinet. My stereo isn’t hooked up yet (Johnny’s is) and my backup hard drive has gone missing. Fiona the cat has run away and returned twice: now I only let her out in the afternoon before she has been fed.

After three and a half weeks, the bedroom is close to organized. The kitchen and breakfast nook are further behind and there are still things in boxes and plenty of things in the garage and garden shed. The hold-up in the kitchen is storage space: I need a tall shallow shelf for my spices and I need a china cabinet or hutch of some sort: some of my china is sitting on a former bookshelf and another bookshelf has been pressed into service for cookbooks and dry goods, but my best china remains in boxes in Kensington along with a mixer, a blender and other things I have not been able to incorporate into my new kitchen.

Cookbooks, etc.

Cookbooks, etc.

Nevertheless I hit the ground cooking. I think the first meal I cooked for us here was a dish of broccoli-feta pasta. We have also had Thai green curry, chicken sausages and baked potatoes, plus Johnny’s special scrambled eggs with vegetables, which he once delivered to me in bed! At the end of the first week I made Johnny his favorite red beans and rice from his friend Mike Goodwin’s cookbook, Totally Hot. And so began a tradition of making a legume-based soup or stew every week: we can eat it for a few days and I can freeze any that we don’t eat. I also make other soups, including the butternut squash version of this soup.

Susan of Susan Eats London kindly sent me a box of ingredients, featuring lentils de Puy, the small green organically grown French lentils. First I tried them mixed with red lentils in a Green’s recipe for a curried soup which calls for yellow split peas — I had had this soup twice at a Chanukah party: it was memorable and I had been meaning to make it. The verdict: it was better made with yellow split peas and I need to replenish some of my Indian spices, including cardamom.

Then I solicited recipes on Facebook, confessing that, to me, lentils taste like dirt. I received a lot of the usual suggestions: cook them with potatoes, carrots and celery, etc. Some people mentioned lemon. Then I went to Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, and found a lentil and sausage and chard combination. Hmm.

I followed the recipe loosely, using two cups of lentils instead of one and incorporating a quart jar of stewed Sun Gold tomatoes from my  Berkeley Farmers’ Market pal, Tom Gattonelli. I used some Aidell’s sun-dried tomato chicken sausages and ladled each serving over leaves of wild arugula. I did enjoy the soup: the special ingredients ameliorated the dirt flavor and the soup got better and better as it sat. I did not, however, make Deb’s garlic oil garnish.

Baking supplies.

Baking supplies.

The star of the kitchen is a butcher block cart: I traded yet another bookcase to my friend Elaine for it and I use it everyday. Johnny likes to sit at it and eat, but I like to use it to chop and mince and slice. I have made two shelves below the cutting board into a baking pantry, containing my rolled oats, unbleached flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, nuts, rice, chocolate and dried fruit. The rolling pin and measuring spoons hang on small hooks and the biscuit cutters, pastry cutter and dry measuring cups fill the small drawer.

Earlier this week I visited Thrift Town, a short walk from the house and scored copper-plated storage canisters and a glass casserole dish without a lid. By fitting a pie plate over the top I had what I needed to cook baked beans, the legume recipe of the week, pinto beans layered with chopped onions and minced bacon, mustard sauce and molasses. Johnny loved them and I said, “They are really simple. Even Johnny could make them.” I told him he had done the hard work of chopping the onions and preparing the bacon, that the oven did most of the rest. Just like a New England housewife of old I used the slow oven to make an accompanying Indian pudding.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Cozy breakfast nook with canisters.

Next up? I have potato water sitting in the fridge crying for me to make a loaf of bread — did you know that the cooking water from potatoes is a terrific bread ingredient? —  and I have ripe Meyer lemons asking to be turned into a lemon sponge pie. Plus, the sour half and half has accumulated again. From this we make waffles, biscuits, cornbread and muffins: because I got a box of organic pumpkin puree from Grocery Outlet this week we’ll probably have pumpkin-walnut bread or muffins.

Meanwhile, I commute to Berkeley up to six days a week to sing at the BART stations and farmers’ market, do odd jobs for my friend Elaine, try to keep the cat happy and settle into my new cozy life with Johnny (which includes band rehearsals on weekends). San Leandro is sunnier than my Kensington yards so once I have pickaxed the hard pan in the backyard I will get some vegetables going — legumes, of course, so that their roots break up the clumped soil: I’m hoping for sugar snap peas and bush beans, perhaps red or white clover for the bees, too. And Elaine, who giveth all good things, has provided some iris and muscari bulbs so I’ll have to see if I can get them in the ground somewhere before I write the next post.

One of my favorite soups is a roasted duck noodle soup from Thai Lucky House in Berkeley: order it and you get a big bowl of clear broth with rice noodles, baby bok choy, fresh herbs and slices of roasted duck. Lucky House has a caddy of chilies — dried, fresh, pickled, in sauce — that you can add to your bowl at will: it makes a warming winter meal and is great to chase cold and flu bugs away.

This year we cooked a duck for Christmas dinner in addition to our free-range turkey. A few days ago, I cut the remaining breast meat from the carcass in strips and put the rest in a pot of cold water with lots of star anise. I brought the pot to a simmer, turned it off, and brought it to a simmer again several times over the next three hours, yielding a rich, clear, reduced broth, which I skimmed for fat.

I then brought the broth to a rolling boil and tossed in some rice noodles and chopped broccolini (or gai lan). I seasoned with tamari, chili paste, fresh lime juice and hoisin sauce. I turned the broth off again and covered the pot for the rice noodles to soften. When they seemed done, I reheated the soup one last time and tossed in the slices of reserved duck breast, a few leaves of basil and some cilantro sprigs.

This yielded a delicious soup on the first day, but the rice noodles continued to soften as the leftover soup sat, teaching me a lesson: next time I will prepare the seasoned duck broth, but I will put some in a smaller pot and only cook the noodles and vegetables that I plan to eat that day. When I want more soup I will cook more noodles and vegetables in another bowl of broth, eliminating mushiness.

Since my traditional December cookie spree, including pfefferneusse and cocoa shortbread, I have cooked very little because I am spending everyday packing. The movers arrive Sunday morning January 5th to take my way too many things to Johnny’s house: after eighteen years in my mother’s house I am moving to share Johnny’s home in San Leandro. Stay tuned for continuing adventures as I set up in a new kitchen and breakfast nook and start a garden in the sunny backyard. I promise to take some photos once I get settled and, after that, I may even get back to painting. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading The Kale Chronicles. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year with some transformations of your own.

To continue with the theme, Work With What You’ve Got for October 2012 I thought I would inventory the pantry for ingredients, specifically two cupboards of the pantry: our cooler and the cabinet below it. A cooler, in case some of you don’t know, is a cabinet that shares an outside wall with the house in which some of the wall has been replaced with screens that let outside air into the cabinet. This means you can keep condiments such as oil, honey, peanut butter, mustard and ketchup in the cooler instead of storing them in your refrigerator. We also use our cooler to store unopened jars of pickles, jams, pumpkin, evaporated milk, salsa, as well as opened vinegars and salad dressings.

What I found:

1)  several jars of jam and jelly: black currant (3), tayberry(1), orange marmalade (1), apple jelly (3) ginger (1) sherry wine jelly (1)

2)  marinated artichokes and artichoke tapenade

3)  roasted red peppers (2)

4)  canned pumpkin (3)

5)  cashew butter, peanut butter and Nutella

6)  molasses, honey, lemon honey, dark and light Karo syrup, maple syrup

7)  Bakers’ unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, chocolate chips

8)  dill pickles (3), sweet gherkins (1), capers (6)

9)  canned chicken (2)

10) red lentils, lentil soup mix

11) tomato juice, diced tomatoes, roasted tomato salsa, Prego pasta sauce (4)

12) salad dressings (4), vinegars (black, plum, rice, blackberry balsamic, red wine)

13) peach chutney, Worchestershire sauce (3), mustard (4)

14) shitake mushrooms, teriyaki sauce, teriyaki noodle mix, tamari, hoisin sauce, sesame oil

15) instant coffee, liquid espresso concentrate

16) Kitchen Bouquet

17) Campbell’s Cream of Chicken (3) and Cream of Mushroom (2) soups

18) minced onions (dried).

19) maraschino cherries, glaceed cherries, sour cherries (2), dates, mincemeat

In the cupboard below the cooler we have

20) garlic (3 heads, plus), onions (6), red potatoes (lots)

What this list of ingredients suggests to me is glazed meats and glazed fruit tarts to use up all of the apple jellies , salad dressings (as marinades), marmalade and mustard. Also Chinese food ( tamari, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, black vinegar). We also have the makings for cherry and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving here. I did not go through the cupboard where we keep pasta, rice and beans, the baking cabinet, or the jars on top of the fridge which hold rice, tea and dried chiles or the freezer, which holds fruit, meat, butter, cooked food.

Original watercolor painting shows four cooked dishes: cereal, soup, polenta and pie.

Four Dishes. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I actually ate yesterday is this: my new Work With What You’ve Got breakfast is a mixture of rye flakes, rolled oats and granola, cooked in milk with home-dried apples and commercial dried cranberries and pistachios. I still have a large jar of dried apples from windfall Gravensteins I foraged in Berkeley. We still have apples on our tree, too. The cranberries and pistachios came from Canned Foods Grocery Outlet two visits ago , as did the rye flakes. I made the granola some time ago. We are running low on rolled oats, which is why I went to rye with the last three-quarters cup of oats mixed in — the granola is oat-based, too, and cooks up well.

For lunch, I ate leftover chicken-vegetable soup that Mom made, with a whole wheat tortilla and a little bit of cheddar cheese, two cups of black tea with milk and the last homemade brownie (Mom baked while I was away for the weekend).

For dinner, I took the last of the Riverdog Farm beet greens and turnip greens that had been languishing in the fridge, trimmed them and chopped them and cooked them in polenta. I threw in the salty cotija cheese that my sister-in-law had brought us and added some pecorino Romano and a pinch of red pepper flakes — it was a good way to eat plenty of greens for dinner without feeling like I had to eat them plain. I’ll eat the rest of the green polenta for lunch or for dinner tonight since no one else cared for it.

Today I will be taking the last butternut squash from last year and turning it into butternut squash soup, roasting it in the oven while Mom makes lasagna. She said something about making a pie from the last of our current pie crust, too. Bryan only likes apple, pumpkin and coconut cream — maybe cherry — I’ll ask — maybe we can have a cherry pie (There are lots more cans of cherries in the garage).

Food notes: Breakfast cereal: most cereals can be cooked and will mix well — I’ve eaten combinations of wheat, oats, corn and rye as well as eating each one as a separate cereal. Cooking the cereal in milk adds protein for staying power and assures you of getting calcium in your diet for your bones. Cooking cereal with dried fruits adds sweetness without adding table sugar (unless you are using pre-sweetened dried cranberries!). Nuts also add protein and good fat.

Polenta: Polenta is versatile. You can eat it plain. You can stir cheese into it or tomatoes or peppers or greens or all four. You can eat it sliced and topped with marinara and cheese. You can eat it as a breakfast cereal with vanilla extract, milk and fresh or frozen fruit (see my polenta with peaches and Johnny’s polenta, a savory variation). Cornmeal or grits will do for polenta in a pinch — you’ll just get a slightly different texture.

What would you eat if you were eating out of your stored food right now? What have you got on hand?

Peace sign with cookie border, containing salmon, zucchini and lentils.

Peace Sign. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Friends,

Lauren and I promised we would announce the winners of The Lauren Project recipe contest in September. Without further ado, your winners are:

First Prize: To Babu Srinivasan for his salmon with turmeric

Second Prize: To Lynn for zucchini roasted with shallots.

Third Prize: To Suzanne for her lentil potage.

Honorable Mention to Will for his astounding cookies. Lauren will be sending him one of her chili pepper oven mitts.

At this writing, Babu has chosen the cookbook as his prize, Lynn has chosen a Paris CD and we have not heard from Suzanne yet.

Lauren says:

top three in order:
babu’s salmon
lynn’s zucchini
suzanne’s lentils
honorable mention:
will’s cookies
everything has been delicious, but these were not only delicious, they were deliciously easy to make and had only a few ingredients all of which i regularly have on hand. there are still a few i haven’t made yet mostly because i found them intimidating, but i plan to keep working through the list and get to the more complicated dishes when i have more time. thank you so much for doing this. i am so happy to have at least five dishes i will be adding to my regular food rotation

Sharyn says: Thank you to everyone who participated in the recipe contest. We appreciate everyone’s attempts to follow Lauren’s dietary guidelines. I know she has cooked several dishes from the recipes submitted and posted photos of them on Facebook. We are happy to be awarding the first prizes in the history of “The Kale Chronicles.”

Please remember that even if you did not win you will be eligible for free shipping of any Kale Chronicles’ painting should you choose to purchase one or more before midnight December 31st. In addition, if you purchase a painting before October 15th, I will take ten percent off the purchase price and if you purchase a painting before November 1st I will take five percent off the purchase price. These are the lowest prices ever offered for my paintings so take advantage of them while you can. You can also buy your own copy of my Paris CD, using this link: http://cdbaby.com/cd/SharynDimmick I appreciate each and every sale: they help me survive as an independent artist and also help fund new work (I have a second CD in progress).

To look at the winning recipes and other submissions, please visit The Lauren Project page. Please feel free to submit additional recipes for Lauren there any time: there is no deadline on generosity.

I recently had some dental work done — after I lost my job a couple of years ago it didn’t seem too important to keep up visits to the dentist. I went last week. And I paid for it because Dr. Liu found a cracked tooth, a broken tooth and a cracked filling (but no tooth decay!). Last week he set to fixing all that. He adjusted a crown while he was at it. I have to go back to have the cracked tooth fixed after I get through with jury duty, which starts today. So, following on my anniversary post about The Lauren Project, I share with you some of the things I ate  — um, drank, since I could neither bite nor chew. It does give me empathy with those on restricted diets.

The first night following surgery I had a coffee milkshake, coffee ice cream whirled up in the blender with a little one percent milk. I was feeling pretty happy that I had an excuse to have one for dinner and even forbore to put Kahlua in it. By 9 PM I was hungry, however, and had to resort to a serving of coconut yogurt.

The next morning I was determined to eat something normal, so I cooked my usual breakfast of rolled oats in milk with a pinch of kosher salt, four walnuts and two teaspoonfuls of rhubarb compote (remember the rhubarb experiments?). I found even the amount of chewing required for oatmeal and walnuts to be unpleasant so I resolved to have liquid lunches and dinners for another day.

I got hungry again before 11:00 AM — I was up at 5:30 AM and had eaten at around 7:30 and had taken a little walk at 10:00. This time I set to work on a smoothie, consisting of a fresh mango and a container of strawberry yogurt with a pinch of crushed cardamom. Delicious, but after I had had a few sips I realized I was going to get tired of sweets fast.

What to do? I put aside the mango smoothie, rinsed the blender and decided it was time to try gazpacho.

This was kind of a big deal to me because have never liked tomato juice, Snappy-Tom, bloody Mary’s, or V-8 — can you say yuck? So I didn’t look up anybody’s recipe for gazpacho. We had cold soups when I was in France: my favorite one there incorporated melon, bacon and cream: it sounds gross, but it was really good.

Original watercolor painting shows tomatoes, cucumbers, gypsy peppers and lemon.

Greek Salad Vegetables, 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Anyway, then I thought of the delicious liquid that hangs out at the bottom of a bowl of Greek Salad. I decided my best shot at gazpacho was to make a Greek salad and liquify it. I proceeded to chop 2 heirloom tomatoes, 2/3 of a large, peeled Armenian cucumber, 2 Gypsy peppers (ranging from yellow through orange to red). I added 1 large pressed clove of garlic and a small handful of chopped, pitted Greek olives. Then I went out to front yard and picked the ripest Meyer lemon I could find on the tree.

I blended all that up. I tasted it cautiously, with the intention of adding feta cheese. But you know what? It didn’t need the cheese. It didn’t need oil or black pepper or salt or red pepper flakes or red wine vinegar. It didn’t need a single blessed thing. I encourage you to try it, even if you are afraid of all of those red, cold, tomato-based drinks, especially if you like Greek salad.

I had a glass of Greek gazpacho for lunch, followed by the rest of my strawberry-mango smoothie. I have another glass of gazpacho left for later, waiting for me in the refrigerator. And tonight I’ll probably indulge in another coffee shake — the only thing that would make it better would be if I had a stash of malted milk powder, but we haven’t seen it lately at Grocery Outlet.

What are your favorite things to eat when you have dental work? C’mon. ‘Fess up.

painting shows bowl of chicken-coconut soup with Asian condiments

Chicken-Coconut Soup. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

The weather swings from mackerel skies to overcast, from sun to rain. The farm box remains remarkably constant in content: spring onions, leeks, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, tangerines. Today we got cilantro and asparagus as well. My mother has been under the weather for days, following a diet of toast, toast and toast. What can I possibly make for dinner?

I settle on an old favorite, a spin on Thai chicken-coconut soup with plenty of winter vegetables: carrots, cabbage, spinach and leeks.

I begin by making coconut milk. I measure two cups of unsweetened coconut into the blender while I heat 2 and 1/2 cups of skim milk on the stove. (The richness of the milk does not matter: we are using it to extract the coconut flavor from the coconut — I’ve used everything from whole milk to skim and water in a pinch). Blend the warmed milk and the dry coconut for a minute or two and then strain out the coconut. Throw that same coconut back in the blender with two cups of warm water and make a second batch, straining the coconut out. Now you may throw the coconut meat out, or compost it: all of the flavor has gone into the bowl of thick and thin coconut milk.

I heat two pints of homemade chicken stock on the stove and add the coconut milk and most of a boned and skinned chicken that we roasted earlier in the week. I add 1 Tbsp. fish sauce and the juice of one lime and about 1/2 tsp of chili paste with garlic. I let the meat simmer in the broth while I cut up two root ends of lemongrass and slice about 1 Tbsp of frozen fresh ginger into thick coins. Leaving the lemongrass and ginger large means we will be able to spot them in the soup. I add a bowl of leek rings that I cleaned and cut a couple of days ago.

Mom slices carrots into irregular pieces — like making carrot sticks — and washes spinach leaves. I wash and chop the roots of today’s cilantro and add them to the simmering pot. I slice cabbage thinly.

Then we go upstairs and watch an episode of “The Rockford Files.”

When we return to the kitchen, Mom turns up the pot to high and adds the carrots. In three minutes the carrots are almost cooked and I turn the burner down to medium and add the cabbage. Oops. I have underestimated the volume of the soup, so instead of cooking spinach in the soup we put spinach leaves in our bowls and ladle the hot soup on top of them, turning off the soup pot. I garnish my bowl with fresh cilantro. There is plenty of soup for future meals: we will reheat it and add fresh spinach and cilantro to our bowls again.

Food Notes: As you can see, this is not a precise recipe. The basics include a blend of chicken broth and coconut milk and the classic Thai seasonings of ginger or galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chilies. You can vary the amounts of fish sauce, lime juice, chili paste, lemongrass and ginger to taste. If you like your soup sweet, you can add brown sugar. You can make it with canned coconut milk, either regular or light, which is what I do when I am not out of canned coconut milk. Tonight’s version was mild, rather than spicy, to accommodate Mom’s indisposition, but you can amp it up with loads of chili paste or fresh chilies. You can make it traditional Thai style with no vegetables at all. You can add rice noodles or rice. You can use leeks, spring onions, or scallions. You can include sweet potatoes or broccoli, as long as you do not cook them too long in the soup. If you like crunchy broccoli, you might want to put it in your bowl and pour the soup over it like we did with the spinach: by the time you get to the bottom of your bowl the broccoli will be nicely cooked. This is a nice soup to eat when you have a cold or when you are trying to tempt someone with a low appetite: packing it full of vegetables adds vitamins and minerals to the broth.

Painting Notes: The quickest of paintings to meet a deadline.

painting depicts bowl of corn soup and ingredients with lime tree

Mexican Corn Soup with Lime Tree. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

While I was in northern New Mexico my meditation teacher gave me a bag of blue cornmeal from the local farmers’ market and the suggestion that I teach you to chew slowly. Two days into the retreat she recommended that we chew the first three bites of each meal thirty times.

Meditation retreats are full of odd suggestions to the uninitiated. The first time I went to one the teachers told us as we took each bite of food to think about all the things that produced the food: air, sun, rain, soil, bacteria, seeds, farmers, labor, plants, wind, bees, etc., etc. We were eating vegetarian food so we did not have to think about the animals who died, although they did mention bugs and mice killed in the fields during harvest. They instructed us to note while we ate biting, chewing and swallowing, if not the arising of the urge to bite, chew and swallow.

After three meals of thirty-chew first, second and third bites, we compared notes. One woman said she noticed that each kind of lettuce tasted different. A couple of women said they forgot about slow chewing until partway through each meal. One said she normally ate her meals in five minutes and that the slow chewing allowed her to look around and notice where she was. Some people said they ate less food. Others said they digested their food better. Two of us said that once we started counting chews we found it hard to stop. Lisa provided statistics: 43 chews per piece of bread, 32 per bite of salad, 51 per leaf of kale.

When I thought I would bring you something back from New Mexico I thought perhaps I would bring the recipe for butternut squash lasagna with bechamel or the potato and artichoke soup with chicken, or the intriguing brown soup of roasted parsnips and turnips. I did not imagine I would tell you to chew three bites of food thirty times during your next three meals. Try it if you want. You might notice the licorice taste of tarragon in the soup, the bite of the basil salad dressing, see the way a raw onion sends its sulfurous chemicals to the roof of your hard palate soon after you taste first the sweetness, then the sharpness.

Meanwhile spring has hit California with rain, blooming rhododendrons, pale daffodils, camellia buds, flowering fruit trees. The cold mornings and nights call for wintry soups. Here’s an easy one, a gluten-free, vegan corn soup, made from the kind of things that can get you through the winter and the bright flavors of lime and cilantro, which grows here long after the basil is gone. I copied this from a bowl of soup I once had at Radio Valencia in San Francisco, taught myself to notice the flavors and construct a similar soup. You can make it in the summer, too, when sweet corn comes in, but frozen corn is adequate for these frigid days and it’s a nice change from winter roots and greens.

Easy Mexican Corn Soup

Mise in place: you will need just four ingredients: a bag of frozen corn, a jar of red salsa, two limes,  one bunch of washed cilantro (fresh coriander), including the roots. You may reserve a few cilantro sprigs for a garnish. Equipment: one stock pot, one chopping knife, one blender and two hands.

Get out your stockpot and put it on your largest burner.

Plunk your frozen corn into the stock pot and open your jar of salsa. Pour the salsa over the corn and turn on your burner to low heat. Cut your limes in half and squeeze their juice into the pot (I just use my hands for this). If the limes are hard, roll them around on your cutting board before cutting and squeezing them. Now chop your cilantro, roots, stems and all, and throw it into the pot. Rinse your salsa jar with plain water and add the water to the soup. Cook until the corn is soft and puree the soup in the blender. I do this in several batches, sometimes leaving some whole kernels of corn for texture and appearance.

Food notes: I have made this with one pound of corn and fourteen ounces of salsa and with three pounds of corn and 28 ounces of salsa. I have added roasted squash to it when I had some leftover and the corn seemed skimpy. You can adjust thickness and heat by adding more water or more salsa. I have made it with green salsa (salsa verde): the thing is, green salsa tends to make the soup too hot (this soup gains heat as it sits) and the color is not as pretty — I would recommend using red. If you don’t like cilantro, this is not a soup for you — I can’t think of another winter herb to substitute for it. If you can, go for it and report back to the rest of us. This soup has every virtue you could want: it is low in fat, gluten-free, dairy-free and makes use of seasonal herbs and citrus, plus common foods stored for the winter. The thing is, it does not taste like a virtuous soup, and you can always eat it with toasted cheese. Someone I know once suggested putting shrimp in it. Have at it. For more soups and salads featuring fresh herbs, check out the February entries at No Croutons Required on Tinned Tomatoes.

Chewing notes: This soup will not give you opportunity for chewing practice, but perhaps you could eat it with some bread, tortillas, or a green salad. I can attest to the fact that chewing See’s chocolates does not make you eat fewer of them, but it does allow you to enjoy them more — guess what we eat on Valentine’s Day?

painting depicts meal of bread, soup and salad for January

January Feast. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

In January I crave greens. After the excesses of the winter holidays with their meat, squash, bread, potatoes and sweets, I want things sharp and bright-tasting while still needing warm dishes to chase away the chill. Thursday I cooked all day and hit upon that classic meal of soup, salad and bread.

I started with the oven on for Savoring Every Bite’s caramelized oranges and made some granola while I was at it, plus roasted a kabocha squash. Then I cleaned leeks and peeled potatoes for soup, scrubbing the potatoes first so that I could toss the peels and tough leek greens into a stock pot for vegetable stock. While that boiled, I sauteed 3 sliced leeks, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup of minced ham and some crumbled dried rosemary (use fresh if you grow it) in 2 Tbsp butter. As that cooked I peeled and diced about 1 pound of yellow Finn potatoes and added them to the pan to brown a bit. I then covered them with a pint of chicken stock and four cups of water, covered the pot and let them cook. Then I got out the mandoline to shred Savoy cabbage — I shredded nearly half a head of cabbage and set the mandoline aside for another use later.

When the potatoes were tender I mashed some of them and left some chunks. The soup was a little watery, so I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it continue to cook uncovered.

Meanwhile, I got out three small fennel bulbs, whacking off the stalks and fronds for the vegetable stock pot, along with the tough outer pieces. Then I cut each bulb in half and shredded it with the mandoline over a salad bowl. I scored the peel of 1 large navel orange into quarters, saving the peel to candy another day, and segmented the orange and sliced the segments, putting them into the bowl with the fennel. Then I took my remaining orange-sesame vinaigrette and poured it over the oranges and fennel and stuck the bowl in the refrigerator.

I turned off the soup and let it sit (I added the cabbage ten minutes before reheating and serving it).

Then I turned my attention to bread, an orange-cumin yeast bread adapted from Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe cookbook. The warm oven from caramelized oranges, granola and roasted squash would help the bread rise. Here’s my modified recipe

Orange Cumin Bread

Juice and zest 1 large orange (about 1/2 cup juice)

Scald 1/2 cup milk and set off heat to cool.

Dissolve 2 packages active dry yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water (or measure 4 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast).

Into large bowl of stand mixer, measure

1/2 cup sugar (any kind will do)

4 Tbsp corn oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 Tbsp ground cumin, plus the scalded milk and the orange juice and zest.

1/2 cup warm water

Mix to combine and then add dissolved yeast. Mix again.

Now add 4 cups unbleached flour and

1 scant Tbsp kosher salt

Switch to dough hook, or knead by hand, remembering to knead for at least ten minutes to develop the gluten. This dough can be sticky so you may need to add a little extra flour a tablespoon at a time or keep flouring your kneading surface.

Put dough in large bowl (I use the same one I mixed in) greased with a little oil or vegetable shortening. Cover dough with damp smooth kitchen towel (I warm my towel in the microwave for twenty seconds) and set bowl in warm place to rise until double (about an hour). Punch down and let rise again until doubled (thirty minutes this time). Meanwhile grease two standard loaf pans.

When bread dough has risen for the second time, deflate it and shape into two loaves. Put loaves in prepared pans and let rise until dough is even with the edge of the pan. Fifteen minutes before it gets there, slash the dough with a sharp knife — I make two parallel diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf — and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for forty minutes, until crust is brown and tapped loaf sounds hollow. Remove from pan and cool on rack.

Now you can heat up your soup, toss in the cabbage, take the salad from the fridge and feed some happy people.

Soup notes: Any kind of potatoes will do for this soup — just don’t use purple ones! If you are a vegetarian, omit the ham and chicken broth in the soup and prepare it with vegetable stock or milk and water. If you are an omnivore and don’t have ham on hand, you could substitute bacon or prosciutto. If you don’t have leeks, substitute onions. If you don’t have Savoy cabbage, use another kind — anything but red or purple which will give you an undesirable color.

Bread notes: Mark Miller’s recipe calls for dried milk and orange juice concentrate — I have adapted it to use whole foods instead. He also calls for starting with whole cumin seed, toasting it and grinding it. I have done this and it is good, but if your cumin is fresh or you can’t get cumin seed, you can just use ground cumin. If your cumin has been around for awhile, toast it in a dry skillet. This bread is light and wheaty: for a variation, try reversing the proportions of cornmeal and whole wheat flour. Like most breads with fruit in them, it makes excellent toast.

This month I am participating in citruslove, a glorious collection of seasonal citrus recipes, #citruslove. Check ‘em out here at the bottom of the post. Click on Linky tools there to see all the submissions.

painting of red kabocha squash, soup ingredients

Red Kabocha Soup 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

In Wednesday’s veggie box we got a giant red kabocha squash. I was thinking of making it into a Thai-style soup with coconut milk and lemongrass, red chili and Thai basil. I asked Mom if she wanted chunky soup — i.e with vegetables floating in it — or a puree.

“Make the smooth soup,” she said. “We haven’t had it for a long time.”

I realized she was thinking of the butternut squash soup I make. I checked.

“You mean you just want me to make it with milk and ginger the usual way?”

She did. There went my exotic soup plans.

I had roasted the kabocha whole the previous night, acting on a tip from the farm newsletter that recommended roasting the whole squash and then cutting it open and scooping out the seeds and strings. I scooped the seeds and strings into a  pot, along with the roasted skins, setting the squash flesh aside, covered the squash innards and skin with water and set them to simmering while I peeled and diced two onions and took our ginger root out of the freezer.

After I strained the squash stock into a bowl, I got out my microplane to grate the ginger.The microplane is a handy tool you will find at any hardware store — I find mine indispensable for grating Parmesan and ginger and zesting citrus.

Using a stock pot, I heated a little olive oil and butter over low heat. In that I sauteed my onions, grating the ginger directly over the pot, and adding some crumbled thyme leaves.. Next up, squash stock and squash: into the stock pot they go. Cook for awhile and and add a sploosh of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce).

When the squash is soft I puree the hot soup in a blender in two or three batches,, pouring it back into the stockpot as I go. I add milk to taste or until I like the consistency, somewhere between a cup and a quart, depending on how large the squash was. I usually use one-percent milk, but you can use anything up to and including whipping cream, depending on your proclivities. Just don’t use skim milk if you are going to say it is my recipe. Or dried milk.

Roasted Red Kambocha Soup (or Butternut Squash Soup)

Roast 1 large whole red kambocha squash in a 350 oven until it is fully soft. (You can do this a day or two ahead like I did)

OR cut open 1 large butternut squash lengthwise, scoop strings and seeds into a saucepan, cover with water and cook for stock, and roast squash cut side down in a baking pan. If using butternut, deglaze the baking pan with water and add the results to your saucepan.

Separate your roasted squash flesh from your seeds, strings and skins.

Cover seeds, strings and skins with water and simmer in a saucepan for stock.

Meanwhile, peel and dice 2 medium or 1 large onion.

Heat 2 tsp, olive oil and 2 tsp butter in a stockpot over low heat.

Add onions.

Grate 1 Tbsp fresh ginger over sauteeing onions (easiest with your trusty microplane)

Crumble in dried thyme to taste. (We home-dry ours, letting bundles of fresh dry exposed to the air).

Strain stock through mesh strainer into stockpot. Discard solids.

Add squash flesh to stockpot. Cook for fifteen or twenty minutes until everything is soft

Add tamari to taste. Start with 2 tsp. (This is providing your salty taste — no need for salt).

Puree soup in blender in two or three batches, adding pureed soup back to stockpot.

Add milk to taste or to achieve desired thickness or thinness. If the soup gets thick while sitting, you can add more milk when you heat it.

Food notes: I developed this recipe originally for butternut squash and it makes lovely butternut squash soup. The kabocha soup is similar, but lighter in color. You could make it with any winter squash you like.

Because the ingredients are few, the preparation methods make a difference. Once you roast squash for soup, you will never want to mess with soup recipes calling for raw winter squash again. If you make the stock from skins, seeds and strings, your winter squash soup will have a depth of flavor unachievable if you just pour vegetable stock or chicken stock into it. Please try it once. If it sounds difficult, allow yourself to roast the squash one day, make the stock another day and make the soup a third, but it really doesn’t take long all told. If you are in a hurry, save the squash seeds and skins in the freezer to make stock with next time and use water, milk or some kind of stock — just know it won’t be as good.  I often mix up yeast bread dough while the squash is roasting to take advantage of the warm oven for the rise — there is nothing better than hot soup with homemade bread.

I have used evaporated milk, low-fat milk, whole milk and half and half in this soup at different times. If you use richer milk, it is richer. We find one-percent milk fine for everyday soup. If we were inviting celebrities to dinner, we might add a little half and half.

Tamari is less salty than regular soy sauce. I like the flavor better. If I had been making Thai style soup I would have used coconut milk for the milk and fish sauce for the tamari.

Obviously, you can make large or small batches of this soup, according to how much squash you start with: if you use a small squash, it will not yield as much flesh or stock and you can use less milk and one small onion. Use more squash, get more soup. You’ll have to taste it to know how much milk you like.

After I originally posted this I ran across the “No Croutons Required” October soup event, which requires bloggers to submit their delicious squash soups to Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes, http://www.tinnedtomatoes.com/2011/10/no-croutons-required-october-2011.html I am excited to submit this variation on one of my favorite soups to this long-running event.

* My little joke: I keep confusing “kabocha” and “kambocha.” The one with the “m” might be deadly in soup.

Painting note: For further information about “Red Kabocha Soup” or any other painting, please contact me here.

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