Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nothing a good pot of soup won't cure

There's something magical about soup, in my mind. We - the hubster and I - just finished a nice supper featuring a big pot of homemade butternut squash soup. It didn't hurt to have a few slices of homemade honey wheat bread alongside.

I was thinking about soup today. I know, I know...but thinking about food puts me in a happy place. And soup is special food.

It's warm, usually. It takes a while to make, usually. I can make a quick pot of soup, but why? Part of the attraction is the slowing down. Chop this, simmer that, taste and season. Repeat.

Soup generally doesn't take my full attention, either. It takes me a while to work up to it, but once I get started, I can step in and out of the kitchen as needed.

I love the smell of the house when soup simmers on the range, and the smells change as the ingredients begin to come together into soup. First, the nutty scent of melting butter in the pot, then the fresh spicyness of onions and celery. As those soften, I get out a little jar of roasted garlic and add a scant teaspoon to the mix - not too much!

By the time the ingredients are assembled and the soup is bubbling toward completion, the whole place smells like autumn. Then a sprinkle of nutmeg, and I'm dreaming of pumpkins and looking forward to Thanksgiving with my son and daughter-in-law.

Texture is another important quality of soup. Brothy soups are my husband's favorites - the more broth, the better. Me, I like thick, chunky soups. I have been known to use a stick or immersion blender to puree soups, but I think the texture is improved by using a potato masher instead. Lumpy is good.

Tomato basil soup has long been my favorite to make, but tonight's butternut squash soup may well have taken over first place. Here's the recipe - tell me what you think.

Connie's Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
1 scant teaspoon chopped garlic
1 quart chicken stock, divided
1 bay leaf
1 butternut squash
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 cup cream or evaporated milk

Melt butter over medium high heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent. While onion and celery cook, peel and seed squash; cut in 2-inch chunks.

Add garlic, 2 cups chicken stock and bay leaf to pot. Add squash, season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer 20-30 minutes, until squash is tender. Add more stock as needed.

Remove and discard bay leaf. Mash squash in pot until thick (or use immersion blender). Slowly stir in cream or evaporated milk, alternating with stock, until soup is the thickness you prefer. Sprinkle liberally with nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serving suggestions: Top with toasted nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds and almonds work well), croutons, or a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg. Good with hearty bread on the side, perfect for wiping your bowl clean.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Commentary: A Dog's View

My name is Libby, or so they tell me. I am 2 or 3 years old (never ask a lady her age), a tri-color Basset Hound. I possess a nice, classic basset hound shape (if I do say so myself), with soulful brown eyes, capable of melting hearts and seeking extra treats.

This person called CJ came to my territory last week and has just turned my life upside down. I mean, first she walked in like she belonged, right up to my crate, a-cooing and a-talking. She opened the gate and held out her hand like I was supposed to…what? Sniff it? Lick it? Huh.

First of all, she is not my people. She doesn’t smell right, which is very important to a hound. And secondly, where are my people? Alert! Sound the alarm! Which I did, loudly and emphatically.

It was no use trying to talk me out of alerting the town that a stranger was here! You can be as nice as you like, person, but you’re not my person. You’re not even…Hey! She left! I need an audience if I’m going to perform. So I followed her down the stairs.

Pretty soon my people came home. Funny, but they seemed to like her. Huh. It would have been nice to be properly introduced, people! Some folks have no manners.

The next day, my people left and this CJ person stayed behind. Although it wasn’t so bad, since she seemed to know where my kibble is stored and where the leash is. It was pretty funny watching her try to figure out the harness. I got her good and messed up, putting my head through the wrong loop and then stepping on the leash and not moving. Hee-hee-hee!

We finally took a walk. She said it was short, but Lord! Her legs are so much longer than mine. The corner is a long ways away, and there’s a lot of pavement between here and there. Lots of good smells, too. And while we’re on the subject, why are the best smells in picker-bushes? I mean, I have a delicate proboscis (what? I have a very good vocabulary for a dog, thank you.) and I don’t care to get it pierced.

I have enjoyed one thing – this CJ person gets working on something and seems to forget about everything and everyone else. This is particularly handy since she seems to think I am not allowed on the couch. (Well, I’m not…yet.) Anyway, she gets distracted often enough that I can get in a decent cat nap on the sofa before she notices me and starts getting bossy again.

And speaking of cats…The two felines who share this abode will need to have their cattitudes adjusted, because I am not going anywhere. They may think they’re special, but a little hissing and the fur raised up on your back doesn’t scare me, sister. Besides, I happen to know what they seem to have forgotten—they’ve been declawed! Hee-hee-hee.

I cannot believe this CJ person. Today was hot – that’s h-a-w-t! – a real scorcher. Can you believe it? She went and brought a kiddie pool and tried to get me to climb in! Don’t know what off-brand canned food she’s been eating, but I have my dignity. I am not some Labrador or Setter, flopping in the water and chasing Frisbees. It was pretty funny, though, when she thought she could lift me into the pool. Hey, lady – it takes a lot of kibble to keep this girlish figure! She’ll be hurting tonight.

Whoa – red squirrel! Come a little closer…closer…Dang! Got away.

Where was I? Whatever. Apparently my people are coming home tonight and this CJ person can just go back where she came from. I’ll be so glad to have my people back. But they better not have cheated on me with another dog. That’s just not right. I mean, I’ve been faithful. I’ve tolerated this CJ person, but haven’t loved on her…much.

Well, I’ve got to go now. It’s awfully hard to write – I have to use the “hunt and peck” method of typing, having no thumbs or articulated digits. I just have time to jump on the sofa, toss the pillows off (aren’t they “throw” pillows?) and slobber on the hardwood. Gotta get this place in shape for my people!

Take care, Libby

PS – I am thinking about a name change. Right now I’m leaning toward “Duchess.” I think that’s suitably regal, don’t you? Squirrel!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How to cram ten pounds of potatoes into a five-pound sack

Let me start by saying that I am delighted. My wonderful husband of thirty years is now living with me. In the same city. In the same apartment. I'm going to pause and savor this.

Now, the tricky part: how to combine the contents of a 1700-square foot house and an 1100-square foot apartment into a 1200-square foot condo. I keep doing the math, but...

What, exactly, am I willing to live without? While I like to think that I am a person of simple needs, the reality is that I own wa-a-ay too many clothes and shoes.

I've been going through my wardrobe with a critical eye. Like many women, I have fairly complete wardrobes in several sizes. This makes it tough to pare down, because there are favorite items in each size. If something is too small, I think that soon I will lose weight (again) and be able to wear the slacks/dress/swimsuit. If something is too large -- never mind, that never happens.

At present I am having a bit of success in culling out the too-small items for donation to charity. Next: divide the wardrobe into warm and cool weather and pack away the out-of-season clothing into storage. This is also tough, since we all know that we might need the shorts, tank tops and flip flops in March for that spontaneous trip to [select one: Vegas, Hawaii, Jamaica], and there's always a week of unseasonably cold weather in June. Still, I can do this.

I am more successful paring down my kitchen. I will give away the mismatched, barely serviceable pots and pans I picked up at second-hand shops for the apartment and return to using the good stuff - no problem there. The new place has more kitchen than anything else, so I just know I'm going to be very happy!

Actually, I'm looking forward to downsizing. The question is whether I can keep from upsizing again. The answer is...doubtful.