Monthly Archives: February 2013

Soup Club II

What a week.

DSCN3293

No, scratch that. The entire year of 2013, with the exception of a few days in February has been work-intense. First it was the grant, and now its long days at the bench in preparation for spending a week with a collaborator in Seattle. As much as I love food and cooking, when work takes over I completely abandon my kitchen. There was more than one day during this past week that I had a beer and ice cream for dinner. Does it make it better if dinner was had at 10 pm?

DSCN3276

Thank goodness for Soup Club – it ensures that I eat well at least once every other week. This past Wednesday, I brought a Broccoli and Roasted Garlic soup and some Cheddar Pecan Cayenne crackers to share with the sixth floor labs in the Molecular and Cellular Biology building. Given there was less than a cup leftover, I’d say it was a success. And as an added bonus it was remarkably easy – even for soup.

20130224-080438.jpg

I love the green of this soup – it oozes vegetable-ness without feeling or tasty healthy. I’m not a a vegetarian or eat dairy- or gluten-free or strive to make food with limited fat content, but this soup satisfies all of those (the crackers, however, do not) and is a happy coincidence with a robust flavor and depth. Adding the cheese crackers – while no longer dairy-, gluten- or fat-free add a pleasant crunch to this silky smooth soup. It’s a nod towards springtime, which cannot come quickly enough for me, while maintaining a winter heartiness.

DSCN3289

Make the soup. It won’t take long and you’ll be better for it.
Broccoli and Roasted Garlic Soup with Cheddar Pecan Cayenne Crackers
**********
Broccoli and Roasted Garlic Soup
from the LA Times
 
1 large, plump head of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
3 broccoli crowns (~2 pounds), florets roughly chopped, stems peeled and diced
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cups vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
**********
Cheddar Pecan Cayenne Crackers
from Martha Stewart Living
 
1/2 cup (60 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup finely ground toasted pecans
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
up to 2 tablespoons water
**********

For the soup:

Roast the garlic. Heat the oven to 400º. Cut off the top one-half inch of the garlic head to make a “lid.” Drizzle the cut surfaces with a little olive oil and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Replace the lid. Wrap the garlic in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast until the garlic is tender and a rich golden color, about 45 minutes. Unwrap and cool.

While the garlic is roasting…

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the onion and cover with a lid. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped broccoli and potato. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pot. Simmer until the potato is very tender, about 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, squeeze the roasted garlic into the pot, discarding the hulls. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Purée the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches with a blender).

For the crackers:

Preheat the oven to 350º. In a food processor, pulse the flour, pecans, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Add the butter; pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cheese, pulse until the pieces are no longer visible. Gradually add water until the dough comes together. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into two parts. Roll each part out to 1/4 inch thickness – keep well floured (if not, it’s difficult to transfer to a baking sheet). Cut dough with a small cookie or biscuit cutter. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until the centers are firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Advertisements

The truce is over…

DSCN3203

Winter and I had a truce this year – and I think we had a good run. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was happy with winter, but this is the first year in Minneapolis where I haven’t been actively angry with it. I consider this in and of itself to be major progress and a huge step towards actually admitting that I live here.

DSCN3231

However, the truce is over. It’s mid-February and I desperately need winter to be over. No more snow, no more slush, no more ice and no more days below freezing. I’m finished with the whole damn thing. I want to pack my boots up and stow my sweaters away. I am anxiously awaiting the time when socks become optional and I live in my summer dresses. To be able to bike work again and see green in the trees. Eat fresh vegetables and drink beer outside. Breathe.

DSCN3215

But what I can do right now, despite the winter season is continue to make (and consume) copious amounts of ice cream. Of the Bourbon Brown Sugar variety. It’s cozy, complex and has me thinking about it constantly. There is a fair amount of alcohol in it, which not only brings out the bourbon overtones but does beautiful things to the consistency of this ice cream. (Alcohol freezes at lower temperatures than most freezers are set at). Spoons smoothly slip in to sneak another bite. It’s been my constant companion as I dream of far-away places.

DSCN3236

Bourbon Brown Sugar Ice Cream
makes ~1 quart
**********
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup + 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, divided
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons bourbon
**********

Pour heavy cream in a large bowl, set mesh strainer atop and set aside. In a large pot heat the milk, 3/4 cup brown sugar and salt over medium heat until steam starts to rise. While the milk is heating, stir together egg yolks and remaining 3 tablespoons of brown sugar in a large bowl. Once the milk is warm, slowly pour it into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Transfer the milk-egg mixture back to pot and return to medium heat. Cook until mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Pour through mesh strainer into heavy cream. Stir in vanilla extract and bourbon. Chill thoroughly. Freeze in an ice cream maker.

Expectations

(Woosh)

That was January, flying out the window. I won’t lie, January 2013 was a pretty complex month me. I spent most of it hibernating in my apartment (and the numerous days of sub-freezing temperatures only reinforcing my behavior).

Dining room

I tackled ghosts from last year and it was more difficult and took a larger part of me than I anticipated. 2012 was a hard year and it was only okay because I had allowed myself the year to heal. Heartbreak takes time, I had learned the hard way previously in my life and as such, I had no expectation that I would bounce back quickly. But when the one-year mark passed and despite a significant career achievement, I was disappointed in myself, an emotion that digs deep into my mind and settles in for while (and let’s face it: it’s the middle of winter – who doesn’t want to settle in for a while?). And once that happens, it’s nearly impossible to get yourself out of that downward spiral.

Why wasn’t I happy yet?

I’ve all but abandoned this blog – it’s primarily been about food, yet I don’t want this to be a perky, isn’t-life-grand!!! and OMG are you as obsessed with quinoa as I am? sort of space. Those sorts of blogs are increasingly irritating to me, resonating as shallow and superficial and isn’t something that I want to participate in or even be associated with. I have no interest in food styling and having a whole cupboard full of food props. Instead, I strive to have similar tones of emotional honesty that I read here and here. (I’m not entirely sure if its a coincidence that both authors live in the Pacific Northwest). Don’t worry – I still love food.

It’s just that I’m moody.

And that mood has had undertones and, in most cases, overtones of sadness. There’s been a rain cloud that’s been hovering over my head for longer than a year now – and in January I got fed up with it. I tried to actively push it away. Turns out, it’s pretty challenging – pushing a cloud. I even went to a pretty terrible social dating event that completely freaked me out and made me realize that perhaps telling myself that I was ready isn’t actually the same as really being ready. Did I mention that I am currently writing a big career development grant? No? Well that’s happening also and wrecking all sorts of havoc on my mental state.

Image

And then suddenly, my perspective shifted. I read two articles (one I can’t recall where I found and this other one). The first referenced a book I distinctly remember reading as a 10th grader for Honor English, Man’s Search for Meaning. Now, while I remember reading it, I can hardly recall any of the details aside from it was written by a psychologist and Holocaust survivor. But, this article, the one I can’t seem to place, made the point that you don’t need to be happy to having meaning in your life. It’s a somber thought, I know, but it made me realize that perhaps I shouldn’t have happiness be the state I aim for. There is oodles of meaning to my life and it turns out that this emotion is much more important to me.

The second article centers around the idea of joy. That it is not only distinct from the idea of pleasure (my first cup of coffee in the morning is a moment of pure pleasure); but that joy is intense, complex, simultaneously surreal and yet fully rooted and at times exceedingly uncomfortable. As I’ve been holed-up, writing my grant, I’ve come to realize that’s how I feel about science. Being a scientist is hard (and not because you have be super-duper nerdy smart, but for a whole host of other reasons). I’ve even at times considered leaving it – but something, something that has always seemed beyond definition, stops me.

I’m pretty sure that something is joy.

Then a funny thing happened. Once I let go of the idea of happiness, accepted the meaning in my life and realized my joy, I’ve been able to see things clearly. It feels different. It feels good.

Oh, and that rain cloud? It seems to have lifted.